How to kick-start potty training in three days

If you're ready to commit an entire long weekend to potty training, the popular three-day method might be for you. 

A toddler boy sitting on a potty training toilet, next to a stuffed bear on a mini toilet
Photo credit: / EvgeniiAnd

The idea that your child could get comfortable using the potty in a few days – or even just one afternoon – probably sounds too good to be true for many. Although it may seem unbelievable, especially if you've only ever heard stories about potty training being lengthy and difficult, "quick training," known widely as three-day potty training, does work for many parents.

The concept of potty training in three days originated from educator Julie Fellom's Diaper Free Toddlers program in 2006. Since then, multiple other potty-training experts, including Lora Jensen, have modified and evolved the approach to shift the focus from complete potty-training success in three days to a short and intense period of training for making solid progress.

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Read on to learn more about potty training in three days, and how you can try out the approach at home. One thing to remember: This method doesn’t always work for everyone. And even once your child starts regularly using the potty, occasional potty accidents may still happen.

How does three-day potty training work?

Three-day potty training requires commitment, focus, and dedication. It's a "bare-bottomed" method, meaning that for the first three days after you initiate potty training, your child will need to be naked below the waist anytime they're up and about at home, and wear loose-fitting pants with nothing underneath when they're out or at daycare. (That said, not leaving the house much, if possible, is encouraged.) At nap time and bedtime, you can still use diapers or training pants.

Over the three days, you'll want to remind your child every 15 minutes to try and use the potty. This can be made easier – and more successful – by encouraging plenty of water, milk, and diluted juice. Extra liquids, which increase the urge to potty, is an essential aspect of training.

The reason children aren't supposed to wear any diapers or underwear is to increase their awareness of what's happening with their bodies. Of course, this means there will definitely be a few accidents – which presents an opportunity for teaching your little one how their body works, and not shaming or punishing them. (But at least there will be less laundry!)

The benefits

Experts and parents have lauded many benefits of three-day potty training:

  • A potty-training weekend can be a helpful and easy way to jump-start the process. If you've dreaded potty training, are worried about how to start, or have wondered how to teach your child to actually use the potty rather than just sit on it, this approach may help.
  • The method sometimes works quickly compared with other approaches, even with setbacks.
  • You might save yourself the time and frustration of potty training for months slowly.
  • Your child will be proud of their accomplishment and independence.
  • You'll save money – and be more eco-friendly – by eliminating disposable diapers earlier.
  • You won't have to bribe your child into using the potty because this approach doesn't feature treats or other rewards (other than an enthusiastic potty dance).
  • Making potty training fun and exciting may win over a child who has resisted using the potty or never shown interest.

The challenges

Potty training is never without a few hiccups and accidents. Endurance and patience might be the most difficult challenges you face, but here are a few others:

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  • Being mostly housebound for three days while you watch your child's every move before (repeatedly) whisking them to the potty can be draining.
  • Getting a day off to devote to potty training may be hard for working parents.
  • Sticking with it may be a challenge, depending on your childcare situation. Providers may not be willing or able to keep your child out of diapers, underwear, and training pants while they're in their care.
  • It can be messier than training pants or other slower potty-training processes

How to prepare for three-day potty training

Research has shown that there are actual physical, behavioral, and cognitive readiness signs that will help families succeed in potty training. Before deciding to start the three-day method, be sure that your child is really ready for potty training. Readiness signs include:

  • Understanding and following directions
  • Having some interest in potty training
  • Being able to use potty-related words, like "pee" and "poop" to communicate
  • Having a broader vocabulary so they can ask questions and talk about what’s happening

About a month before you're planning to start, here's what you need to do:

Clear your schedule. You'll need to plan to spend an entire long weekend (or three consecutive days) focused on potty training. That means canceling all your regular weekend activities, and making sure your potty-training partner, if you have one, can be around all the time for at least the first two days to help out. Explain to your child's daycare or nanny what you'll be doing so they can be prepared to support you after those three days.

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Make up a "potty dance." The goal is to celebrate your child's successes and give them an incentive to continue, so the dance can be anything from a modified end-zone chicken dance to a full-on rumba with an accompanying song – whatever feels right to you.

Start educating your child about using the potty. Two to five weeks before your potty-training weekend, every time you, your partner, or another family member needs to use the bathroom, take your child along so they can observe the process, including:

  • How you pull down your pants and underwear
  • Sitting on the potty
  • Peeing or pooping into it
  • Wiping yourself
  • Pulling up your pants and underwear
  • Flushing the toilet
  • Washing your hands

You can even have your partner go into the bathroom with you and your child and do the potty dance for you.

Prepare your child to ditch the diapers. The week or so before you start, show your child a stack of diapers and explain that soon they won't need to wear them anymore because they can go naked at home for a while. Present this as a fun and exciting development.

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Have all your potty-training supplies on hand. You'll need:

  • Potty chairs – ideally one for every main area where you spend time, plus any bathrooms
  • Plenty of water or diluted juice to drink
  • Snacks that encourage peeing – either salty ones that make you thirsty, such as crackers, or foods with high water content, such as watermelon and popsicles
  • Supplies for cleaning up accidents, including rags, cleaning solution, and a plastic bucket
  • Several pairs of loose-fitting pants for your child to wear when you leave the house
  • A small towel to put over your car seat to protect against accidents

Potty training in three days: How to do it

This is a more intense time and energy commitment than traditional, slower potty training. Remember, it might take some work and support from others to stay positive throughout the three days. The key is patience, positivity, and flexibility – and keeping in mind it doesn’t work the same with all children.

Day one

  • Get up with your child as soon as they wake up. For the rest of the day, have them go naked below the waist. Take turns with your partner watching your child for signs that they need to potty. If they start to go, carry them quickly to the potty as you say, "Pee goes in the potty."
  • Have salty or watery snacks throughout the day (in addition to regular healthy meals), and drink lots of water so everyone has to pee often.
  • Celebrate your child's success whenever any amount of pee (even a few drops!) or poop goes into the potty rather than on the floor. When this happens, do your potty dance. You can also give praise, high-fives, and so on.
  • If your child has an accident, say, "Pee (or poop) goes in the potty," as you clean it up. Never yell at or shame them for having accidents because they will happen.
  • Tell your child it's time to go potty before nap time and bedtime. (Don't ask your child, because if given the opportunity, they'll probably say no.)
  • Put a diaper on your child before they go to sleep.

Days two and three

  • Follow the instructions for day one.
  • After nap time on day 2, take a short walk outside together after your child pees in the potty. Plan to be gone no longer than 30 minutes, and let your child know you can go home right away if they feel like they need to use the potty. Have your child wear loose pants with nothing underneath – no diapers, training pants, or underwear. (Take spare clothes for your child in case you're not lucky enough to make it home accident-free.)
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What to do after the first three days of potty training

Congratulations, you've made it! After your child manages to get some pee in the potty 10-12 times, you can expect that they'll start to take themselves to the potty when they have to go. But to seal the deal, some follow-ups are recommended:

  • Fellom's Diaper Free Toddlers program advises that you have your child go naked below the waist when you're at home for the next three months. (You can use diapers for nap time and night time as needed.) After three months with little to no accidents, you can let your child start wearing loose-fitting, lightweight underpants.
  • Dress your child in loose pants with nothing underneath whenever they're not at home – including at daycare, if your daycare is supportive of the process.
  • Keep a portable travel potty in the car and make it a point to be aware of the closest public bathroom whenever you're out and about.

What if three-day potty training doesn't work?

Despite your best efforts and intentions, your child may not be ready to potty train when you think they are, or it may take them longer than three days to get the hang of things. So, if three-day potty training doesn't work this time, try not to get too frustrated, because it may work soon, or you might find a completely different approach is better for you and your child.

If you want to try the three-day method again, look to schedule another weekend two to three months down the road. And before you try again, continue to teach your child about the potty and practice using their toilet as much as possible. Don't worry about going bare-bottomed until you try again: It may not be feasible to skip diapers all the time, and that's okay.

Another option is to take a more gradual child-led approach, helping your child with the potty as they show more interest. It’s possible that this will undoubtedly happen as they notice other children at daycare and even their siblings using the potty consistently.

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Consider your own state of mind while potty training, too: If you're anxious, stressed, or worried, it’s possible your child is picking up on those cues. It’s okay to try again when you feel a bit calmer and more flexible about the outcome, which might help your toddler have more fun, too.

Read more:

Potty training tips for girls

Potty training tips for boys

What if my child refuses to sit on the potty?

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Jensen, Lora. (2014). Three day potty training. a new window [Accessed May 2022]

Mayo Clinic. 2021. Potty training: How to get the job done. a new window [Accessed May 2022]

UpToDate. 2021. Patient education: Toilet training (beyond the basics) a new window [Accessed May 2022]

Wyndaele, Jean-Jacques et al. Development Signs in Healthy Toddlers in Different Stages of Toilet Training: Can They Help Define Readiness and Probability of Success? a new window [Accessed May 2022]

Alexandra Frost
Alexandra Frost is a Cincinnati-based freelance journalist, content marketing writer, copywriter, and editor focusing on health and wellness, parenting, real estate, business, education, and lifestyle. Away from the keyboard, Frost is also mom to four sons under age 7 who keep things chaotic, fun, and interesting.