Living Clean: Starting Potty Training

We’d been doing what one might call “potty-training-lite” for some time before ditching the diapers completely. I think Hudson may have first come running toward me, pants down, carrying a little (slightly wet) plastic toilet chair, exclaiming “I go pee-pee, I go pee-pee!” nearly six months ago. Since then, we always offered him the choice to use the toilet—before bed, at restaurants, and—of course often—when swimming and he would occasionally take us up on it. But while he had lots of successes using the toilet, he hadn’t shown much interest overall.

Teachers, his pediatrician, and some friends all offered the same advice: don’t rush. “Wait until he’s excited,” “wait until summer,” “wait until well after the baby arrives” had been the consensus. And with experience watching friends see the process—and the accidents—drag out (in some case, for years), we were happy to follow that advice.

But we thought that this might be a good time to get more serious about saying goodbye to diapering. He turned three recently and the new baby is not-so-new anymore. Plus we have a big trip to Italy coming up at the end of the summer. It sure would be nice to be (confidently) into undies by then, we thought.

And it’s summer! Perfect for naked time—and accidents outside the house.

So here is a list of supplies I gathered for getting started, and some tips I’ve gleaned so far… 


  1. Potty books—I’ve heard raves about these four books when it comes to inspiring toddlers: Once Upon a Potty, Everyone Poops (pictured), Prince of the Potty, and Going to the Potty (by Mr. Rogers). For parents, my cousin swears by Jamie Glowacki’s Oh Crap!
  2. A potty chair—We have both the small stand-alone potty (Pros: kids tend to find it less intimidating and it’s portable; Cons: you have to clean it, and they have to transition eventually) and the adapter ring. We ended up buying both, but have promoted the adapter ring. We bought the same one for both grandparents’ homes, too. I also think this 3-in-1 seat looks like a good idea.
  3. A step stool—If you don’t have one already, this one looks perfect: it wraps around the base so that they can still be flat-footed on the big toilet. But really, anything will do as long as they can use it to easily climb off and on—like this one. Some stools make for reaching the faucet are too tall.
  4. Rewards—Okay, this is controversial. We had a potty chart in the bathroom, and Hudson would get a different sticker for peeing versus pooping. (But honestly, it was not that compelling for him.) Some people suggest that you use the stickers to earn a prize.  And, I’d heard good things about immediate rewards—like one M&M for each time they go pee and two for poop. I’d also heard that the best reward is lots of positive encouragement… maybe with a little song-and-dance thrown in. And that’s what worked best for us.
  5. Training pants and Undies—Hudson was very excited about a pair of Captain Hook and Dusty from Planes undies. He was less jazzed about the plain Gerber training pants, but I like how these are extra absorbent (but without wicking away moisture like a diaper).
  6. Overnight pull-ups—Most of what I’ve read discourages pull-ups during the active teaching phase and encourages training pants or underwear instead (so that they can feel the sensation of being wet). But I couldn’t imagine going cold-turkey overnight, so I had these at the ready (and have been glad). I’ve heard an alternative tip is to use underwear inside of a diaper; that way, you still give them the chance to feel wetness, but you contain the accident.
  7. Foaming Hand wash—Hand-washing goes, er, hand-in-hand with toilet learning. I’ve found it’s much easier to keep Hudson interested in hand-washing with a foam soap, and it makes less of a mess. This Method hand wash is paraben-free and biodegradable. (Kids might like this one a lot.) We also sing his hand-washing song from preschool: “twinkle twinkle little star, look how clean my two hands are.”
  8. Plenty of cleaning supplies for the bathroom (and the rest of the house)—As you know, we’ve been using products from the Made to Matter, Handpicked by TargetTM collection and these are things I’d feel good about using in the kids’ bathroom: Seventh Generation Disinfecting Bathroom Cleaner and Seventh Generation Recycled Paper Towels. Hudson actually leans up against the toilet when he stands to pee (which is really a problem in public restrooms—gross), so I’ve been more vigilant than ever about keeping ours clean. This one kills nasty germs like E. Coli, but without the yucky fumes. They also make a free and clear surface cleaner.
  9. And for the laundry—If you’re not going with the bare-bottomed approach, be prepared to wash a lot of undies. One anecdote someone shared with me included her washing twenty pairs in a single day! This one is tough (but still gentle on their little bums), and it’s ultra-concentrated so it will get you through extra loads.
  10. (Not Pictured) Patience, humor, and heaps of praise!—Again, there are so many different opinions about the best method for potty training (or toilet learning, as many would say), but the most consistent advice I read before we started is to stay completely positive and enthusiastic.

When we finally went for it, I had Hudson bring me all the diapers from his room and we threw them out together. We spent half of that first weekend naked, and the second half commando—and had no accidents on the third day! Nighttime and naps? Still a moving target…

What would you add? Any advice? Did any of you tackle this during the day and night simultaneously? How’d that go?

This post is sponsored by TargetThe Made To Matter line has been handpicked by Target to bring you brands that make things better for your you, your family, and the place we all call home.

This is the fifth part of a series about giving the Made to Matter, Handpicked by TargetTM  collection a try. See my interview with the founders of Method and my post on cleaning up and making over our laundry room with before and after photos.

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