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“When are you coming home!” I whispered fiercely into the receiver, waves of panic and paranoia choking my volume.

“Things at the office are a little hectic. Uh, about an hour I guess. Why?”

“He’s doing it again! He’s pooping his pants behind the couch just to spite me. To spite me! He knows what he’s doing too. I can see it in his eyes. He knows he holds the power…”

This was me, twelve years ago, potty training our first child. Clearly, it did not go the way I had envisioned. Somewhere between the salty breakfast and sponging up his first accident, the power somehow, irrevocably, shifted from me to him. There he sat, smug on his throne, no “sound of music” no matter how many gummy bears I brandished in his darling face. I distinctly remember how those big, blue, innocent eyes looked calculating for the very first time. He was only two years old.

Since those dark days, I’ve learned a thing or two about teaching this life skill to each successive two-year-old to cross my changing table. If I had a nickel for every time the topic has come up from exasperated mothers at the park, playgroup, nursery, well, I could afford diapers indefinitely. But as it is, every mother must take the plunge, (or the plunger…until good TP etiquette is established.) So if I may be so bold as to impart what I’ve learned about toilet training, take it for what it’s worth.

1.) Thou shalt never ask whether the trainee has to go. This is a rookie mistake. The simple truth is, they lie. All of them. A two-year-old saying he doesn’t have to go is like an inmate saying he didn’t do it. Save it for the judge. Instead, phrases like, “It’s time to go to the bathroom!” will do more to further your cause.

2.) Thou shalt give at least 48 undistracted hours to the task. The fridge is full, the house is clean, the TV is off, and the phone is set to voicemail. Do not leave the house. Your toddler has your full attention! What a treat for the two of you to do puzzles together, read books, play games. And yes, the minute you turn your back to rotate the laundry, disaster will strike. Constant vigilance!

3.) Thou shalt mark the day. I always don my apron with deep pockets filled with mini marshmallows and M&Ms, (rewards at the ready!) skip my way to the sleeping toddler’s room, then announce like a jolly British nanny, “Today is the day!” as I throw back the curtains. We ceremoniously get rid of any diapers still in the house and introduce them to the soft feel of cotton.

4.) Drink up! Practice makes perfect. This is when I splurge on otherwise contraband beverages. Chocolate milk, juice boxes, soda–it’s the best day ever as far as toddlers are concerned.

5.) Thou shalt not go half way. No pull-ups. No diapers during a day full of errands or long trips. Settle on a D-day and there is no going back. Be like Churchill and never give up!

6.) Thou shalt praise. A potty cheer, a victory dance, a high five or all of the above, work wonders.

7.) Thou shalt not get mad. This is critical. Get disgusted instead. Pee-yew! Gross! Then cool as a cucumber, have them clean it up.

8.) Set them up for success. After the 48 hour period of home confinement, make only quick trips out if need be. Be prepared to happily drop whatever it is you’re doing to answer the toddler’s call for assistance.

9.) Enjoy the savings! Do something special with the money you’re saving by not buying diapers and wipes! It’s a small fortune.

10.) Thou shalt not worry. I promise your child will go to kindergarten potty trained. They will take their driver’s test potty trained. College, first job, honeymoon, all fully potty trained. I promise. It will happen.

Now if you have any advice for me on training teenagers to pick up their wet towels. I’m starting to think they’re doing it just to spite me!


To read more by Margaret Anderson go to

To read more about serious toilet training, see the classic “Toilet Training in Less Than a Day” by Nathan Azrin Ph.D and Richard Foxx Ph.D