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7 Stages of Potty Training

Photograph by Flickr/Zachary Jean Paradis

After potty training three kids, there's one thing I've learned for sure: It doesn't really ever get any easier.

You'd think I'd be an expert by now. And maybe I would be, except that every time one kid teaches me something about the potty procedure, the next kid goes and does something completely different.

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With my first, I learned that proper hydration encourages them to use the toilet, so I allowed unlimited access to apple juice (his favorite). Genius! Unfortunately, unlimited access to apple juice also causes diarrhea, and an introduction to the potty that involves diarrhea is a great way to ensure your child won't want to go near another bathroom for several months.

I didn't make that mistake with my second child, though! I gently encouraged her with positive reinforcement (that's parenting code for bribery). As soon as she was successful, I trotted her directly to the store amid much fanfare to purchase the princess big-girl underwear I had promised — where she promptly peed all over the floor and was too traumatized to talk about underwear again for several months.

You can forget about learning much from doctors or books or friends or even your own past experience. Because every single child is different.

My third child, miraculously, took an interest in potty training all on her own! However, she developed a fascination with toilet paper, using almost an entire roll every time she goes. Once she gets in there, sometimes it seems like she won't leave the bathroom for several months.

What I'm saying is, you can forget about learning much from doctors or books or friends or even your own past experience. Because every single child is different.

Really, the only constant you'll reliably encounter across pretty much every family's attempt to ditch the diapers doesn't have anything to do with kids — it's the phases the parents go through. Allow me to outline the seven stages of the typical potty training process, from the parents' perspective.

1. Shock and Denial: What? My BABY is old enough for potty training? AND I'M THE ONE WHO HAS TO TRAIN HER?

2. Pain and Guilt: This is impossible. Why isn't it working??? I've waited too long. Or maybe I started too early. I've been too free and loose with the mini M&Ms and now I just have a diaper-wearing chocolate addict.

3. Anger: I've been sitting on the edge of the tub reading "Everyone Poops" to you for THREE HOURS. JUST GOOOOOOOO.

4. Bargaining: I will give you every M&M on planet Earth if you just please, PLEASE use the potty. Seriously. I'll buy you 37 kittens and let you name them all M&M. Whatever you want.

5. Depression: If one more person tells me, "Don't worry, it's not like she'll go off to college wearing diapers or anything," I'm going to eat this entire bag of M&Ms myself while sobbing quietly into the guest towels.

6. Reflection: Remember back when we could leave the house, because we didn't have to constantly be within a two-foot radius of our toilet? Those were good times.

7. Acceptance: It's okay. We never really go any place but Grandma's anyway, and I've always hated our carpet.

RELATED: Is It My Fault My Kid's Not Potty Trained?

If you're a parent in the trenches of training it sounds rough, but it's not all that bad — you only go through these phases once! Well, once every 10 minutes or so. For several weeks. But just stick with it and remember, it's not like your kid will go off to college wearing diapers or anything.

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