First, decide if potty training in a day is the right plan of attack for you and your youngster by doing a little research. While it may feel like homework, Narmin Parpia, author of Potty Training in One Day: A Guide for Today's Parents, thinks this is a crucial step in the process. "The parent has to educate themselves on what they want to do and how they want to train their child," she says. "Depending on how much reading or knowledge the parent has to start with helps determines the first phase. If you've read all about [potty training] while your child was a baby, and you know enough about it, then just one day and you're there. If you haven't, then some research and buying some products can take you a week to two weeks."
While your in-laws, best friend, or nosy neighbor believe that every child must be potty trained by a certain age, your toddler may not agree. "It's really important to determine that your child is ready and that you're ready," says Teri Crane, a potty pro who penned the book Potty Train Your Child In Just One Day, in which she offers up 12 themed parties to entice your little one to make the big move. "Generally, if the child is ready then, whatever you do, it's going to work. In this case, to make sure that you don't have as much resistance, speak their language. They're all about playing and pretending and using their imaginations—that's where they're at. The whole idea of a potty party fits into that phase in their life and the learning curve where they're at."
Gone are the days when the standard potty chair was the only tool that was available to potty-training parents. The potty training in-a-day method has been around for more than 30 years. Nathan Azrin and Richard Foxx introduced the idea of using modeling—a method where the child first teaches a doll to use the toilet—in their book Toilet Training in Less Than a Day. Unfortunately, there weren't any toys available that would wet themselves on command, and Parpia noticed. She designed Potty Patty and Potty Scotty, along with a host of other products to help. So what exactly do you need versus what gadgets are just nice to have? See our potty training checklist for some tips. You may also want to check out the BabyZone editors' favorite potty-training products.
Your child’s toilet-training day should culminate in a major potty training bash that will make him or her excited to use the bathroom like a big kid. Muster up all of your creativity, or simply rely on Crane’s party planning expertise, for the big day. “What I talk about in the book is it’s like when a child comes down on Christmas and they see all of the toys and they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, today is a special day,’” says Crane. “They go into the bathroom and it’s decorated. They have no idea they’re being toilet trained—none. They’re just playing and learning and racing to the bathroom with their doll or stuffed animal. It’s a whole system and everything builds upon itself.”
Whether you decide to purchase a potty training-specific doll or use a stuffed animal, Crane suggests wrapping the toy and presenting it to your child in the bathroom on potty party day. Explain that you'll be teaching the doll how to use the toilet like a big kid over the course of the morning. "Studies show that to teach is to learn twice," says Crane. "We learn better by doing than by being told. Generally toilet training is all about telling: 'OK, do this, do that.' Well here, we're showing them and then they're teaching their little potty training doll."
Throughout the morning, while your child is “teaching” her doll how to use the toilet, also engage her in plenty of other potty specific activities—like reading fun books on the subject, watching potty-themed DVDs, and playing games. In her book, Crane points out the importance of making sure the doll has “accidents” so that your child understands that they really do happen to everyone, so that he will feel less stressed if he doesn’t make it to the bathroom on time later in the day, when it’s his turn to potty like a big kid.
You probably never thought you’d ever feign such excitement over the image of watching your child pee on the potty, but now is the time to be the ultimate cheerleader. Whether your child takes to the big day or not, stay positive and remember that no matter how hard your munchkin might struggle with this step, she really is trying. “I believe every child wants to be potty trained,” says Parpia. “They want to please the parents. That’s a child’s goal. Even at the age of 50, I still want to please my parents.”
After your child spends the morning teaching the doll how to use the potty, it’s her turn to be in the spotlight and do as dolly did. Again, accidents may happen but through the afternoon your kiddo should start applying the lessons herself. “In terms of expectations, what I believe when I say a child should be potty trained [is] that they should be able to find themselves the potty chair or the toilet, pull their underwear down, place themselves on the chair or on the toilet, and be able to go potty,” says Parpia. "That’s what independence is. It’s not when the mom keeps asking, ‘Do you need to go potty,’ or the mom is timing the child to make them go potty. The key is the independence."
With potty training complete, you’re ready to get the party started. Crane suggests inviting supportive friends and family to cheer on your newly initiated big kid. “It’s kind of just like a party as if a mom would be doing a birthday party for her child, except all of the games and activities are designed to do one thing—get that child down the hall, sit long enough to go to the bathroom, and in a very short amount of time, very intensely learned, all of the intricacies of pulling up our pants, walking to the toilet, washing our hands—all of that,” she explains. “They just think they’re spending the day with mom and dad, and it’s magical, and for the majority of the children it works.”
Allow your toddler to make a big show of “throwing away” all of her diapers to help solidify her commitment to only using the big kid stuff. Of course, the diapers need not actually go in the trash and can be quietly stowed away for donating to a local charity or friend in need of baby items.
Parents should note that even if the potty training-in-a-day method works like a charm for their child during the day, nighttime is a different story. Be prepared with nighttime training pants until his body adjusts to waking up when he has to go potty. “Some children are ready—their bodies will wake them up to go potty at night and then some are not,” says Parpia. “I believe you should create an environment to at least enable them to be able to go at night if they want to. Make sure they are in a toddler bed. Make sure you’ve got nightlights on in their room, in the bathroom, and that you’re close enough that they can get you—whatever needs to be done.”
If this or any training method isn’t working, it’s time to hit reset and try again in a couple of weeks, or even another month. Crane and Parpia agree that pushing the issue will simply create more resistance from your trainee. “Have a conversation with your little one and say, ‘Mommy and Daddy thought maybe you were ready to go potty in the toilet but we just don’t think your body is ready,’” suggests Crane. “If you phrase it in a language like that, they won’t take it personally like, ‘I can’t do this.’ Then I tell the parents to let the child pull the potty chair out of the bathroom and put it in the closet. Put the big-kid underwear away. Don’t have any conversation about potty training. All of the dolls—anything potty training-related—put it away.”