Potty Training the Easy Way

In addition to making progress with my toddler on sleeping through the night, we are making progress with potty training. We call it “toilet learning” because our informal method has nothing to do with “training” in the traditional sense. We don’t take our toddler to the bathroom on a set schedule (that’s too much work :) and a lot of pressure for everyone.) We try very hard to keep it an upbeat, positive process. We do not do elimination communication (EC) although the idea intrigues me and my American friend living in Shanghai swears she is going to set up seminars on EC in the United States after watching how the Chinese handle their diaper-free babies.

So what do we do about doo-doo (sorry, couldn’t help myself!)? I’m far from an expert but I am happy with how toilet learning has gone with my three children. For what my thoughts are worth, here they are.

Somewhere between Toilet Training and Elimination Communication

1. Be respectful of diapering needs. Whether we use cloth diapers or disposables, we change her the second she needs changing. One would hope all parents do this but I suspect it’s not always the case. The only exception to this rule is when my daughter is soundly sleeping. I figure if she is still sleeping then she is not uncomfortable and the diaper change can wait until she wakes.

2. Give the child the words to discuss toileting. I don’t care what words you use: wet, dirty, pee, poo, poop, wee-wee, tinkle — get over any squeamishness about toilet words and talk to your baby about toileting. So many times I think parents underestimate babies and think that because a baby cannot talk, she cannot learn to understand words. How else will a child learn if you do not teach her? You have a captive audience during diaper changes, you might as well use the time to say, “Oh, you went pee-pee. Let me change your diaper! That’s better! Now you are nice and dry!”

3. Learn to identify your child’s communication that he or she needs to be changed. If you work on steps one and two, eventually you will learn to recognize your child’s attempts to tell you he or she needs to be changed before you smell or feel or hear the evidence. Your child might learn a sign (patting the diaper is the cue around here), or use a word (my 18-month-old says “poop” whether her diaper is wet or dirty).

4. Let your child run around diaper-free at home. I realize that I’m offering this advice in the middle of a cold winter for most readers and hence it’s not too practical for some families at this time. We happen to live in California and we have slate floors, so we can give our child diaper-free time quite often. Others can wait until summer and let the child run around bare-bottomed outside. The brave among you can even let the child “help” with cleanup (teaching even more responsibility for toileting, not punishing the child for making a mess). When my daughter makes a puddle on the floor, she runs to get a towel to lay on top of the puddle. I then calmly clean both her and the puddle. Again there is much exclaiming over “oh, you went pee-pee! Soon you can go pee-pee in the potty!” It might feel strange to be cheering your child on for making a mess on the floor, but the point is to teach your child to recognize the signs that she has to go and to make the connection between having that feeling and what happens afterward.

The son of drcorneilus on flickr.com

The son of drcorneilus on flickr.com

5. Introduce the potty or toddler toilet seat. We have a few potties and one seat that we put on top of the regular toilet seat. At first these are play toys rather than “toilet training” items. We let the toddler sit on them at will, fully clothed or diaper off, as she desires. My little monkey decided she prefers the toddler toilet seat on the regular toilet, and she climbs up there without even using a step stool! We cheer any progress, including just sitting on the seat. “Wow, you are up on the toilet! Isn’t this exciting?” My daughter is 18 months old and just yesterday she had her first real poo on the potty, and we waved bye-bye to it as she flushed the toilet. She was so proud! (Note how we do not offer rewards beyond the praise for her accomplishment.)

6. Don’t make it a battle for control. While some people have their children sit on the potty regularly or at key times during the day (such as after eating when a child is likely to eliminate), we let the child lead the way. No pressure! It’s all fun! If I can anticipate signs that she feels a need to go, I do ask her if she wants to sit on the toilet, but it is always her decision. Too many times I have seen toilet training turn into a battle for control. The child feels out of control in that arena or another arena in life (food or clothing come to mind) and then controls the one thing he can control — whether or not he uses the toilet. In the worst case scenario, this spirals into withholding elimination, which leads to constipation, which leads to more withholding when elimination becomes painful.

I know we are a long way off from being completely diaper-free during the day and even farther off from being diaper-free at night. I see this as a long process but one that is relatively painless when it is kept positive. Using these informal steps, my girls have transitioned to underwear by the age of two and three months or two-and-a-half. (See, I’m not kidding about not putting on any pressure, and it being a long process for us). The “easy way” in my mind does not mean the fastest way or the least messy way. It’s an investment of time that respectfully helps my child learn to use the toilet.

What has worked for you when it comes to teaching your child to use the toilet?

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    • Sarah

      Thank you for this. My 18 month old is very aware of his needs and no longer wants to poop in his diaper before bed. Fun times. We have a potty and try to make it fun (thank you Elmo!) but he freaks out when asked to sit on it (after he’s already asked to take off his clothes and dragged the thing out to the hallway). I am very dispassionate when it comes to clean up but the other night I just about lost it when cleaning up 3 different piles of poop from the hardwood floor.

      I guess I need to make the sitting down part more fun for him. I think a better seat is in order.

    • http://blissfule.me Elisa | blissfulE

      Making it fun (rather than losing it, as I have done and and am still tempted to do sometimes!) makes the training go more quickly. I recommend pottytrainingpower.com They have an e-book that was a real encouragement to me!

    • http://www.toddlerinterpreter.com Lisa

      Thats great advice. I think people under estimate how much their child can understand even if their speech hasn’t fully developed yet. Talking them through the process each and every time will definately help because they can understand what you are saying, or at least a large portion of it.

    • Jennifer L.

      We just went to a mommy gathering recently and lots of mommies felt compelled to share how wonderfully easy it was for their children (mostly under 2.5) to use the potty. Mentally filing away as many of their tips and tricks as I could, I went home feeling kind of like a lazy mom for not wanting to make charts, bribe with candy/food, have potty parties, or engage in any kind of by-the-timer mandated trips to sit on the potty. My daughter is 27 months and I feel we’re at an odd place with the potty. She *refuses* to pee or poop in it, even though I think I am fairly low-key about whether she does or not. I don’t expect she’ll go to third grade or college in diapers. She dresses and undresses herself (frequently throughout the day–lots of outfits!) and we talk a lot about poop and pee. I’ve read that too much praise might make them nervous and not enough praise might make them disinterested. I am kind of tempted to just one day declare that we’re done with diapers during the day and let there be accidents. We’ve had our diaper free days and we always clean up cheerfully. That’s another thing, do other mommies watch their kids like hawks when their diaper free to slip the potty under them mid-pee or run them to the potty? She seems quite content for now to pee on the floor and sometimes poop. She always comes to tell me, “Mommy, I made a poop over there on the floor.” “Look at that! It’s a poop! It’s on the floor! Let’s go put it in the potty and clean the floor!” I guess maybe once you had one kid, there is the realization that these things do transition over time and that kids will learn to use the potty. My wee one seems rather strong willed. Is this just a toddler trait, or are some kids more inclined to resist change? Patience.

    • http://rancidraves.blogspot.com cagey

      Nice post with food for thought!

      My methodology is quite simple. I just wait. My son was 3.5, but the whole thing took 2 weeks. No fights, no power struggles. My daughter is 2.5 and I think she will be ready earlier than my son, but again, I am just waiting. Using a toilet is something I refuse to struggle with – there are far more important things I would rather work on with them. I figure they will be using the toilet in time for kindergarten. :-)

      One of the most helpful pieces of advice was from one of my son’s teachers at his mothers day out program – she recommended starting the process in warmer weather. With shorts instead of pants, coats, etc, there are less layers to contend with and it is less frustrating for the child.

    • Mike

      I love this article and your site! It’s great and the pics are gorgeus!

    • Mike

      I love this article and the site!

    • http://www.breastfeeding123.com Angela White, J.D., breastfeeding counselor

      Sometimes mid-poop I will take my toddler to the potty, but not mid-pee. :) Those “accidents” are a way for them to learn to recognize the need to go, and you are right to clean up cheerfully (you could even ask your toddler to help by getting a towel, or flushing the toilet when necessary). Sometimes some books like “Once upon a Potty” help them get the idea.

      I don’t think it’s in any way “easy” to make potty charts and bribe children with candy/food and drag them for mandated trips to the potty. I am sure those mothers are glad to be out of diapers (although I suspect not all those children are truly toilet-trained and accident-free at that age). Take what they say with a grain of salt. You could push the issue with your daughter but you recognize that she doesn’t have a whole lot of interest right now, and if you respect that, when she is truly ready it will all happen very quickly! There is always a compromise too. If you want to work on gently encouraging her to use the potty, you could take her after meals (a likely time of success) but be ready to entertain her with songs and books, and let her off when she doesn’t want to be on. The rule in my house (as the kids got older) was you don’t have to go, but you have to try (that rule only applied before long trips out and about — otherwise I never asked them to go). Good luck!