Real Life Potty Training STories

About This Series

This is the first installment in our series of real-life stories about how real parents helped their children move from diapers to fully potty trained. We created it in recognition of the fact that all kids are unique and that no two potty training journeys are exactly the same. There truly is no better way to grasp what needs to be done (and to motivate yourself) than learning how other parents tackled this major milestone!

Introducing Jihyun & Ethan

Our first story is from Jihyun. Let's find out how she potty trained her son, Ethan!

Question #1 - Please Tell Us About Yourself and Ethan!?

Hi! My name is Jihyun and I live in San Diego. I currently have a 4-year-old son, Ethan, who is full of energy  and is also at the stage of loving anything that is slimy, soft or weird looking (e.g.  worms, octopuses, squid and jelly fish). I'm also expecting a baby girl this August who will be Ethan's first sibling. 

During the first few years after Ethan's birth, I was a full-time mom. I'm now working from home and building my own business. Hum…anything else interesting about me? Drinking black coffee with lots of little sweets is my go-to recipe for a happy mood (or was until I got pregnant again!). I also love to cook with Ethan at home and recently fell in love with running (I guess more walking now with the baby!).

Question #2 - When Did You Start Potty Training?

Ethan was right around 24 months old when I started. I decided it was time to try when I witnessed my cousin’s son, who is a month older than Ethan, using the potty nearly all by himself during a visit to South Korea. 

For some reason, I would never have imagined it was possible at that age. Maybe because I have heard a lot of things like “start around 3 years old”, “do not stress them out” and “if you push them when they are not ready, it can cause more problems.” Anyways, seeing my cousin train her young son, made me decide to give it a go!

Boy Inspecting Potty Chair

Question #3 - What Helped You The Most?

Watching my cousin train her son and realizing it could be done at 24 months was probably the most helpful aspect of my training journey. I had always thought I’d prepare for potty training by reading a book or doing some web research before starting—seeing my cousin in action though caused me to just start trying with Ethan.

Other than watching my cousin train her son, I also found that having the right potty training equipment was very helpful.  Prior to the start of training, I purchased a potty chair, potty seat, travel folding potty seat, training underwear and pull-ups. The potty chair in particular was a big help in the beginning because it was safer and  more accessible for Ethan. After few weeks of using it he transitioned to wanting to use the big potty like his dad and we put it in the closet—still I think having his own special potty chair really helped kick off the training.

Question #4 - How Long Did It Take to Click?

Pee took two or three days. Poop took three-to-five days to click.

The first couple of hours of training were actually some of the easiest because Ethan thought it was a new and fun activity and also because we made a big deal about being a big boy and using the “big boy potty.” As time went by during the first few days it became more of a challenge because he was more interested in whatever activity he was doing and seemed bothered and stressed to be asked to use the potty.

During this phase, I learned that instead of insisting and fighting with him to try to get him to go potty right that second, it worked better if I reminded him gently where the potty was if he wanted to use it.  When he made mistakes, I used it as a learning lesson to teach him to listen to his body and to reminded him that he didn't wear diapers anymore and that should find the potty if he needed to go to the bathroom. After five days or so, prompting and going to the potty had already become part of our daily routine.

Question #5 - When Were You Really Confident He Was Trained?

I think it probably took about a month or two. The first month was all about me being on top of his bodily signals and his daily potty schedule. It was a "preemptive" approach in the sense that I was trying to catch and avoid possible accidents. The second month was more of me responding to his signals (frustrated looks, potty dances or verbal communications) to make sure we made it to the potty in time.

Question #6 - How Did You Tackle Poop?

Poop was a hard cookie for lack of a better phrase. I initially had no idea how to even tackle it. Then I asked people around me, and my mom told me that she noticed Ethan tended to go soon after meals, so I should try at those times. I also remembered how he would run to the pantry to go. It turns out those were the two big clues I needed to tackle poop (can't believe I'm saying this)!

With this knowledge in hand, after a big meal one day I took his pants off to see if I could catch him in time to get the poop in the potty, hoping that once he saw it there he would connect the dots. Soon after, I found him doing a poop dance because without diaper or bottoms, he didn't know where to go. That is when I told him to sit on the potty and try to go. Even though his potty dance was getting a little crazy because he really had to go, he refused to sit and looked shocked, just like adult being asked to poop in diaper 😂. I had no option but to push him down to sit on the potty chair assuring him it was okay against his resistance. Then he pooped in the potty and we celebrated!

After repeating this a few more times, I still found myself having to catch him trying to go to the pantry or behind the couch, so I decided to have him go bare bottom after each meals (before this we had him in training underwear and loose pants). With this change, Ethan seemed to realize that the way he used to poop was really no longer an option. It took an additional 3 to 5 days of no pants after meals and me watching him constantly for him to get things down. We had few poop accidents during this time, and used these as teaching opportunities. By the end though, he seemed comfortable to sit on the potty chair and we even proud to use potty, empty the pot and flush, of course saying "bye bye" to the poop.

Boy Having Fun Potty Training

Question #7 - What About Training Outside Your Home?

Going outside was big part of our potty training journey. When Ethan was 24 months old, outdoor activities like going to the library, zoo, playground, trips to the store, etc. were a big part of our daily life. I knew that I had to make sure Ethan understood using the potty outside was a continuous thing wherever we went. To do this, we made trips to various places to show him where the big potties were and how we had to run if we had to go.

I used to carry my potty bag with an extra pair of clothes, empty water bottle with a wide opening (i.e. emergency pee bottle), folding potty seat and plastic bags as well as hand sanitizer. I used to put a waterproof changing pad underneath Ethan wherever he was sitting, like the car seat or stroller, just in case. Sometimes I did put on pull-ups when things were kinda out of my control like on the airplane, but Ethan was able to remember that he still had to run with me to the bathroom even with the pull-ups on.

Question #8 - How About Nighttime Training?

I took Ethan's diapers off at night after about one month of training, when I was pretty confident he was really starting to connect the dots during the day and consistently trying to make it to the potty. We were co-sleeping at that time so it was easy for us to check in the middle of the night if his pants were wet. I found him with the wet pants few times, then we talked about it as an opportunity that he needs to get up and ask to go potty. He made one or two more mistakes but then he started to ask us to go pee at night. 

No matter what happened, I was really kind about accidents and told him how proud of him I was. The following day whenever we were washing wet clothes or bedding, I used it as another opportunity to teach him why he needed to get up to tell us if he had to go. Looking back, making a few mistakes helped Ethan to understand the process and I'm glad that I gave him a few more shots as opposed to delaying this aspect of his training.

One other interesting thing is that I never needed to have a program of waking Ethan up at night for him to go to the bathroom. I know a lot of training programs suggest this.  With Ethan though, we focused on having him wake himself and it worked.  

Question #9 - Any Potty Training Hacks You Can Share?

When I started training Ethan, instead of having him go naked I took his diaper off and put on two thin layers of pajama pants. Using this method, I was able to see him straining to pee and would see his pants start to change colors right away, so that I could rush him to the bathroom. I feel that the light fabric we used for his pajama pants allowed him to literally feel when they started to become wet, warm and heavy after an accident. Ethan did not like that feeling and then would know something was wrong because it felt so different compared with a diaper.

I now know that going 'bare bottom' is a thing in the potty training world. With this technique I ended up with piles of clothes wet with pee, but was happy to throw these into the washer instead of cleaning rugs or couches!

Question #10 - Any Last Words For Parents Just About To Embark On Their Potty Training Journey?  

If you are deciding between starting potty training on the early side like I did with Ethan or a little later (probably around 3 years old), I thought the following pros and cons of early training might be helpful:

My Pros

  • It was no longer necessary to expose Ethan to the chemicals in diapers and wipes, something I had always been concerned about.
  • Preschool and summer school became instant options as soon as Ethan was potty trained. 
  • It was much easier to ask family and grandparents to watch Ethan after he was trained (they didn't have to change diapers anymore). 

My Cons

  • It felt like lots of work to start.
  • I was initially hesitant he was too young, which caused me some doubt at the outset.
  • I was frequently worried he couldn't "hold it" long enough to get to the restroom.  It rarely turned out to be a problem, but it left me feeling like I was on high alert for the first two months of training.

All in all, I was really glad we trained Ethan on the younger side. My hope is that moms with younger children reading this will also be encouraged to give it a go!

More Interesting Reads

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Real Potty Training Story No. 2

The second installment in our series showing how real parents potty trained their kids. If you think training one child is a challenge, imagine training two at the same time!

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Real Potty Training Story No. 3

The third installment in our series showing how real parents potty trained their kids. See how this family potty trained their son during the height of the pandemic in New York City!

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Real Potty Training story No. 4

The fourth installment in our series showing how real parents potty trained their kids. See how this father of five, potty trained his children.