How to Potty Train in One Day

With all three of my kids, we’ve done the potty-train-in-one-day method. I’ll admit it: The first time I heard about this, I kind of rolled my eyes and said, “Yeah, right.” Then my mother-in-law told me that she’d done it with all of her kids, and it worked. So, my husband and I thought, why not give it a try?

It works.

My older daughter potty trained with me in the morning, and by that afternoon, she was completely trained. It was months before she had her first accident. And in her entire life, I can count on one hand the number of accidents she’s had. For my other two, it did take a little longer – my youngest took three days before I felt like she really got it 100%. But three days is still pretty awesome!

There are lots of books about it that you can read. I’ve read two: the classic potty-train-in-a-day book by Azrin and Foxx from the 1970s, and a more current one by Narmin Parpia. I’m going to try to distill everything from the two books I read into this single blog post so you can skip the long versions, which are full of anecdotes that I found tedious to read.

Is Your Child Ready?

  • Can they tell when they are wet vs. dry?
  • Do they know when they are about to pee or poop?
  • Do they have any ability to hold it or do their diapers stay dry for a couple of hours at a time?
  • Is your child interested in the potty?
  • Is your child out of their negative, I’m-going-to-say-no-to-everything-just-because phase?
  • Is your child able to pull shorts or underwear down independently?
  • Is your child able to follow simple directions?

If you’ve answered yes to all of these questions, then WooHoo! Let’s get ready to potty train! (Can you hear that I’m using the “Let’s get ready to rumble” voice to try to help you work up some excitement about potty training?)

Prepare for the Big Day

Choose a day to potty train. At my house we call it, “Big Potty Day” – classy, right? My friends who have heard me talk about this intensive training method have given it even better names, like “Potty-Pocalypse” and “Potty Boot Camp.” Whatever you call it, make sure your Big Potty Day is a time when just you and your child can be alone at home together. I think Friday’s are perfect because then you don’t really have to leave the house over the weekend, and it gives you a few days for your child to build their confidence and you to work up your courage to brave the world with a newly potty trained child in tow. I took a Friday off work and sent the rest of the family to the state fair while my littlest and I stayed home for Big Potty Day.

Get your supplies. Here’s what you need to prepare for “Big Potty Day”:

  • Potty chair
  • Underwear (favorite characters on the underwear help make it fun for your child)
  • Salty snacks
  • Lots of a beverage your child loves (OK to make it a treat)
  • Rewards – whether your child responds well to candy, stickers, whatever, make sure you have a bunch of it on hand.
  • Pull Ups for nap and night time (unless your child never wets in their sleep).

Make “Big Potty Day” into a big deal for you and your child. Mark it on your calendar. Talk to your child about how on that day, they are going to get to wear big kid underwear and there will be no more diapers. I let each of my kids choose a potty, too. We use Baby Bjorn potty chairs, because I think they are really well made and easy for kids. But each child has gotten to choose their own color, which makes it feel special and just for them. You can let your child choose their underwear to build the excitement, too.

Prepare yourself mentally. One of the biggest things about using this method is that you have got to stay calm and cool, no matter what happens or how frustrated you might get. No yelling. You don’t want to shame them, embarrass them, or berate them when they have accidents. You can still be firm, in fact you’ll need to be sometimes, but do it calmly.

Now you are ready. Here’s how it’s going to go…

We survived "Potty-Pocalypse 2015."  We might look tired, but we're still smiling.
We survived “Potty-Pocalypse 2015” as one of my friends called it. We might look tired, but we’re still smiling.

The Goal

The goal of Big Potty Day is to get your child to initiate using the potty by themselves and go successfully, either peeing or pooping, after they initiate it. The idea is that your child is not fully trained if they only go when you prompt it. The child needs to be able to recognize when he or she needs to go and then do something about it.

How to Reach the Goal

  1. Have all your supplies ready in a part of the house that is easy to clean up.
    Plan to spend your whole day in this area, so you’ll want to bring in the child’s toys, books, etc.
  2. Talk to your child about what’s going to happen.
    Start the day by telling your child that today is a special day where you get to spend all day together, just the two of you, learning to use the potty. Let them know that you are so excited about this and that they will be a big kid once they can do it. Explain that when they go in the potty, they’ll get treats. When they go in their underwear instead and have an accident, then they will have to do 10 practice runs in a row. A practice run is when the child has to run from different parts of the house to the potty. They pull down their own underwear, then try to use the potty, then pull the underwear back up and run again. All of this should be done as independently as possible. If they pee in the potty on one of their runs, they get to stop and they’ll get a treat. If they don’t go, you keep doing the runs until you get to 10, even if they don’t want to. Even if they cry and resist, you have to keep going – this is where staying calm and cool, but also firm, is especially important.
  3. Make your child the teacher.
    The books I’ve read recommend using a doll that can wet. We don’t have one of those at my house, so we use rubber duckies. We have the child show the rubber ducky (pre-filled with water by me) how to use the potty. The child makes the toy “pee” into the potty and then tells the toy what a good job it did. We even pretend feed it treats. Then, we make the duck have an accident, leaking a little water on the floor. Then the child helps the duck do practice runs.
  4. Training time!
    The pattern of your training time is going to look like this:
    • Put on underwear.
    • Eat, drink, play.
    • Dry Pants or Accidents. Give treats OR do practice runs.
    • Repeat.
    • Child initiates using the potty – success party, treats, phone call, or other reward.
Put on Underwear

Many families make a big deal out of saying goodbye to diapers forever and then putting on the big kid underwear. I recommend that you wait to make the switch to underwear until you’re really ready to train, not when you are doing all the explanation and training your toy or doll.

Eat, Drink, Play

Play near the potty and all day long, feed your child salty snacks and their favorite drink. When I trained my littlest last month, we used potato chips and milk, our daughter’s favorites. This is not the day to worry about a healthy balanced diet. Instead, the focus is on having lots of opportunities to pee. Push salty snacks and fluids so that there are plenty of opportunities to practice using the potty. 

Dry Pants Check

After about 15 – 20 minutes, do a dry pants check: Ask your child, “Is your underwear dry?”
a. If the child says yes and they really are dry, give a treat. I used chocolate chips as our treat this time around.
b. If the child says no, change into dry underwear and begin practice runs. Again, practice runs are your child running from different areas of your home to the potty chair, pulling down their underwear, sitting on the potty and trying to go. They don’t have to sit long. If you can tell quickly that they aren’t going to be able to go, have them get up and begin the next run. Washing hands does not need to be part of the practice run process. Instead, you want to focus on getting to the potty quickly and trying to use it. Save hand washing for after a successful potty trip. The child must complete 10 practice runs unless they successfully go in the potty. They can stop when they go in the potty, even if it is run number one or two (and yes, sometimes even right after having a big accident, they will still pee more during the practice runs). If they do go in the potty, make it a party! (Woohoo, hooray, hugs, high fives, so proud of you, good job, what a big kid!) You get the idea. And, don’t forget to give a treat for using the potty. It can be the same or a different treat than the one for dry pants. Make sure it’s something that your child values. I used one chocolate chip for dry pants checks and five chocolate chips for using the potty.

Repeat the pattern of Dry Pants Check, Reward or Practice Runs throughout the day. Every time your child successfully uses the potty, make it a party. If your child is having success with the first few dry pants checks, start extending the amount of time between checks. By the end of the day, it’s very important that they have the chance to initiate going to the potty on their own.


These are inevitable, even with regular dry pants checks. If you notice your child starting to pee or seeming like they are about to have an accident, try to get them to the potty as soon as possible. If they are having a full-blown accident, just wait it out, clean it up, put on dry underwear and begin practice runs.

Child-Initiated Potty

When your child initiates going potty on their own and has success, have your biggest party of all! You might want to have the child call, skype, or Facetime someone special to them like Daddy or Grandma to tell them all about it. You might even want to give a special prize. For my youngest, I gave her a little princess doll that looks a lot like her. She calls her Princess Kate. Princess Kate is her new favorite toy, and she tells me about how Princess Kate is a big girl like her who also uses the potty. Remember, if you don’t have a child-initiated successful trip to the potty on the first day, don’t think that your child has failed at potty training or that the method doesn’t work. It just hasn’t worked YET. Keep it up. For our littlest, she didn’t initiate going to the potty until the end of the second day, but then it all just clicked for her and now it seems to be easy for her to recognize when she needs to go. That’s why I recommend giving yourself a three-day weekend to stay at home with your child and work on it. You might need the extra time.

That’s it! Now, go be brave, mama, and get ready to potty train! You’ve got this.

She is awfully proud to be a "big girl" now and has been accident free for the two weeks since our potty training weekend!
She is awfully proud to be a “big girl” now and has been accident free for the two weeks since our potty training weekend!
Laura is a mom of three who works full-time from home as a Development Director for a children’s charity. Laura grew up in Maryland, spent her 20s living in Southern California and South Carolina, and has spent her 30s and now 40s in Iowa, moving to Iowa City in 2010. Laura loves dancing, reading, baking, and music. She and her husband Ryan started dating in college (gasp – over 20 years ago!) and they have been sharing life’s adventures ever since. Their biggest adventure is, of course, parenthood. With three kids, the action is non-stop - which is just the way Laura likes it.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

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