3-Day Potty Training
My quest to be "European" and avoid the curse of the size 6 diaper
by Kathy Lucas
It all started with a comment thread in What’s App this past April. A group of us who met in the Parkgate Community Centre parent-infant drop-in sessions have formed a group in the app where we share pics, info about playdates, and baby-rearing advice. Someone asked about signs of potty-readiness, and another friend mentioned that she’d already started “toilet learning” with her 16-month-old and expressed her incredulity that kids in North America are still in diapers at age 3-4. It seems that in some places in Europe, kids are often diaper-free by age 2.
By age 2! I thought about that. We could be free of diapers before the year is out! That little spark of an idea kindled the burning — and perhaps somewhat irrational — desire in me to attempt to meet that milestone. Part of my motivation was the challenge and promise of the whole idea: just set aside one long weekend of hard work and patience-testing, and the reward at the end of it is a potty-trained child! Who wouldn’t want that?
But another part of the motivation was my secret desire to not have to move to size 6 diapers. I read somewhere that size 6 diapers (for kids over 35 lbs.) are a relatively recent innovation — introduced because potty training in North America has gotten later and later over the past few decades. My 20-month-old, Bridget, is already in size 5 diapers, and I feel like when I have to eventually put her in size 6 diapers, everyone in SuperStore will see me buying them and shake their heads and think, “What a terrible mother, not teaching her child how to use the potty and forcing her to wear diapers when she’s practically in junior high.” Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little. But only a little.
I started researching potty training approaches and polling my friends and the Facebook moms’ group I belong to, asking people what worked for them.
When my friend Beth posted photos of her cross-country road trip with her recently-turned two-year-old, one particular photo caught my eye: her toddler, running along the beach, wearing a swimsuit. No diaper bulge — just a swimsuit. I asked her how she had achieved this miracle.
My friend and the Facebook moms credited the “Oh Crap!” Method, a.k.a. 3-Day Potty Training. “Oh Crap!” Is a popular potty-training book by Jamie Glowacki. I didn’t buy the book, but I found a good summary of the general method online and used that as my guide. If you want a humorous explanation of the method, I highly recommend this video.
In a nutshell, 3-day potty training takes place over a long weekend (my husband Shane and I chose Labour Day weekend) during which you are laser-focused on your kiddo, because half the time she’s running around bare-bummed, having potty accidents all over the place, until she learns that to avoid peeing on herself, she should perhaps sit on the potty before she urinates.
I had a couple months of lead time to prepare, so I used that time to find a potty sticker chart (unicorns!), some Sesame Street training pants, Peppa Pig underwear, and a couple potty books. (We already had the potty seat, and my daughter Bridget had already been sitting on it occasionally.) My road-tripping friend Beth also recommended a travel potty seat with fold-out legs that you can use as either a stand-alone potty, or as a toilet-topper in public washrooms. We bought that too, for use at park playdates or for the 4.5-hour drive to visit Oma in Kelowna whenever this pandemic finally ends.
We were set!
The only wrinkle was my work situation. When I chose Labour Day weekend for this adventure, I was jobless. It was perfect, because we’d do the 3-day potty bootcamp, then we could keep Bridget home from daycare for the next week, to cement the learning before she’d be expected to maintain it in an environment with much less hawklike supervision. Just a week before the big day, however, I started a full-time job, leaving us literally just the long weekend to make this potty training thing happen. We decided to go ahead anyway.
Day 1 - Pull up the rugs!
Day 1 is all about your child learning when she’s eliminating. Up to now, she’s always had a diaper to catch everything. Now, not so much.
After pulling up all the rugs (don’t forget the bath mat!), we announced to Bridget that we were now going diaper-less, and that all the pee and poop was supposed to go in the potty. By this point, she’d had her potty books read to her multiple times and was running to sit on the potty as her preferred place to hear these stories, so she knew there was a connection between peeing and sitting on the potty.
According to the method, you’re supposed to schedule frequent potty visits and have the potty seat easily accessible. We moved the potty seat from the bathroom to the living room, where we spend the most time. We started putting her on the potty every 15-20 minutes. The idea is that eventually, by coincidence, a pee will happen while she’s on the potty. At this point, you praise a lot, go put a sticker on the chart, and hope it happens again soon. Within ten minutes of our “We’re ditching the diapers!” pronouncement, we had our first potty accident — literally twenty seconds after she got up from sitting on the potty.
Accident #2 was just five minutes later. Accident #3 was a minute after that. We quickly realized that we’d be burning through an entire tree’s worth of paper towels.
Midway through the afternoon of Day 1, we thought we were doomed. She’d had far more pees outside the potty than in it, and most of those accidents came within just a minute or two of having sat on the potty for an extended period without anything happening. She just wasn’t getting it.
Then, in the late afternoon, a glimmer of hope: the last couple pees of the day were entirely in the potty, AND she had decided to sit on the potty herself, right before peeing in it. Huzzah!
After an exhausting day of constant vigilance, with this bit of success, we had the mental strength to carry on with Day 2.
Day 2 - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Day 2 started out where Day 1 left off. We stayed with the bare-bottom stage during the morning, and we had a couple in-potty pees. We thought things were going well enough to try putting training pants on her for the afternoon.
Adding underwear of any sort means adding an extra obstacle between feeling the need to pee and actually peeing: you have to pull down the underwear before you can sit on the potty. This proved challenging for Bridget. She didn’t like the feeling of underwear around her legs, so she kept wanting to pull them off completely and wouldn’t consent to sit on the potty otherwise. Suddenly, peeing in the potty ceased entirely. We went through 4 pairs of training pants in the space of a couple hours.
Then it was bedtime, and we were at a loss for what to do for Day 3. It was clear that we needed to go back to bare-bummed, but what then? She couldn’t go to daycare pants-less on Tuesday. We had to dress her in something.
Recalling my friend Beth saying that she eschewed underwear entirely with her toddler and just went commando, I suggested to Shane that we try that. Maybe the training pants were too thick and felt too much like a diaper.
Day 3 - Please God, no more Wiggles
Maybe it was the letdown from not achieving the holy grail of promised 3-day potty training success. Maybe it was the fact that we’d let our toddler watch the Wiggles non-stop over the previous two days, in order to keep her near the potty seat, and our brains were starting to rot from the endless repetition of “Toot Toot Chugga Chugga Big Red Car” and “Fruit Salad (Yummy! Yummy!)”. Whatever it was, we were starting to lose our will to live by Day 3.
Like Day 2, we had bare-bummed success during the morning. But when we put her in pants later in the day, it was a repeat of Day 2’s afternoon of despair. There was just no getting over the hurdle posed by wearing pants of any sort. Bare-bummed was great. Clothed bum was not.
We sent her to daycare the following day (Tuesday) with pull-ups, but we quickly realized that daycare workers have way more important things to do with their time than constantly lead our daughter to the potty to have her sit on it and do nothing. We had to admit defeat.
We gave 3-day potty training our best effort, but it just didn’t work out for us. I think if we’d continued the process for the whole week and not had to interrupt it with daycare, we might have had a better chance of success. I’m not entirely sure 3-day potty training is meant for 20-month-olds. I mean, yes, the author of “Oh Crap!” says that this method can be used with kids as young as 20 months, but that doesn’t mean its success rate with that age group is particularly high.
I think the method is sound, though. Bridget did pick up what was expected of her fairly quickly. She just couldn’t translate her bare-bum success into covered-bum success. When my current job contract is up in a couple months, we’ll try this method again. Hopefully, my being home during the week after our next potty bootcamp and the extra three months of mental and physical maturity for Bridget will combine to create a success story. Until then, I’m fine with diapers.
Just not size 6.