The "Oh Crap" Potty Training Method—What You Need to Know

Mom potty training toddler

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I'm the type of parent who likes to research everything and figure out what works best. Potty training was no different. Before my infant even started pulling up to stand, I was already tuning in to conversations about potty training methods. Time and again, parents would rave about the "Oh Crap" potty training method.

My interest was piqued by how many other parents enthusiastically recommended it, and after reading the book (along with three other popular books on potty training), I noticed that it fit very well with my personal values. There are no rewards for peeing in the potty and the learning process prioritizes the toddler's own pace. It also lines up with the Montessori philosophy of child raising that I subscribe to, promoting toddler independence within an adult-prepared environment.

When I first picked up the book, I had not been planning on training my daughter yet. I was working and she was still quite young. And even though she was using sign language to alert me when she had to poop, she seemed pretty oblivious when it came to peeing. But while reading, I found myself so intrigued by the approach that I decided to test it out.

What happened blew me away. My daughter zoomed through all of the steps and became a potty pro—all while learning about her own body's cues.

Ever since my potty training experience, I have been sharing what I learned with other parents. I also had the opportunity to sit down with Jamie Glowacki, who penned "Oh Crap Potty Training: Everything Modern Parents Need to Know to Do It Once and Do It Right," in order to discuss why her method works so well for so many families—and how others can implement it themselves.

What Is the "Oh Crap" Method of Potty Training?

The "Oh Crap" potty training approach is designed to teach children to recognize their own body cues and take action (i.e. get to a potty and sit on it!). It is not a quick-fix method, so it might take longer than some other training methods, but the end result is worth it. What you'll get is a child who can tell you when they need to pee, as opposed to a child who pees when you tell them to. This promotes more independence over the long term.

The method consists of a series of "blocks" through which your child progresses. Blocks are not done at a designated age or for any set amount of time. You start when you feel that it's time to potty train, and you stay in each block as long as it takes.

In Block 1, your child is fully naked, which means you need to stay home with them all day. During this stage, you keep a close eye on them and watch for any body cues that signal they need to use the potty. When you spot one, move them to the potty.

In Block 2, the child can wear clothes but no underwear yet, and go on very short outings. In Block 3, the outings get longer, and in Block 4, they can start to wear underwear.

Benefits of the "Oh Crap" Method

One of the best parts about the "Oh Crap" approach is its flexibility. It allows you to go at your child's own pace and it can be adapted to meet the needs of many different families and children. "I am a realistic potty trainer in that I don't want your kid potty trained by a certain time," says Glowacki. "I lay out the options of whether you are working, whether you stay home, if you are potty training before 20 months or after 30 months. There is flexibility and realism in my process."

Removing the diaper can actually make potty-learning more straightforward for the child. "The body awareness you get when you take off the diaper can make it easier for children to learn how to recognize when they have to go more quickly," says Rachel Koransky-Matson, DNP, APRN, FNP-C, family nurse practitioner and the clinical coordinator at Regis College. "Even if it takes more time for some, it's a true learning process."

It might also be simpler for parents and caretakers. "Little to no equipment is needed and there is no clothing or diaper in the way when the child needs to go," notes Dr. Koransky-Matson.

Best of all, the "Oh Crap" method is empowering for the child. From the get-go, parents place their trust in their toddler's abilities and they guide them through a learning process that promotes independence.

Drawbacks of the "Oh Crap" Method

Potty training is never easy or mess-free, and there are a few things that can make the "Oh Crap" approach challenging for some families. Going naked or bottomless at the start can be anxiety-provoking. Some parents might be worried about how hygienic it is for their child to sit down on furniture without underwear or a diaper on. For others, the mess is the biggest concern, especially for those with carpeted floors.

Staying home all day during the initial blocks can be another barrier for some families. If you share space at home with other family members or you don't have a yard or outdoor space, it can be challenging to stay home and potty train. Schedules can also pose challenges, especially if there are two working parents in the household. "In my consulting practice I see parents who think they can take Memorial Day weekend to potty train and then send their kid back to daycare and that doesn't work," notes Glowacki.

If you only have a long weekend to train, you will need to have other caregivers on board who can help continue what you started. "This way of potty training takes commitment," says Dr. Koransky-Maton. "Family, nannies, or daycare providers will need to be able to focus for as long as it may take."

Daycare itself can make it hard to use the "Oh Crap" approach (though not always). Many daycares won't get on board with keeping kids commando for hygienic reasons, and providers cannot necessarily put enough of their attention on just one child to keep up with a method like this one.

How Do You Use the "Oh Crap" Method?

To begin, remove all diapers from your home. You can keep a stash for nighttime if you don't want to night train yet, but the general idea is that you are saying "bye-bye" to diapers.

Then, with your child completely naked, you stay home and watch them like a hawk. When you see them start to pee or poop, you grab them and move them to the potty. It's great if you can catch them before they start, but it's totally fine if you move them mid-stream. The whole point is to help the child make a connection between the feeling of needing to go and moving the toilet.

There are a few things that you don't want to do. Avoid having your child sit on the toilet and wait to go. This takes away from the learning process connecting "I need to pee" to the actual process of getting to the potty.

You also don't want to make a huge production or give out rewards like stickers or M&Ms for using the toilet. Toddlers are intrinsically rewarded when they master a new skill, especially one that lets them do what the big people do. Plus, Glowacki warns that things can go south fast once you try to pull the toys or treats.

You can move to Block 2 once you are getting an idea of how often your child pees and poops. Ideally you will also know what their "tell" is at this point, which is a sign that they are about to pee or poop. The "poop tell" is much easier to spot than the "pee tell." You might not be able to figure out your child's pee signs, but you'll likely start to recognize their pee schedule.

At this point, you can put clothes back on your toddler, but no underwear yet. Glowacki suggests keeping your child commando for about a month after you begin training. The idea is that underwear feels too much like a diaper and that muscle memory can lead to accidents.

Slowly you can begin to leave home; first, for short periods of time, and then progressively longer. Little by little, your child will begin to self-initiate and eventually become fully toilet trained.

What Do I Do If My Child Regresses?

At some point after potty training, your child may regress and start having accidents. This is sometimes caused by some sort of major life change, commonly a new sibling. "When I see the most regression is when mom is feeding the new baby," says Glowacki. "Whether nursing or bottle-feeding you are cradling that baby, you are looking them in the eye, you are rubbing their cheeks and so the older sibling just wants that [attention] back."

If you think your child is having a regression, first assess the situation to see whether it's a true regression or just a bump in the road. "A day of accidents is not a regression but accidents over a period of three weeks might be," notes Glowacki.

If your child is truly regressing, try to address the root cause. In the case of a new sibling, Glowacki suggests putting a potty chair right next to you before you feed your infant. "Take the toddler’s pants off and say, 'You know what honey, I’m going to feed the baby. Here’s your potty and you can come sit right next to me,'" she says. "I often have parents make physical contact. Even if you're nursing the baby, stick out your toe to feel your toddler's toe so they are connected to you even though you’re feeding."

My Experience With the "Oh Crap" Method

After I read through Glowacki's book, couldn't resist trying out her ideas. Telling myself I would just practice training my daughter, I bought a little potty online and, following the book's guidance, I took off her diaper. Whenever I thought she might pee—or when she started to pee—I moved her to the potty.

I kept up the practice. Whenever we were at home together, I kept her naked from the waist down and I brought the potty chair along into whatever room we were in. She picked things up faster than I expected, so I decided that I would go all out with the method. And at 17 months old, my daughter wore a daytime diaper for the very last time.

The "Oh Crap" approach advises parents against posting the fact that they'll be training on social media, and I soon learned why. Most people I told seemed to think that I should have waited for more "readiness signs," but I kept reminding myself about Glowacki's philosophy. According to her, kids don't magically wake up ready to train. Instead, it's up to us as the parents to gently introduce the new skill of using the potty. And since my child was clearly learning, I stuck with it, despite the comments from friends and acquaintances.

The book says that night training is optional, but that it is easier to do night and day concurrently. That being said, I followed my sleep consultant's advice to put off night training so as not to negatively impact the sleep habits we were (still) working on solidifying. At that point in motherhood, I still hadn't slept a full eight-hour night. Getting enough rest was the priority for both me and my toddler.

Eventually, I did night-train my daughter, again turning to the "Oh Crap" book. When she turned 3 and a half and still woke up with a soaked pull-up every morning, I reopened my book and followed its advice exactly. After a couple of weeks of waking up in the wee hours to lift her out of her crib and plop her on the potty, I was able to move the final night-time pee to right before I went to bed. From there, she woke up dry in the mornings ever since.

A Word From Verywell

The "Oh Crap" potty training approach teaches toddlers to recognize their body's cues, briefly hold it, and move to a potty when they need to go. To use this method, parents take diapers away once and for all and spend a few days at home with a naked toddler.

Though your floors and furniture will likely get peed on during this process, it often results in a great amount of learning for the child. Taking any type of clothing away from the diaper area helps your toddler disassociate from the muscle memory of feeling a diaper and eliminating into it. Without the diaper (or anything that might feel like one), they are more likely to think, "Oh! I need to pee. Where can I do that?"

The "Oh Crap" training period can be longer than other methods out there, but it's often worth it for the long term results. Toddlers who can identify the need to go—and then act on it—will feel a sense of pride in their independence.

By Elisa Cinelli
Elisa is a well-known parenting writer who is passionate about providing research-based content to help parents make the best decisions for their families. She has written for well-known sites including POPSUGAR and Scary Mommy, among others.