My 5 Potty Training Mistakes (and How to Fix Them)

By April Duffy •  Updated: 04/30/24 •  13 min read

I made a ton of fails when potty training my daughter, but then I realized that once I fixed the mistakes I made early on, everything worked itself out and the successes started rolling in. So if you’re like me and made (or are making) some mistakes, understand that no matter what, your kiddo will not be wearing diapers in high school. It’s going to be ok.

It goes without saying then that I do not claim to be an expert on potty training. I made some pretty big mistakes, which I confess below. Now that I’ve fixed them, and we’re finally having success, I still don’t claim to be an expert, but I hope that reading about my blunders will help you with your own potty training struggles.


1. Using Disposable Pull-ups

No, it doesn’t make sense.

I’ve been a firm believer in cloth diapers from day one, I mean, you’re reading the cloth diaper website I created right now, and yet since there aren’t a lot of cloth pull ip options, I still bought disposable pull-ups.

It was the Huggies Pull-Ups “cool and learn” ones that sucked me in (thankfully they don’t even make these any longer. I’m guessing I wasn’t the only one who found them a sham) because when my little first showed interest in the potty, I didn’t want to let that enthusiasm die, but she wasn’t understanding her body’s signals quite yet.

In a moment of panic I thought, “Oh, maybe if her diaper area turns cold every time she pees, she’ll get the message.” At the same time, she’s not a petite child and was growing out of her cloth diapers.

Soon enough the whole thing turned into buying boxes of Pull-Ups at Costco. What in the #$** was I, the cloth diaper pusher doing buying Pull-Ups at Costco? Seriously!

Why Disposable Pullups Are a Huge Potty Training Mistake

Aside from the hypocrisy, it didn’t work, at all! In fact, it set us back so far it was ridiculous. Soon, her early interest in the potty (helped along by the cloth diapers) turned into power struggles and waiting for more opportunities. She would happily sit in a dirty Pull-Up forever, cold or not.

Eventually, even just changing her out of the Pull-Up was a struggle. It was horrible and I wondered if we’d ever get the potty figured out. Bribes, charts, everything I could think of failed, and a big part of it was because the Pull-Ups made the potty a problem. My daughter no longer wanted to stop playing and sit down and be bored, whereas before a diaper change was a solution (to a wet bum).

I should have realized that cloth IS the best thing for kiddos to learn their body signals and I was likely undoing all the good that cloth diapers had already done because pullups offer a “stay dry” feeling that keeps littles from feeling wet, which is the best way for kids to learn their body signals!

I had no problem telling others how cloth is supposed to help babies with potty training but then I completely didn’t listen to myself. UGH!

The Solution: Cloth Training Pants!

Once I put her in proper (cloth) training pants, guess what happened; she felt wet when she peed that’s what finally helped her work out her body’s signals. Hallelujah!

While she never said a word when she peed in one of the cooling sensation Pull-Ups, but sure enough, every time she has an accident in training underwear she’s off to the potty. Why didn’t I listen to my own advice?

I feel so stupid every time I think of the hundreds of dollars we burned on Pull-Ups that now sit in a landfill somewhere polluting the groundwater all so we could have an even harder time potty training. I knew better.

2. Turning Up the Potty Training Pressure

Sure, Pull-Ups made going to the potty a chore for my daughter, but a few times I made it a nightmare.

I love my daughter more than, well, anything, and I work hard to help her assert her own needs where appropriate and make sure I validate her feelings even when I have to stop her acting on them. Despite all of that, I still let potty training become a power struggle more times than I’d like to admit.

Some of it I blame on Google and helpful friends who suggested I try to make her sit on the potty every 20 minutes, that I offer her a toy every time she goes (or even tries to go at first), that I should give her the iPad on the potty, and so on. Horrible advice; for me and my daughter at least.

With every wonderful new technique, aid, or bribe, came a new fight. Asking her to sit down every 20 minutes turned it into torture and she would run every time I mentioned the potty. Taking the iPad away so that it wouldn’t give her hemorrhoids turned into a tantrum. Rewards turned into expensive runs to the dollar store every two days just to have her freak out every time she didn’t get something for just sitting down on the potty. Reward charts were forgotten in minutes, and listening to me drone on about cool stickers became difficult for her.

I don’t know why I kept pressing on with these methods for far too long, it didn’t work in the least. There were a lot of hurt feelings and lost effort on both sides. It was too much pressure for both of us.

Why Pressuring Your Toddler to Potty Train is a Mistake

Not only did it not work, but it put a strain on our relationship, which is far worse than a few more months in diapers.

I don’t want to be the mom who nags, and I don’t want to be the mom who is constantly punishing my kid for being a kid. To me, giving a reward for doing something is just punishing her for not doing it through withholding the reward. Forcing her to do something she doesn’t want to, and maybe doesn’t need to (sitting on the potty at timed intervals), is just setting her up for failure because 9 times out of 10, there was no need to sit on the potty. 

It might work for some, but it was truly a mistake for us.

The Solution: Realize It WILL Happen and Trust the Cloth

I know how biased this sounds coming from me, but quite honestly the answer here is that I let the cloth training pants do all the work for me.

In the end, all I had to do was make a big deal about how cool her new cloth “big girl underwear” was and maybe tell a white lie about how there were no more Pull-Ups.

Once she was on board with the reusable training underwear — and she was right from the start, after all her new underwear was cool looking and comfortable — I just had to live with her having accidents for a bit.

The training pants held most messes (some better than others, and a review/ buying guide is coming), and unlike Pull-Ups, she wouldn’t sit in them. In cloth training underwear she’d actually try to sit on the potty after having an accident to finish her business.

Finally! By just going with the flow this way,  never accidentally shaming her for having an accident, and just not trying so dang hard, the potty became a positive thing once again, and in no time we were back on track.

3. Didn’t Have Enough Training Underwear Ready

When your little one is learning her body’s signals through error, there are A LOT of accidents.

My daughter is like her mama in that she always has a drink nearby and as is always needing to let that water out. While many training pant brands recommend about six training pants at the ready, my girl needed about eight per day.

This totally made sense when thinking about her cloth diaper days, but I guess after our time using Pull-Ups, where small pees were probably undetected, I completely forgot how many times she actually used the washroom.

In my amnesia, I tried to start the whole process when the first three potty pants arrived, so of course I ran out in about ten seconds. This was a problem.

Why Not Having More Training Pants on Hand Was Potty Training Mistake

Nothing halts potty training progress faster than running out of training pants.

When I first ran out, I pulled out those @*&$ Pull-Ups and that’s when I really knew that as long as one of those was on the bum no progress would be made. Vowing to never put one of those on her again, I dug out some hand-me-down undies from her cousin. These were the thin-like-rice-paper kind you get at Walmart. While they did save the day, as she still felt wet and would stop and hop on the potty, they did not save my carpet. Oh, the mess!

The Solution: Buy More Training Pants than You Think You Need

Fixing this was thankfully easy, I just got on the computer and ordered a ton more. Since I write this blog I ordered as many brands as I could get my hands on so that I could review them for you. This meant they dribbled in through the mail slowly, but as each new package arrived with one or two new ones to try, things got easier and much less messy.

4. Didn’t Plan

Are you getting the sense yet that I didn’t plan any of this out at all? If so, you’re right.

When I was pregnant I spent months researching diapers and planning every aspect of diapering, but for some reason, I flew by the seat of my training pants when it came to potty training.

If you’re reading this post, you’re doing more planning than I did, and I give you a virtual high-five for that!

Why Not Researching and Making A Plan Was Potty Training Mistake

If I had done a bit of research into potty training, maybe read one of the few recommended books, or watched some YouTube, I would have been prepared for the struggle, and it would have made things much easier for us both.

As I mentioned earlier, the stress and pressure of potty training set us back a lot during out potty training journey, and I feel like it could have been prevented with some research on my part. If I had done my research I also probably wouldn’t have made the Pull-Up mistake either.

The Solution: Make a Plan, but Be Willing To Pivot!

Of course, while I should have done some reading and planning ahead, it’s important not to get too stuck in your plans and not be able to pivot.

If potty training has taught me anything it’s that it’s better to go with the flow rather than force it!

5. Didn’t Understand Nighttime is Different

Having done zero potty training pre-planning, I also had no idea that nighttime potty training is a completely different beast.

I’m updating this post in 2022, when my girl is nearly seven years old, and she’s only been waking herself up to go to the bathroom at night for about four months. In other words, while she was daytime trained at three, nighttime potty training didn’t happen until she was six years old! And while that’s not the norm, it’s definitely not uncommon.

“Many toddlers are not developmentally ready to wake up when they sense that their bladder is full or hold their urine for 10 or 12 hours, making nighttime potty training a little more elusive.” The What to Expect website states. “In fact, most children’s systems don’t mature enough to stay dry all night until at least age 5, 6 or even 7.”

I had no clue this would be the case in those early days!

As could be expected a that age, my daughter was still doing ok with her overnight cloth diapers, but I had it in my mind that in order to train her at night I should also switch these out for Pull-Ups or the reusable training pants.

What a mess.

Why Trying to Use Training Pants at Night Was a Mistake

Not only did she of course soak through those little waterproof cloth training pants, but she was soaking through Pull-Ups as well. They just can’t take that much liquid!

If you have a heavy nighttime wetter, it’s most likely they are not adequate. There are a few great nighttime options out there, but they are usually marketed as nighttime. In other words, if a training pant says it’s for daytime training, believe it, otherwise, you’ll be changing sheets and putting on an overnight fitted diaper at 2:30 a.m. like I did… twice.

The Solution: Bedwetting Pants

This was another problem solved through shopping with an actual plan. After some research (finally) and some testing lame products out, I found a nighttime solution that worked for those nights where it’s like a dam exploded in her pants — MotherEase Bedwetting Pants.

In fact, MotherEase Bedwetting pants got me through the three years of overnight wetting without a single leak; some of them throughout almost the whole time (she only grew out of the smaller size a few months before not needing any). They are, quite literally a MUST if you don’t want to buy overnight Pull-Ups for years (and probably still get leaks).

Conclusion: What I’d Do If I Had a Do-Over

If I could go back to when my daughter first showed the signs she was ready to potty train, which coincidentally was also when she was less opinionated, I’d of course do it differently.

First off, NO PULL-UPS, EVER! Instead, I would ditch the cloth diapers and get training pants ASAP because part of the whole process was her learning how to pull up and down her underwear on her own several times a day.

I’d do my research and think about her habits before I went shopping. That way, I would have considered just how tough it would be during naps, car trips, and at night, and bought trainers that were appropriate.

Once we were set, I would think of it all less like potty training and more like potty learning. That means no Pull-Ups, no timed potty trips, and no fake punishments or rewards. I would just gently help her as she figures it all out on her own, with the right tools of course: lots of potty’s around the house, lots of training pants at the ready, lots of paper towel, and lots of love and patience.

It will always happen in the end.

April Duffy

April is the founder of Cloth Diapers for Beginners and author of The Cloth Diaper Wash & Care Handbook. Since 2015, April has helped well over 75,000 parents and caregivers cloth diaper their children through this website, her book, her YouTube Channel, and the Cloth Diapers for Beginners Facebook Group.