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Bath & Potty Time

What 3-Day Potty Training Is Really Like

Three families share what went down and whether it worked

Can you potty train a toddler in a weekend? Fans of the three-day potty training method say you can. How it works: Your toddler goes cold turkey with the diapers, your family stays put in your house for three days, and you all face a round-the-clock diaper-free mess while you encourage your kid to use the potty.

“Yes, toilet training really can be accomplished over the weekend,” says Ari Brown, M.D., a pediatrician in Austin, TX, and author of the Baby 411 book series. “But the catch is that your child must know when he has the urge to pee or poop. You can assume he’s ready if he starts going to a secret location to poop, which can happen between two- and three-and-a-half-years-old," says Dr. Brown.

If you think your kid might be ready, keep in mind that the method won't work for every kid and it's not a big deal if it doesn't work for yours, says Dr. Brown. “You can spend weeks in soggy underwear and it won’t make the process happen faster. The key is for your child to be ready, so just try again later down the road.” Also, since daytime and nighttime potty training are different milestones—daytime is about a child’s awareness and nighttime is more about bladder capacity—this method is best for daytime.

Wondering what those three days might look like? We talked to three families who tried it. Here, they share how it all went down.

1. "We Lined Our Couch with Puppy Pee Pads"

Mary trained her son Rylan when he was 2.5-years-old

Day 1: Rylan would scream whenever using the potty was suggested, so we went into this prepared for tons of accidents...I even lined my couch with puppy pee pads. And sure enough, Rylan peed in his underwear within 20 minutes on the first day. But the next time he had to go, he told me and he went on the potty. I was so encouraged!

Day 2: Since he did so well that first day, I let a friend visit during the morning of day two. But Rylan was so excited to see her, he didn't tell me he had to go and had an accident. He continued to do well for most of the day, but there was still a lot of laundry.

Day 3 and beyond: Rylan really was potty trained after three days and I can count on one hand how many accidents he's had since then!

Word of advice: We’ve been keeping a potty and plastic bags in the trunk of our car. When your kid starts yelling "I have to go potty!" you have to take him seriously. Just because he's potty trained doesn't mean he can hold it in!

2. "We Went Through 20 Pairs of Underwear...On Day 1!"

Kate trained her son Henry when he was 3-years-old

Day 1: The first day was chaos. Henry was peeing in puddles in the living room, the den—everywhere. After the first five puddles, I thought we were crazy for trying this method, but I wasn’t ready to give up after one day. I kept repeating a mantra: “Trust the plan.” But we did go through at least 20 pairs of underwear on the first day.

Day 2: We went down to 15 pairs, so that was an improvement! I was happy to have so many pairs of underwear handy. And yes, we would find poop in random places, too.

Day 3 and beyond: At this point, I was just praying something would click for Henry because I was still cleaning up puddles of pee at 5 p.m. on the last day. Then, Henry turned to us and said for the first time, “I have to pee!” We ran to the potty and sat him down. We weren't out of the woods after three days, but I had never been prouder.

Word of advice: We really were trapped at home without visitors for those three days, so if you're thinking about this method, clear your calendar.

3. "We Bribed Our Way Through It With Candy"

Marty trained both her sons, Landon (now 5) and Jake (now 4), when they were 2-years-and-8-months-old 

Day 1: I did this method for both of my sons and the stories are similar. We had many accidents for the whole first half of the day and then we started having some consistent success the second half once I had my sons sit on the potty to watch cartoons. This helped them understand the concept of getting the pee inside the potty. Thankfully, we didn’t have an incident of poop outside the potty.

Day 2: Both of my kids started to master the use of the potty within a day of training, which was a pleasant surprise.

Day 3 and beyond: Both of my sons were trained by day three. I think some of it had to do with age because I had tried it for both of them after they turned two and they just weren't ready. But eight months later, it worked.

Word of advice: The toughest part was getting my kids to stop what they were doing to sit on the potty. The reward system we used was a huge incentive: For every pee, they got two small chocolate candies and for a poop, it was worth three!