How to Potty Train a Toddler (Without the Power Struggles)

Learning how to potty train a toddler can be challenging. Take out the guesswork with these easy potty training tips and methods.

How to Potty Train a ToddlerThe first time my toddler peed in the potty seat, I had no idea how to clean it up. As in, I didn’t even know I was supposed to flush the pee down the toilet (don’t ask where I ended up disposing of it).

I had been so nonchalant about potty training, only going so far as at least buying a potty. But I was pretty clueless about how to actually start potty training.

I wish I could say the rest of potty training went without a hitch after those initial tinkles. Instead, after three kids, I learned from many mistakes, many more accidents, and, regretfully, many arguments as well.

Below are the tips and tricks I wish I had known from the start. We’ll go over tactical ways to get your toddler to use the potty, as well as hacks to try when he outright refuses. But more importantly, I want you to focus more on your mindset about potty training and the “big picture” goals you have for him.

Because at the end of the day, you want him to be able to use the potty, right? Well, spoiler alert: he will, no doubt. I have yet to see a kindergartener not use the toilet all by himself. So, relax and stay calm, because successful potty training starts… with you:

Toddler Refuses to Poop on Potty

1. Get potty training tools and gear

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

The first and biggest part of potty training is up to your toddler and his willingness to give it a try. The other part is up to you: creating a potty training environment.

After all, you can’t expect him to buy his own potty or borrow potty training books from the library. Instead, this is where you come in. You can provide the tools and environment to make potty training successful. For instance, you can:

  • Buy and introduce a potty. Without any pressure or expectations, explain that he can use the potty to pee and poo. Place a floor potty like this one in the bathroom so he associates potty use with going to the bathroom.
  • Read potty training books and watch videos. This can help him understand that all kids learn to eventually use the potty. Give him things to do while he sits on the potty to help him relax.
  • Ditch diapers and pull-ups completely. He can feel the discomfort of accidents more with using undies rather than diapers. Another reason is that he won’t want to soil his new underwear. Either way, hopefully, he can be more willing to give the potty a chance.
  • Give books and toys he can play with while sitting. This can help him relax and focus less on passing stool and bowel movements. Give him a doll or stuffed animal that he can “teach” to use the potty. We often learn best by teaching what we are trying to learn!

Free course: Want to potty train without the power struggles? Sign up for the 5-day email course, Peaceful Potty Training! No more putting unrealistic deadlines on your child or using treats that fizzle. Join the course now and help your child get the hang of using the potty. You’ll also get my newsletters, which parents say they LOVE:

“Nina, Thank you so much for your emails! They always seem to show up at the right time and truly make a difference.” -Audrey

Peaceful Potty Training

2. Only start if your toddler wants to

Here’s the thing with potty training: it’s supposed to be easy. Yup, despite what you heard, potty training should never be an “issue” between you and your toddler.

You see, none of what you do matters if she’s not willing. The transition away from diapers and to using the toilet is one of the few things kids have absolute control over. So much so that once she’s ready, potty training should be a piece of cake.

So, how do you know if she’s ready to potty train? You’ll know if she…

  • Has bladder control. She needs to be able to be aware of her bowel movements and be able to stop and release them. When does this happen? According to Healthy Children, children show signs of bladder and bowel control between 18 and 24 months of age.
  • Tells you when she has to use the potty or has dirty diapers. She might mention it before she has to go, or even if she’s already gone in her diapers. She’s aware of her bodily functions and wants to try the potty as an alternative to diapers.
  • Is predictable. You pretty much know when she pees and poops, like after nap time or before meals.
  • Can pull her pants up and down. After all, she has to learn to do this herself to use the potty independently.
  • Is interested in potty training. Potty readiness is like a “light bulb moment,” where everything works when she’s ready and willing. She has to want to use the potty for it to work.

And if she’s not, it’s not worth the fight. She shouldn’t throw a fit—that’s your first and clearest clue that she’s not ready. Simply try again, even as little as a week later, and gauge her reaction then.

Check out 6 signs your child is not ready for potty training.

Signs Your Child Is Not Ready for Potty Training

3. Create a potty training action plan

A solid action plan can help you potty train. While you won’t find a one-size-fits-all method, you can try different ways to fit potty training into your life:

  • Keep your child bare-bottom. Using the 3-day potty training method, keep him bare-bottom at home so that he can be aware of the need to pee and poop. Set aside three days and commit to following through with the plan.
  • Take him to the potty frequently. Another method is to set your timer for every hour or two and take him to the potty. Keep him in undies and have him sit frequently enough that he might pee or poop.
  • Use the potty after regular parts of the day. Weave a potty schedule into your daily routine by taking him to the bathroom after common tasks and events. Sit him down after a nap, first thing in the morning, after meals, or before bedtime. The best times to take him are when you notice he tends to pee or poop in his diapers.
  • Offer lots of water and fluids. A fun sippy cup can encourage him to drink often throughout the day. And temporarily avoid the “BRAT” diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast) that can cause constipation.
  • Tell your toddler when you’re going to the potty. Remind him that we all use the potty. We all had to learn to ditch diapers and eventually sit on a toilet. You might even take him with you when you use the bathroom to demystify the process.

Potty Training in Three Days

4. Don’t give rewards

Rewards and prizes are often tied with potty training, especially when parents see an immediate change in their kids.

Except I disagree. As I’ve said, potty training should be easy—no bribes or typical rewards necessary. Bribing encourages external rewards like new toys rather than internal rewards like the pride of a job well done.

I learned this all too well when I hung a “pee pee poster” outside our bathroom wall. Each time my kiddo peed in the potty, I drew a bright yellow star to mark his progress. Except after a while, these stars began to lose their luster. So much so that he regressed, the appeal of new stars no longer an incentive.

But the minute I took the poster down, he began to use the potty once more. So, what are a few ways you can provide support and encouragement?

5. Offer simple praise

A high-five, hug, and “You did it!” are enough to let your toddler know he’s on the right track. That said, don’t overdo it each time he pees if he’s been doing it for weeks on end. Instead, look for first-time milestones and progress.

You can even let him “overhear” your praise. Mention his progress to someone else, loud enough that he can hear. You might say to your spouse, “Oh, guess what? He peed in the potty three times today! And he even washed his hands without me asking.”

6. Focus on progress, not perfection

We assume that potty training success means accident-free potty use. But many steps had to be taken for that “success” to happen, steps that need to be recognized.

So, acknowledge him not just for peeing and pooping in the potty, but for the progress he makes. Maybe he told you he needed to go or has been holding his pee for longer periods. These steps in the right direction are worth your attention, too.

7. Expect accidents

Accidents are inevitable, in the beginning and after it seems like he should’ve gotten potty training down by now. They’re going to happen longer with poop than with pee. Have patience by “factoring in” accidents from the get-go, knowing that they’re part of the process.

This can help you focus on staying calm. Getting upset—whether about accidents or his refusal—can lead to regression, shame, and confusion.

Instead, respond with a matter-of-fact demeanor, or at least stay neutral. Yup, even when he’s been having accidents galore or you feel pressured to get him potty trained. Staying calm sets the tone and makes him more likely to take to potty training.


Despite the challenges of potty training, it all boils down to this: potty training should be easy. And the only way it can be easy is when your toddler is willing and ready to give it a try. If he continues to fight you about it, let it go until another time—the toddler power struggles are likely keeping his defenses up.

Think of potty training as a combination of two things: his willingness and your support. When he’s eager to potty train, you can then provide the resources and environment to help him succeed and do his best.

You know you’re on the right track when you can both stay calm, eager, and willing to keep going. Yes, even if at first you have no idea how to clean pee from a potty.

Get more tips:

Don’t forget: Join my newsletter and sign up for the 5-day email mini course, Peaceful Potty Training below—at no cost to you:

Peaceful Potty Training

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  1. My three year old son refuses to use the potty regardless of what we offer him as a reward. He will sometimes pee on the potty but has an absolute meltdown when it comes to pooping. We have tried taking things away, from him tablet, toys and tv but to no avail. He will only go once his diaper or pull up is on. Please help!

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      It’s totally normal for kids to struggle with poop-training even though they’ve been peeing in the potty like a champ. In fact, our pediatrician told us that it can take up to a year before kids master pooping in the potty. Not to say that you’ll have the same amount of accidents you do now for a whole year before they magically disappear overnight. Instead, they’ll taper down over the next couple of months. This happened with all three of my kids. All that to say, don’t feel like things are going wrong because of these accidents, especially if he’s peeing well in the potty.

      Still, we can do a lot to help them feel more comfortable with the potty. One is to stop with the rewards. As you’ve seen, they don’t work, or they lose their pizazz, or we feel like we have to threaten with punishments, which is no way to motivate someone to reach a goal.

      Instead, praise him for every little bit of progress, even if it doesn’t feel like progress. Maybe he sat down on the potty (even though he didn’t poop). You can say, “Thanks for sitting on the potty! You sat down for a whole minute on your own!” That way, he’ll feel motivated not by external rewards, but by an internal pride.

      Lastly, try to ease him into using the potty, whether that’s encouraging him to sit on it even with a diaper on, or talking about it like a normal thing rather than a stressful one. Because I’ve found that the more we back off, the easier it gets. It “clicks” with them, and they appreciate not being hounded about the same issue.

      I hope that helps! Rest assured you’re not alone, and that this will pass soon enough.