To win the war of the wills with my adorable-but-stubborn 3-year-old, Charlie, I have to give him choices. “Milk or water?” when he asks for juice; “Do you want to play with your books or your blocks?” when he demands to watch more TV. This approach, however, hasn’t translated well to potty-training. “The Elmo potty or the Dora one?” just wasn’t enough to compel him to sit down long enough to get the deed done. I was worried he might be too stubborn to potty train—but then Jeanine, the mom of Charlie’s best friend, Stevie, who is probably even more stubborn than Charlie, told me she’d trained her son in less than three days using a sort of “boot camp” she cobbled together from parenting blogs and her own mommy instincts.
Needless to say, I was intrigued. What follows is Jeanine’s Potty Training Boot Camp For Stubborn Toddlers—and how it worked for my own little soldier. (And if it worked for our boys…we think it might work for your child!)
Step 1: Banish All Diapers from Your House
I began Day 1 of Jeanine’s program by telling Charlie that because he was 3 years old, it was time to stop wearing diapers. I got a big box and asked him to help me put in all of his diapers, then I wrote the names of his baby cousins on the box and explained the mail man was going to deliver his diapers to them. He smiled and helped me seal the box. Score: Mommy, 1; Diapers Forever, 0.
Step 2: Go Shopping for Underwear
Next, we drove to the store, where I allowed Charlie to pick out as many pairs of Mickey Mouse and Superman underwear as he wanted. We left the store with 28 pairs, which he happily counted and sorted like they were toy cars. Score: Mommy, 2; Diapers Forever, 0.
Step 3: Get Ready for a Big Mess
When we got home, he put on one of his new pairs of underpants. Then I just let him do his thing, playing with puzzles, watching TV, while giving him ample snacks and drinks—even juice—hoping his liquid consumption would mean more opportunities to do the potty dance.
Within 20 minutes, the first pair of underwear was wet. But, I couldn’t get him to sit on the potty. Pair #2 was soon wet. Still, he wouldn’t even try the potty. By bedtime, he’d gone through eight pairs of his new underwear in total and hadn’t set foot in the bathroom. Score: Mommy, 2; Diapers Forever: 1. (Though it felt like 100.)
Although I remained calm and smiley during the entire day (as Jeanine had instructed; if you act like you want potty-training too much, your stubborn child will respond by rebelling), I was frantic inside. Would he wear Pull-Ups to his senior prom?? But Jeanine reassured me that “nothing went in the toilet” the first day for her son, either. This made me feel a bit better as I disinfected the floor and washed the bathmats.
Step 4: Make the Potty Fun and Relaxing
Jeanine told me the only way she actually got her son to sit on the potty was by allowing him to play on her iPad. So on Day 2, when Charlie woke up, I told him I’d bought him a new app that he could only play while sitting on the toilet. My iPad is usually off-limits to him, so he was intrigued. And sure enough, his first time sitting down, we had pee in the potty! I whooped and hollered and got everyone in the family to cheer Charlie on. Score: Mommy, 3, Diapers Forever, 1.
Step 5: Give Lots of Presents
After his first pee victory, I allowed Charlie to choose his prize from a big bag of toy cars. He was very excited about this and began planning what car he would get the next time he went in the potty. Score: Mommy, 4, Diapers Forever, 1.
Step 6: Keep Your Child in the Potty Zone for the Next 2 Days
The next two days, we pretty much stayed inside, near the toilet, and I plied him with juice and rewarded him with cars—then switched to organic gummy bears when he lost interest in them. He had two accidents on Day 2 and none on Day 3. He pooped and peed while playing matching games and learning how to count in Spanish from a Dora app. Score: Mommy, 5, Diapers Forever, 1.
Step 7: Setbacks Will Happen. Try Not to Freak Out.
The good news is that Charlie didn’t have any accidents after the first 48 hours of our boot camp. He even woke up dry in the morning and after naps. The bad news? He seemed to need to see my face to use the potty! His first day back at preschool, he held it in from 7 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. As the days passed, he got more and more comfortable using the potty when I wasn’t around, but he still prefers to have Mommy nearby. We’re working on this together, and it’s a challenge…but at least I don’t have to worry about diapers anymore!
Jorie Mark is Vitacost.com’s Director of Marketing Communications and mom to three kids, ages 3 to 10.