If you've tried everything with potty training your toddler or preschooler, you've followed all the potty training tips, and you're stuck, you may be making some common potty training mistakes. I made many of these mistakes and decided to open up and share them with fellow parents who are struggling to toilet train a three year old. These parenting tips apply to potty training boys and girls!

Common Potty Training Mistakes

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If you’re struggling with potty training your toddler (or even preschooler!) you may be making one of the common potty training mistakes that I made. Yep, I made every single one of these and I’m sharing it with you so that you don’t make them too! Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links. This post was first published here January 2017 and was updated with new experiences.

If you've tried everything with potty training your toddler or preschooler, you've followed all the potty training tips, and you're stuck, you may be making some common potty training mistakes. I made many of these mistakes and decided to open up and share them with fellow parents who are struggling to toilet train a three year old. These parenting tips apply to potty training boys and girls!

I initially decided to share this information after struggling to potty train M and sarcastically posting on Facebook that I think I’m gonna share how NOT to potty train a kid. Or rather, “how to potty train your 3.5 year old in 5 months”. But then a few friends chimed in that they could really use realistic advice. You know, “learn from your mistakes” kind of advice.

Thousands have read this advice. Now, four and a half years later and two years after potty training my second son, I decided it’s time to update this advice with my new experiences. So here goes…

I was frustrated to say the least.

I read up on my advice.

I tried and tried.

Nothing was working.

My son was three years old plus some. We had tried before the baby was born. We had tried in the summer. And now the pressure was on – his preschool wanted him out of diapers, and he was the only one left.

I thought that the peer pressure – all his friends wear underwear – would help.

I thought that getting a BLUE potty seat would do the job and excite him.

I even thought (knew?) that going commando may help.

But something was obviously not working.

How I eventually realized I was making potty training mistakes:

If you've tried everything with potty training your toddler or preschooler, you've followed all the potty training tips, and you're stuck, you may be making some common potty training mistakes. I made many of these mistakes and decided to open up and share them with fellow parents who are struggling to toilet train a three year old. These parenting tips apply to potty training boys and girls!

After abandoning the advice I read online, after five months of trying, after making every mistake possible, M was finally fully trained. He was (is) even ready to night train! (Update: he night trained very soon after).

I took the opportunity to think back and reflect on what exactly I was doing wrong!

Here’s the thing: you’ll read all sorts of advice, amazing tips, and cool strategies for easy potty training two-year-olds over the weekend. And it may work for some.

Potty training is an individual formula – and that is one of the first and most critical potty training mistakes that many moms make!

So why am I writing this list?

Call it a “potty training troubleshooting guide”. Go through it. Figure out if that’s what’s holding your child back.

Oh, yeah, one more thing.

You are still an amazing mother if your child is NOT potty trained by three years. You are doing a great job! Potty training is not easy, but you’ve got this.

So, while I was joking about writing a blog post on “How to potty train your 3.5 year old in five months”, I decided to go forth and share some common mistakes that I made, and the solutions and ways around them.

6 Common Potty Training Mistakes You’re Probably Making:

Potty Training Mistakes #1: Not being consistent

You can’t potty train over the weekend if you’re not going to head straight into the week with the same agenda.

Potty training is really habit forming, so if you take a break, you’re interrupting the whole pattern. Even more so, your toddler probably won’t understand why or when he or she gets to wear diapers sometimes and not others.


We wanted to send M to preschool fully trained and realized his teachers probably did NOT want to clean up his accidents.  But this was interrupting the whole flow. I was so frustrated that he was perfect on the weekends but during the week, when we’d change into underwear after school, he’d consistently have accidents.

Eventually I realized that this may be an issue.

When we eventually realized this, I took him to his preschool, brought him to the toilet a few times, and almost overnight he was fully trained. We traveled with him in underwear at that point – a two plus hour road trip! (Having a travel potty for backup definitely helped.)

But let’s backtrack a few steps in this process and go onto the next common potty training mistakes.

Potty Training Mistakes #2: Using disposable training pants

If you've tried everything with potty training your toddler or preschooler, you've followed all the potty training tips, and you're stuck, you may be making some common potty training mistakes. I made many of these mistakes and decided to open up and share them with fellow parents who are struggling to toilet train a three year old. These parenting tips apply to potty training boys and girls!

Here’s what you need to know about disposable training pants:

  1. They feel just like diapers
  2. They don’t hold a poop

When we felt like M was staying dry on the weekends, we sent him to preschool with his training pants. Well, he pooped straight up his back. I had to come in to clean him up. He was screaming the entire time.

Did I mention that it was pouring rain that day? That I didn’t have a car? And that I was wearing his little brother while doing all this? I got sick afterwards.

Training pants are great for when you don’t EXPECT your child to use it, but you want it as a backup. This applies to a FULLY TRAINED child who has already formed his toilet-going habits, and is used to going to the bathroom when he needs. We use it now during nap time, and it’s great for long road trips too. We also use it for night training once we have a few dry nights with a diaper, to make it easier for the child to go to the bathroom if they do need it.

A possible alternative if you feel you need it (which I have not tried, by the way, so I’m not vouching for it) is cloth training pants. These are pretty much underwear with extra padding, so there’s less to clean up if there’s an accident.

So why didn’t M just go to the bathroom that day if he had mostly formed this habit? Yeah, about that…

Potty Training Mistakes #3: Using a potty seat or potty ring

If you've tried everything with potty training your toddler or preschooler, you've followed all the potty training tips, and you're stuck, you may be making some common potty training mistakes. I made many of these mistakes and decided to open up and share them with fellow parents who are struggling to toilet train a three year old. These parenting tips apply to potty training boys and girls!

We didn’t have space for a potty seat (though I was drooling over some adorable ones) so I just went straight to a ring that sits on the seat. All went without hitch, until that fateful day mentioned above.

We learned the hard way that when your child gets used to a potty ring, you’re stuck. She will now be afraid of every toilet without a potty ring.

M was terrified of his school toilet. He is a very skinny boy, and he really can’t sit straight on the seat. Except that he can. He just needed to learn how to hold himself up with his hands. By now he doesn’t even need to.

In case you’re wondering, yes, he does sometimes try doing it standing, but that doesn’t work in all circumstances (note the blowout I had to clean above).

After our training pants episode, when I realized that he was afraid, I offered his teacher (who is an experienced mother herself) our spare potty ring. She did not want to start with it, and encouraged us to teach him to go without.

We literally had to train him from scratch. And he did not choose a good day for that.

So, while in some circumstances a potty ring can be a great transitional step, if you’re having trouble training your child, you might want to evaluate your own situation. If your child is in a place regularly with a toilet that does NOT have a ring, you’ll want to skip that step.

If M can do without, you child definitely can!

And here’s where I provide an update with Y: we made the same mistake twice. He has a more adaptable and social personality so he was easier to retrain, but yep, we had to retrain him to go without the potty ring again!

Potty Training Mistakes #4: Turning it into a power struggle

Once things don’t go straight and clean from the start, you head into power struggle zone.

I was actually aware of this from the start, so it was not the cause of most of our issues, but we did experience this some. There were two things that I tried to do consistently that helped us avoid the struggle (meaning, when I slacked on them, that’s when the power struggle set in.)

1. Step back- To some extent, potty training is hands-on. You need to stand behind your child and be there for him.  But we were guilty sometimes of asking him every second of the day if he needed to go. Your child needs to learn how to go on his own. Gently reminding a few times, at the very beginning of your training, is enough.

The biggest learning experience for your child is his accidents. Your child will naturally feel bad about it and want to do better.

Potty training will need to be an independent experience, this is a basic skill your child will need to be fully trained outside of the home as well.

2. Give choices – Do the words “I don’t WANNA wear underwear, I wanna diaper!” sound familiar? This is the sound of the initial excitement of the patterns on the underwear wearing off.

If you've tried everything with potty training your toddler or preschooler, you've followed all the potty training tips, and you're stuck, you may be making some common potty training mistakes. I made many of these mistakes and decided to open up and share them with fellow parents who are struggling to toilet train a three year old. These parenting tips apply to potty training boys and girls!

Giving a choice puts your child in control – even if both of the choices are exactly what you’re telling him to do…

“Do you want the Elmo underwear or the airplane one?” simply works better than “We’re wearing underwear, not a diaper”. You can even give your child the option of going bare-bottomed or wearing underwear. It’s surprisingly age appropriate.

Potty Training Mistakes #5: Starting too soon

Another thing we did wrong, way before all of the above incidents, was trying before the baby was born? M sat on the toilet and had no idea what to do. We tried a number of times.

Make sure that your child is really ready before you try to train. Here are some guidelines you can follow, since clearly I’m not an expert on this. Some people have told me that potty training in three days did work when they tried again later on, so if your child is very young you may want to try again later.

Potty Training Mistakes #6: Using only reward charts

If you've tried everything with potty training your toddler or preschooler, you've followed all the potty training tips, and you're stuck, you may be making some common potty training mistakes. I made many of these mistakes and decided to open up and share them with fellow parents who are struggling to toilet train a three year old. These parenting tips apply to potty training boys and girls!

Reward charts make a great incentive for potty training, however, at least in the beginning, you want an immediate incentive as well. Unless your child is thrilled with the concept of placing a sticker on a piece of paper, she is simply too young to understand the concept of future rewards.

Aim for immediate gratification.

All who know me know good and well how I feel about junk food. However, M has eaten so many chocolate chips and had so many lollies (our earlier poop treats), I no longer recognize myself and my parenting principles.

But hey! He’s trained…

Bigger prizes (read: new toys) were given as follows:

  • First successful pee
  • First successful poop
  • First full day dry and clean
  • First full day at preschool dry and clean
  • Subsequent potty training charts that were used for smaller incentives.

Yes, I DID do charts as well. I used them for bigger prizes and to track our success. At first I gave him one sticker every time he TRIED to make in the toilet. We used another at the end to mark ten days totally dry – and after that we were good to go.

Charts were a HUGE part of our potty training system. They were, however, part of a system. I finally decided to share that system with you:


I can’t reshare this post without first sharing with you an essential tip we gained from training Y, our second child.

The best way to train is to let your child go bare-bottomed. Ever dealt with the frustration of your child peeing in the underwear the moment you give up after trying to sit on the potty for an hour?

Babies learn to hold things in when they’re uncovered, when you’re changing them, and let it out when they’re covered with their diapers. When you potty train, they need to reverse this. If your child is bare bottomed, eventually they’ll need to let go.

But Y did not want to go bare bottomed. He felt naked.

The solution ended up being putting on him his big brother’s shirts. Longer t-shirts helped him feel covered but not TOO covered. So if you’re having this issue, especially with boys who aren’t wearing dresses and skirts, it’s worth a shot!

When your potty training mistakes are getting to you…

Remember the following:

  1. Potty training is extremely hard. Mom friends have told me it’s the worst part of parenting. That might sound extreme, and maybe it is, but regardless, it’s hard enough to make moms say that.
  2. You’re not alone. Most moms are announcing things they are proud of. They’re not broadcasting that their 3+ year old is now trained. They’re not announcing their potty training mistakes, because they’re not proud of them. Most bloggers who offer you tips are only doing so when they feel successful at it. Not when they struggled as well. But dare I say that the majority of moms struggle?
  3. The job you are doing potty training your child is NOT  a measuring tape for how good a mother you are. How much  you love your children, how much effort you invest in them, how much you care when things get difficult. If you’re read until here, you clearly care.
  4. Finally, when you’ve successfully trained your child reward yourself. You deserve it.

Do you know of any common potty training mistakes to add to the list? Do you have any other tips to offer struggling moms? Comment below – and be nice πŸ˜‰ !!

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  1. Thank you so much for posting this. We are in the middle of potty training and I just realized that I am definitely confusing him with nappy now but not later and mostly for my convenience. Definitely going to take your advice and soldier on. I would really appreciate it if you could share where you got those adorable underpants? Here in South Africa the variety is not as cute as those πŸ™‚

  2. Thank you for the tips! Very good advice! My little boy will be 3 in three months. He has been peeing on the potty since before 2, but still also pees in his pull up. A pooing on the potty is VERY rare. I really like the tip of ditching the pull ups and being consistent. And also the bigger rewards. I use m&m’s currently, but I may try something bigger if he stays dry all day. Did you stay home or several days while training, or do you think it is ok to venture out while doing it?

    1. Hi Candy, I’m so glad they helped! I’d DEFINITELY stay at home for a few days – especially if you’re talking out shopping, visiting, and not a situation that he is very familiar with and goes to daily (like day care). Just being out can give anxiety if he’s still new to the toilet. I did it over the weekend for that reason – so it didn’t really disrupt our schedule much. Obviously, if it’s dragging, you may need to slip on a pull up for a ride here and there (that’s what they’re really good for…)

  3. Thank you for posting all this great information! My little guy will be 2 soon and I have no idea where to begin, so I have been reading up on potty training as much as possible. I am still not sure about night training. Would you recommend wearing underwear at night too? What do I need to do differently at night? TIA!!!

  4. Thank you so much for sharing! My son does great at daycare, I he’s in undies all day. It’s when get home that my husband and I are not so on top of it. Need to step up and just do it!

  5. I have 3 girls and your definitely correct every experience is different its time for my 3rd to be potty trained and I’m dreading it because the accidents are how they learn but in the mean time everything you own is getting peed on and you have to stalk your child so they don’t pee on furniture. I completely agree with no pull ups they are more expensive than diapers and my middle child thought they were just cool diapers and wanted to wear them so she can pee in them. ***My best advice is when your child poops in underwear dump the poo poo in toliet and make sure they are watching it tells them this is wear poop goes and let them flush and say :bye bye poopoo”*** next time they have to go they will remember that’s wear poop goes and will be excited to say goodbye to it again.

  6. Thank you for your advice! My 2.5 year old is potty training and she goes all day in big girl panties at daycare and will even tell the teachers she needs to go. As soon as I come in the picture, she will pee in her panties, not tell me she needs to go, and doesn’t care that she’s wet. I do put a pull up on sometimes to avoid mistakes so that is my fault but I’m so frustrated with her doing that when she gets home! Please help if you can! : )

    1. Hi Ashley,
      Each child is different, and you know your child best. But it could be a few things: does she maybe see other children go at daycare, and that might remind her whether she needs to go or not? Also, maybe she’d be better off bare bottomed? Another idea, she might be playing you for your attention πŸ˜‰ Either way, you might want to mention it to your pediatrician and see what he/she recommends.

  7. We took ach of our sons to the bathroom to the bathroom each time we went. The boys were real proud to go at the same time as Mommy and Daddy. Our oldest was dry day and night at 11 months, when he took his crib apart and started sleeping on a regular twin bed.
    Our youngest had a medical problem. He was poop trained at about 23 months. Pee training was not successful until he was almost 5. And bed wetting accidents occurred until he was almost 16 years old.
    To teach the boys how to stand and per, we used pieces of toilet paper floating and taught the to hit the target for a treat. Of course, there was a lot of cleaning up during the early stages. Also, after a successful target hit, sometimes they turned loose of the “weapon” and pee went every where!
    It was frequently hard on all of us when the medical issues resulted in accidents outside of home. We always carried extra jeans or slacks, shorts identical to the ones being worn to cut down on embarrassment. Little bit more expensive than otherwise, but what is money compared to a child’s self-esteem.

  8. I’ve 3 years and 3 months boy and he has to go to preschool in September, needs to be potty trained. However he is somehow potty trained but not fully and everyday I am thinking what I should do! When I read your page, I found that I am still doing some mistakes. Even now, sometimes when we want to go out, we put him nappy! Most usually we take him to the toilet for his pee even without asking him and he just poop trained recently.
    But still i think i need more advice, when we go out, he doesn’t ask to go toilet even when he has poo! I have no idea what I have to do! He never ask someone else to take him or help him to go to the toilet.
    Do you have any suggestions?

    1. I think it’s worth acclimating him to poop a little more before going out – he might feel like he’s losing a part of him when he goes. You can show it to him when he does at home. It’s also scary to go on other toilets. Do you use a potty ring at all? It might be worth training him to go without one. That’s what helped my son go outside of the home – getting rid of any training devices that he was relying on.

  9. For those of us that have a hard time remembering. My suggestion is to use a cheap kitchen timer and only use it for that. That way you can tell your toddler that is what it is for and if he or she forgets you can remind them with out to much of a struggle.

  10. My son has been per potty trained since 2, be is now 3 amd some change, and still will not poop on the potty. He will hold it for days! I dont know what to do. He doesn’t have accidents but just refuses to poop in the potty.

  11. Hey,
    Thanks for writing it really helps. but I want to share my story hoping to get some help. My son is four year old now. I started potty training when he was two years old. He picked up peeing in a day or two. But poop was difficult. So I didn’t force him. I took break n started again, nothing happened. He is four now but still I’m not able to convince him go poop in toilet. He know that he should go in toilet but he doesn’t. If I don’t put him diaper he will not at all go to poop. He will hold for two to three days. So I don’t want him to force. Even If I talk more about it he doesn’t tell me that he wants to go to poop and say poop is not coming.
    When I asked him when u will go to potty in toilet? He said, “when I become big like you”. I replied, u big enough to do in toilet. He says no. I don’t know what to do. He is already in preschool and no more accidents at school. He knows that he shouldn’t do accidents. He comes home and asks for diaper. And he does potty usually at night. Pls help me

    1. Hi Ranjitha, you are not alone in this – many kids are afraid to poop because they feel like they are losing a part of themselves there. One tip I heard from another mom (possibly in the comments on this post?) is that they place the poop from the diaper into the toilet to show the child. I recommend you read this expert article: http://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/potty-training/problems/dr-alan-greene-on-the-reluctant-potty-pooper/ AND discuss your concerns with your pediatrician.

      1. Hi menucha,
        Thank u for ur reply and thanks for sharing that link. I think it may help. From past six months I’m putting his poop from his diaper to toilet and flush in front of him. Many a time he does the flushing. I’m not able to find out what fears him to go poop in toilet. He always says I will go potty in toilet when I become big like you or like father. And he wants to wear a pant full length after the diaper. He will not go potty in diaper without a night pant. What does that mean? Insecurity? There is something which I’m not able to make out. As a mother I feel guilt and I feel I’m a bad mother as I’m not able to understand my baby’s feelings.

        1. Potty training is really hard and there’s no reason to feel bad about it – toddlers can really be confusing! You should speak to your doctor. Many kids have insecurity with potty training so it could be that, but if the conventional wisdom and mom-to-mom advice isn’t working, definitely express your concerns to your doctor!

  12. Thanks for the advise! It’s very helpful! I’m in the middle of potty training my 2 year old daughter (almost 2.5). She’s getting it..she is even pooping in the potty most days! I’m currently letting her go bare bottom throughout the day except at nap time! But.. every time I try to put her big girl panties on she pees right through them and it doesn’t even bother her! If she is bare bottom she doesn’t have an accident but if she has panties on she will every time! Do you have any advice on this? Thank you.

  13. Help! I am totally in the struggle of potty training with a three year old. There’s nothing she wants enough to bribe her and she could care less about wet underwear or peeing down her leg. Trying to potty train without an working incentives throws so many of the methods I’ve read out the window.

    1. Hi Nina,
      A few things I can think of:
      1. Keep in mind that every child is different. These are just some ideas that break away from what might be your default, since each child is different and sometimes what works for one might not work for another.
      2. Maybe try to break away from “methods” and try to do what feels natural to you? I know with my son, the best incentive/worst punishment was my excitement/disappointment at seeing his successes/failures.
      3. Has she ever peed in the potty at all? For us, the excitement of the first time was a breakthrough (which came accidentally after plying him with 3 cups of juice – something I rarely give at all – and sitting on the toilet for 40 minutes)
      4. Definitely have her evaluated for sensory processing delays if you haven’t yet – I believe there is a correlation between potty training difficulties and sensory processing.
      5. Sometimes it helps to take a short break and start from scratch.

      But the main thing is: don’t be cross with yourself – potty training is hard! It can cause mom to feel helpless, like she’s failing. Bu the truth is, some kids are harder than others, and in the end, all healthy kids (and their parents πŸ˜‰ ) succeed. So an end WILL come!

  14. Suggestions when PreSchool makes them wear a pull-up? We are successful all weekend in underwear but then the weekdays roll around and it’s a fail. I’ve hit a brick wall after months of trying and I’m exhausted! (They are boy/girl twins, 3 yrs 7 months)

    1. I have no idea! I didn’t deal with that so I can’t share personal experience. My only question is, would they allow cloth training pants with the agreement that they can throw them away if they dirty it? Those feel like underwear to the kids, so if they are trained in underwear that might help.

  15. I wanted to read this all the way through, I really did. But there are too many ads obstructing the view of your article. You can definitely tell how you get paid. Just some constructive criticism, you should dial down on the ads your poor article is lost in the spam.

    1. Hi Just Helping, email address no@no.com. As a blogger who speaks to fellow mothers, I do appreciate when a comment has a “face” to it. I put my face on mine. But for the sake of others who are bothered by ads, I figured I’d answer this for a change. You write “you can definitely tell how you get paid”. Yup, that’s how I get paid. I hardly earn a fair wage for the 5-12+ hours a day I put into creating and maintaining the content on this website. I wish I could get by without ads, or with just one tiny one on the sidebar, but unfortunately this blog wouldn’t exist. So due to the need to earn money to support my family, I keep ads on my blog. Put it this way: it’s either have the content with ads, or not have it at all. I figure at least the content is there. And I constantly seek out sponsors for posts so that I can remove my ads for those. But yes, I get paid for working full time running a free website via ads. Would you prefer to pay a membership to access your content?

  16. My lil girl is 2 years 7 months. We been potty training with underwear but sometimes she holds it and won’t go potty in the toilet. She definitely won’t for a sometimes babysitter. She tells me she has to go but wants diaper..help. number 2 seems like a nitemare

      1. Thank u for ur help. She is starting to tell me when she has to go to the bathroom and she is going on the toilet. Just gonna be a lil bit before number 2 is completed. Lol

  17. My 4 year old is not potty trained and he was doing good then fell back he has costpation problems that hold him back and I tried the under wear he just peed in them like his pull up and his teachers say he uses the toilet at school but .

  18. I might be crying after reading your words of encouragement….yesterday was a rough potty training day that made me feel like I am a failure….thank you for these tips!! So helpful!

  19. Hi, my son is 2 years and 3 months old, and he is showing interest in the toilet and disinterest in diapers, among other things. First time potty training, and these tips sound great! I have classes on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, for an hour or so at times, and I won’t be able to take him there. I can try to potty train on the weekends, but I don’t know if it will work. I believe he is ready- and we’ll be going with the bare-bottomed approach. Do you have any other tips or something? I’m not quite sure what to do at night, either.
    But thanks for these tips! Helps a lot!

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