As a parenting teacher and writer, my intention is to support, encourage, and answer questions. So I feel a teensy twinge of guilt when I’m asked for advice about toilet training, and my response is, essentially, don’t.
Children don’t need adults to train them to use the toilet. They do need attuned, communicative parents and caregivers to support and facilitate the toilet learning process, a process that is individual to each child.
These are the 3 main reasons I don’t recommend adult-led toilet training:
I have no recollection of my younger two children learning to use the toilet. I vaguely remember the beginning of this process with my first child, but only because I was flabbergasted when she initiated an interest at 18 months and had completed the process by two years old.
My experiences illustrate the normal, natural, ho-hum process that successful toilet learning can be when parents don’t invest in it. Hundreds of parents I’ve worked with over the years have reported similar experiences.
This begs the question: why would we add toilet training to our already overloaded job description when doing less works just as well, if not better? Why risk the headaches, power struggles and resistance, frustrations and failures? Why be a taskmaster when we can relax, enjoy, and take pride in supporting our child’s self-directed achievement?
Toddlers have a developmentally appropriate need to resist parents, and if parents have an agenda around toilet training, healthy toddlers are inclined to push back, even if they might have been otherwise ready to begin using the toilet.
Child specialist Magda Gerber noted three types of readiness children need for toilet learning:
1. Physical: there is bladder and bowel capacity and muscle control.
2. Cognitive: children know when they need to eliminate urine and feces and are fully aware of what they are supposed to do.
3. Emotional: children are ready to let go of a situation they are used to and comfortable with (urinating and releasing feces into a diaper whenever they feel like it), and also let go, literally, of these waste products, which they perceive as belonging to them.
The emotional readiness factor usually comes last, is the most fragile, and also the most powerful. Bright, sensitive, aware toddlers can readily perceive a parent’s agenda. For some, the subtlest nudge toward the potty or being diaper-free can cause holding of urine or feces, delay toilet learning for months or even years, make toddlers feel ashamed, lead to severe constipation.
In this video, mother of twins Suzanne Schlosberg shares her cautionary tale about adult-led toilet training:
In It’s No Accident, the book Schlosberg coauthored with pediatric urologist Steve Hodges, parents are urged to slow down toilet training and informed that constipation — caused mostly by early/rushed potty training and poor diet -– is the root cause of virtually all bedwetting, toileting accidents, and recurrent UTIs. Schlosberg and Hodges also created this infographic (available as a free download) to increase awareness about constipation:
According to Schlosberg, “Most parents don’t know the signs of constipation (assuming it means “infrequent pooping”), it goes unrecognized, and kids suffer.”
I’ve learned over the years working with parents that toilet learning is nothing to mess with. I even cringe when parents tell me they’re “working on it,” because I’ve seen this attitude lead to problems all too often.
Granted, I hear mostly from the parents who are struggling and anxious. There must be many for whom toilet training techniques work. Why else would there be such a proliferation of toilet training books and products? Hmmm… marketers wouldn’t try to convince consumers they need something they really don’t, would they?
Kids deserve to own this accomplishment
There isn’t a long list of accomplishments toddlers can achieve. But they can do this, so I see no reason not to let them master this skill. There is no more powerful, confidence-building affirmation for toddlers than “I can do it myself.”
Toilet learning happens naturally and easily when we:
Invite children to actively participate in bathing, diaper changes, and other self-care routines from the time they are born. We invite active participation by communicating each detail respectfully: “I’m going to lift your bottom now so that I can wipe you. Can you help me lift?” Be careful not to transmit negative messages about body parts or feces and urine (“stinky, dirty”, etc.).
Model toilet use. Children naturally wish to do what parents and older siblings do.
Never force or even coax children to use the potty, but give clear behavior boundaries in general so that children aren’t tempted to use toilet learning as a testing ground. This sensitive and complex area of development needs to remain free and clear of power struggles.
Make a potty available. Some children like a small potty that allows their feet to reach the floor, while others prefer a seat that fits into the regular toilet.
Observe. Become a practiced observer. When children seem to be signaling an urge to eliminate (by touching their diapers, pressing their thighs togethers, etc.), ask matter-of-factly if they would like to use the potty. Calmly accept no for an answer.
Offer the choice of diapers or underwear when you sense children might be ready for toilet learning, always fully accepting their choice to stay in diapers.
Trust, trust, trust. As Magda Gerber advises in Your Self-Confident Baby, “Learning to use the toilet is a process that takes time. Rather than push or manipulate your child by giving him treats such as candy or a special reward for something that he will learn on his own, trust that he will learn it when he is ready. Respect is based on trust.”
For more support, here’s a podcast I recorded in response to a parent struggling with toilet training:
I share more about this respectful approach in
Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting
Toilet Learning Made Easy by Lisa Sunbury, Regarding Baby
A Doctor Responds: Don’t Potty Train Your Baby by Steve J. Hodges, M.D.
It’s No Accident: Breakthrough Solutions to Your Child’s Wetting, Constipation, Utis, And Other Potty Problems by Steve Hodges, M.D. and Suzanne Schlosberg
In the Toilet and Toilet Troubles (on this blog)
(Photo by Russ on Flickr)
I find this ludicrous and insulting. Children need to be taught like everyone else how to do things properly. If you don’t potty train your child you could be investing in more and more diapers financially and you may also end up changing a 6 year old child’s poppy butt. This is massively innapropriate and embarrassing as the child and the parent. A child should be trained by 3 years old. If not sooner. If doesn’t take long for children to recognize thaat area of their bodies and by a certain age you shouldn’t even need to help them in the bathroom. You ask why add more work go the overload you already have. Because its better for the child to learn how to independently USS the toilet and bathe. And because if you trai. Your child that will “kill two birds with one stone.” A:you will no longer have to change nasty dirty diapers. And B: your child learns indepenxsncs. And I previously read an article about how children if you leg them potty train themselves they will learn to hold their poop And pee And will do this so often because they don’t want to interrupt their fun time to go potty time which can cause serious health problems for that child. Yes ANOTHER reason. Why parents MUST take a more active roll in teaching a child how and when to use the potty properly.
Your rant demonstrates your complete lack of trust in children.
Oh brother, what a load of crap (no pun intended). Children are ready and able by two, and by three it’s become a game of wills with them. Been there, done that. I’ve raised three kids, both genders and contrary to what these trained professionals would have parents believe, boys are every bit as smart as girls and are just as easily trained by age two. Day AND night!
To clarify, I totally agree with ke on this.
Wow that was a poorly written rant.
kc, are you a child care expert? What are your credentials? This article is spot on and parents need to really pay attention to this advice!!
You mean we should treat our children like the DOG WHISPERER does with Dogs?
My 3rd child was the easiest to potty train and that is because I allowed him to take the lead, when he showed the interest in it. He is a child that doesn’t require praise, he actually shuts down when too much is given. A simple “good job” works the best, he is a very logical kid. I disagree with you that children need to be taught everything to do things “properly”. Children have a way of learning so much on their own and if you take the time to listen to them and watch them problem solve you would see that. When you say ‘properly’ I am sure you really mean the way you do things and usually that is not the only way to get it done. I suggest you have more faith and trust in your kids, you could learn so much from them.
As a psychologist I agree with you janet, unfortunately some adults still have the old paradigm in which children are supposed to be trained instead of guided and respected in their own process of development, it’s a huge difference between achieving this stage by their own than trained and teached, the main one is reflected in the condfidence they gain that will be reflected in their whole life, as well as their flexibility, contrary to the obsessive pattern we see in children with bad experiences in this area that evolve in mental problems like ocd. Well…thank you for this information now I won’t struggle with my son.
YES: “the confidence they gain that will be reflected in their whole life, as well as their flexibility, contrary to the obsessive pattern we see in children with bad experiences in this area that evolve in mental problems like ocd.”
Thank you, Fabi!
Janet, I really learn a lot from your work and I agree with your approach to potty training, but the idea of OCD being caused by a bad potty training experience is an outdated Freudian theory that mental health experts who specialise in OCD spectrum disorders no longer accept. I think it is important not to spread misinformation about medical conditions and especially not in a way that blames them on the parents. I hope you will look into this and be more careful in the future.
I’m sorry if it seemed I was suggesting that a “bad potty training experience” caused OCD. That certainly was not my intention. I was only agreeing with Fabi that pushing children to toilet train can have psychological ramifications down the road.
I own an early learning program (ages 6 wks to 5 yrs) and have the responsibility of helping children use the potty. I have had children use the potty anywhere from 22 months of age to 42 months in age. In each case (except for the 42 month old) it took only about 1-2 weeks for each child to be able to fully go by themselves. No pressure from the teachers, but the interest of using the potty by the child. The 42 month old took almost a year and a half for her to use the potty fully because of the pressure to have to use the potty from other people. If a parent is constantly having to put a child on the potty or remind a child to use the potty every 2 hours or less, then the child does not have the full understanding of using the potty. Why are we so insistant that a child be “potty trained” by a certain age, but do not insist that they crawl by 6 months, walk by 9 months or quit breast feeding by 3 months. Why? Because the child it is not developmentally ready. So why push them to use the potty if not developmentally ready. It only brings more frustration to the child and even more to the parent.
Janet I love your articles and have truly found them to be helpful. I wanted to start a dialog about the fact that adults make the choice to put babies in diapers. We are responsible for having them get used to eliminating on themselves. When mothers learn that they can trust their intuition about their child needing to eliminate it is amazing to become aware of that connection. Just as many mothers feel the let down of milk in their breasts moments before their baby cries for milk, mothers can also have an intuition that their baby needs to pee. This is commonly experienced as the thought crossing their mind, “she needs to pee” and also if the baby is in arms the mother can sense a warm wet feeling when in fact the child has not peed yet. It is a miraculous bond between mother and baby. Providing your baby the opportunity to stay clean and dry is the response to a baby’s need. I understand your points in this article. I agree that the way potty training is done by many parents in our culture is not respectful of children. I am commenting more on your responses to other commenters about offering babies the opportunity to stay clean and dry and comfortable. I was surprised that you felt this was not compatible with RIE.
Thank you, Jessica. What surprises me is that EC would be brought up in an article about allowing children to lead toilet learning. EC is a very hands-on, directive approach that is also unnecessary, in my opinion and experience (which is not to knock parents who choose it!).
well written, Jessica! thank you for voicing this opinion too.
it’s not clear for me what Janet thinks of EC? I mean, it’s not about leading, but about communication and responsiveness, right?
Thank you for this article. I want to be patient with child led toilet learning, but I am SO tired of changing diapers! I like your suggestions about offering undies or diaper. I’ll try that. And just try to be patient.
Hi Amy! Have you been handling this situation patiently thus far?
No…I’ve definitely shown frustration. So, I’ve probably made the process too stressful. Ruby is 4 now and showing no interest in using the potty. It’s really hard for me to stay patient about it. I wish I had never ending patience, but the stubborness around using the toilet is very frustrating for me. : (
It’s not about patience so much as letting go of this being on your agenda… and just allowing it to be hers. 🙂
Hi Janet! I wondered how you react when a child uses the potty for the first time, on her own initiative? Praise does not seem needed? Just stating “wow you used the potty today instead of your diaper?”? Or nothing? And should we then from now on offer the choice between diaper or undie? Our daughter is almost 2 and she knows the potty, today was the first time she said she wanted to use it and she used it 🙂
Hi Kathleen! An acknowledgement like you suggested sounds perfect, but I wouldn’t say more than that. Then, you could offer her an opportunity to try underwear or maybe wait a few more days to see if she’s ready to use the potty consistently. Cool! 🙂
I agree, I think less is more, for sure. One of the ways to avoid placing value on a first potty experience can be to ask the child what they thought of it. I think it fits into the RIE idea of observing. Something like “You just used the toilet to pee. What did you think of that?” I think this can curb the impulse to load on praise (because really, it is kind of exciting when a child does something for the first time) and leave the elimination experience as something that your child owns completely.
I don’t consider my children’s care to be nasty or dirty. Unless there is something “wrong” they will start going potty. I don’t consider helping potty/diapering or bathing them to be particularly laborious either. I signed up for that when I had them. It’s not a race. Good information- mom of 3 boys.
Thanks for the article. It was very informative, and has helped me decide not to push potty training on my little girl. She is 2.5 and has expressed interest in weeing in the toilet but not doing #2s. I have put pull ups on her, as she is not always interested in going to the toilet. I do ask her and accept when she says no, but i do find that she doesn’t always tell me when she has done a #2. I will change my tactic and offer her the option of undies or pull-ups, but i won’t be pushing her to toilet train. After all, she was the one that told me she wanted to sit on the toilet!
Sounds good! Please let me know how it goes!
When I was 18 I was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome, as soon as I had been given that diagnosis I spent a year researching Autistic Spectrum Disorders. At age 22 a Consultant at Social Services re-diagnosed me as Having Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. I was origonaly potty trained for daytime at age one at night time at age 1 year 5 months. At age 6 I regressed back to diaper’s and remained wearing diaper’s, on and off, till I was 25.
I have always wanted a child of my own, and my mum has always said I would make a good father and am very protective. It has always been my intention to adopt a low functioning autistic baby, and allow the child to decide when they wish to start potty training. However that said I would make a point of constantly showing the child how the toilet is used. My mum put me through a load of shrinks, if I get a child of my own I will train the child with positive reinforcer’s and patients.
Hello. Thank you for sharing this. It was beautifully written and I only wish that I came across this before my daughter’s “toilet training” began. Just like you’ve suggested above, I’ve always naturally included my daughter in participating on bathing, changing and modeling toilet use. At 16mos she began to point out to me when her diaper was wet and wanting to change to a new one. I began to think that maybe she is ready for “toilet training” but didn’t jump on it as I also felt that even if she is becoming aware, her organs might not be fully develop yet for her to be able to have control of when to let go and when to hold and so I let her take the lead. Then at 18mos with her entering school, “potty training” became un-optional. It makes me terribly sad and worried to say this but I see so many signs from your list above with regards to constipated child. Being a first time mom, I often try to follow my instincts and observe my child. Receiving advices from others and books sometimes can be very helpful but also frustrating as you began to feel pressured and even a failure. At this point, is it too late to do anything? When at home, I simply let my daughter use her potty and make a choice whether to wear her underwear or pull-ups on her own. She seems to have more potty accidents at home than at school. Sometimes I get horribly worried and the only thing I am continuously reminding myself is that it’s okay there will come a day when she (my daughter) will successfully accomplish this. Thanks again.
You’re so welcome, Vicki. If I were you, I would say, “I’m going to give you a pull-up at home, so that you can be 100% comfortable. If you want to go to the potty and need my help, please let me know.”
I had a thought that perhaps you could write an article on “toilet training” options. eg. the different respectful ways parents have approached getting their BABIES and toddlers ready to use the toilet. Just waiting for them to initiate, for us, has not worked. I wish (I have a three year old whom has grown out of his fabric diapers) that I had introduced the toilet/potty concept as a much younger baby. At least tried the story on the potty from when they could sit. I really agreed with you, thinking my content wee man who loves “diaper time” would start by himself. He has been so good in everything else, your methods being spot on.
For us, diapers are a finite resource, we have used fabric right up until 2.5. He is now too big and they are wearing very thin. So I switched to disposables thinking it wouldn’t be for long. It didn’t strictly fit within in the budget, but we thought “not for long” 7 months later he has control over his movements but is not remotely motivated to use the toilet unless constantly prompted. I have now, for both our wallets and the environment, drawn a line in the sand. The next week is it, although I am making the process as fun as possible, its still hard on all of us (day two). I do not like that his days are interrupted all the time and we are stuck at home all day every day until we master this, but we have no option. Back in the day when we were hand washing diapers, babies were using the potty as they were mastering walking. We won’t be just waiting for him/her again. Somehow we will integrate it in the daily routine in way that causes no stress and makes the shift a natural normal process instead of a forced leap when the money runs out.
You have different priorities than I do. I don’t believe in coerced toilet training for all the reasons I’ve mentioned…and please know that the “constant prompting” you’ve been doing, even though you are “trying to make it fun” is what causes children to put on the brakes and delays healthy toilet learning. Children are well aware of our agendas for them and are inclined to resist this one, in particular.
So now we’re shaming a mom on a limited budget who needs support in this area because it’s quite literally straining the family’s financial resources?
I’ve read a lot of good stuff from you, but your response was quite graceless.
I’m sorry if you thought I was shaming this mom, Natalie. I was actually trying to help her understand how she is creating this issue by “constantly prompting”. Constant prompting is not trusting and it feels to children like we are trying to control functions that they actually control. Most children will push back against the parent’s pressure. That is the ONLY reason a child who can physically “control his movements” would be having difficulties, and the healthiest way for this parent to break out of this cycle she has created is to take a step back and let her child know that she 100% trusts him to let her know when He’s ready…and that she will stop bothering him about it.
This approach is not every parent’s choice, but it does work.
Could you sell your current stash of diapers and buy some cloth toddler diapers or pull ups? Many mom’s find that’s the beauty of cloth, you can always recoup some of the cost of cloth. My son is also quite big for his age and I had to make diapers that would fit him (3 and almost 40 lbs).
I notice you mention not using words that make negative associations with faeces (eg. stinky or dirty) we have found ourselves using these a lot. ‘Stinky’ is perhaps used in a flippant conversational way. But ‘dirty’ we use deliberately because our 2yo has developed a habit of wanting to stick her hand in her nappy while we are changing her. So we say “don’t touch your poo it’s dirty.”
How can we discourage her from touching/spreading her poo without developing the negative associations?
Hi, my 3.5yo girl is perfectly capable of using the toilet but poos herself frequently, usually at home so I think there is a reason. She knows it upsets me and apologises and promises never to do it again but I don’t know how to react. I’ve tried pretending it’s no big deal, I’ve tried asking her why, I’ve tried reprimanding her. Obviously none of these strategies are working. A family friend has bribed her and rewarded her but this is only a temporary success. How should I deal with it? When she does poo in the loo, which is just as frequent as her accidents, she expects praise and that I’ll be overjoyed as that’s how I was initially reacting. I’m happy to let her take her time in choosing to do it but am really sick of cleaning poohy undies almot daily!
If your approach is correct please explain why children in so-called developing countries that cannot afford the luxury of nappies for 2 years are generally potty-trained sooner than their so-called developed nation friends? Most children are potty-trained by one in those nations and children of my generation (and yours) would have been done by 18 months. There are too many other streams of evidence that contradict your viewpoint.
Lifestyles and expectations are quite different in those cultures. For instance, as Dr. Steven Hodge’s notes:
“…in much of the developing world, toilets aren’t the norm; instead, people squat, a position that, research demonstrates, makes elimination much easier. And when you don’t need to worry about finding a toilet (behind a bush will do), there’s less reason to hold. It’s all about access.
In addition, in most developing countries, 2-year-olds don’t typically go to daycare or preschool.”
There’s more here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-hodges-md/potty-training_b_1424826.html
So I liked the HuffPost article. But I think something should be clarified. The quote makes it sound like the majority of people in developing countries squat behind bushes to defecate. Yes, there are many people in the world living in abject poverty who don’t have access to proper sanitation (more than 2 billion, according to the World Health Organization). But I think the quote paints the picture that all people in the developing world live in these conditions, which is false. If I understand correctly, about half the population of the developing world lives in cities and the other half in rural areas. For those living in cities, 82% have access to pit latrine or toilet. Of those in rural areas, 51% have access. Most kids in the developing world have to learn to use those (and yes, hold it until they can get to one), much like kids here do. I just found the quote to be an overgeneralization of what life is like in developing countries. I think people in the developed world tend to paint the developing world in such a way that invites stereotypes. Otherwise, I think there were interesting points made.
Simone, I think you need to do what’s good for you and yours! To me this article is nuts! I have recently trained my cat to use the people potty and to be sure I was looking for a solution other than blue food coloring – as all the people in the house have been trained…but this article came up. We are to teach manners, to use forks, to move to regular cups, coloring in lines, reading, writing, and everything except the bathroom? To me it seems nuts, if you apply the same logic to everything else – what child will decide they want to go to school? They want to learn to dress, brush, bathe? These things no one says don’t train your child until later when the decide the want to. Your child has control when they wake up from naps dry, but that also means they need to go in most cases, so we would go to the bathroom and I would sit on the potty and go, and the child would sit on the cutest wooden potty with a tp roll on one side and a book rack on the other…we would read the book by Kermit the frog, about how he can go potty now, all by himself, its really easy, pants come down so I can go, my bottom stays comfy and dry, and do you want to know why, and it basically goes over again how it is easy and comfy, how you need to wash your hands also, this was the routine within about 10 minutes of waking each day, 30 minutes after meals and snacks…10 days, even though after 5 I was always asked for the potty song time, or the potty book time, I wanted to be sure, you don’t have to ask your child all day long, there are normal natural times the need to go and the moment their mind is off, ugh sitting on the potty and on singing, or the story. Anymore baby sign language is common, so many kids can ask to go potty before they have the language, they ask for more milk, more juice, or just more, there are tons of things babies can learn and if you watch for the signs, then you have much less crying from frustration that they see others asking and receiving, but don’t know how, all fixed with consistentcy and gestures. Plz do what is right for you and your family, money and the environment are both limited things and to be considered for many. There are as many parenting positions, as there are political positions, religions and many other things… When my single parent dad taught me, we lived somewhere different for his work, New Orleans, LA and it was super humid that neither of us where use too, so I got a rash,I was 13- 14 months old, I asked – daddy why itch? He sat me down with diapers and with panties – he said babies wear diapers, sometimes they get a rash that itches, but the cool thing is that they make these panties for big girls who potty in the bathroom, they don’t get itchy rashes, would you like to try big girl panties? I said yes, I had a couple of accidents he said, but I am not broken because of it. I am also not suggesting you make diapers uncomfortable, as what I had was a heat rash that my sensitive skin needed treated with powder going from dry air to hot wet air aggravated my super sesitive skin, but gave him the idea to say baby diapers lead to it, but I firmly belive we have much larger diaper sizes than ever before due to this “wait until your child wants too” approach….do we wait to teach children literally anything else for the child to decide? If it works for some, great, have at it…go to kindergarten or first grade since teachers don’t do diapers or hold your child back from school “until they are ready to potty” or “until they decide its time to learn” or be the parent, and lead your child by example and teach them what the need to learn to make school and sleepovers WAY less embarrassing! When I worked at a big box store in high school (late 90’s) there where WAY less sizes, and where diapers ended the option was training pants only…they started before diapers ended, some of the sizes are starting to get close enough to fit small adults.
My almost 5 yr old daughter has accidents all the time, mostly poop related. I don’t want to shame her about it. How should I handle it? She knows how to use the potty (we didn’t know about the method you discuss) but still has accidents. We have gotten her a potty watch to remind her, which works sometimes. She starts kindergarten in the fall. What can we do??
Hi Janet from Mexico city. I love your page because I know Magda Gerber´s and Emmi Pikler´s work. I´m a pediatrician and I have a degree in infant and juvenile psychopathology and actually I´m working on Parenting.
It´s very hard to change adult paradigms and prejudices. In kc comment I see that economic interest is very important for this person, but the most important thing is to trust in children inner capacities and to observe their evolutive processes, independently of adult rush.
Thank for your page, I will visit it frequently to give advice to my parents and professionals.
It´s hard to change adult minds and believes, but we just have to try.
Hi Lucia! I couldn’t agree more with your point of view (as you can imagine!). YES to this one million times: “the most important thing is to trust in children inner capacities and to observe their evolutive processes, independently of adult rush…”
I am thrilled to know that you are in Mexico City supporting this work. Thank you! Yes, we’ll just keep working on this!
One of the children I used to work with was gluten intolerant, and if he ate anything with gluten in it he would have what we called “goopy poops.” This naturally meant that he couldn’t be potty trained. He was four when they figured out what was causing the problem, and once his diet was sorted he was finally able to learn to consistently use the toilet for his bowel movements. (Then we had to start working on his attention to his need to urinate, as if he was engrossed in an activity he would ignore the urge until it was too late.) By four he was also in a preschool with other children and he was the only one who was still in Pull-Ups, so that made him more interested in learning the skill.
I’m a first time mum to an almost 2.5 year old and I’m concerned we may have started the training process too early. She was a month shy of 2 and was displaying signs of readiness. She took to it great but has since regressed twice, is constipated and seems to be holding in her wee and poo for as long as possible. It’s also an area in which she likes to assert her control – she says “no” to going 99% of the time now although she’ll let her me take her when she can’t hold it in any longer. We’ve come so far and she does know how to do it but as it’s effecting her emotionally I’m not sure what I should be doing now. Please help.
Hi, I like the thinking behind your article it makes sense for children to lead their own toilet training and I agree with it in principle, however my daughter is 3 next month and although may sound biased is intelligent and independent, but shows no interest in toilet training. We have a potty out all the time and she sits on the toilet when she asks but when I put knickers on she wees and poos in them. Have you any suggestions? I just had in my mind that she should be trained by 3 whether adult or child led and worried I have been too ksid back waiting for her to do it herself. Should I give her more time ?
It’s such a sad shame that so many people seem reluctant to trust their children. My 3 year old daughter (3 years and 2 months) is in the process of ‘potty training’. After a couple of failed attempts earlier in the year to try to coerce her into potty training (due to peer pressure), I went with my gut instinct to just trust her and let her decide when she was ready. That day happened about a month ago, she had limited accidents in the first week, has never had an accident in the car and we have had some long journeys, I still pack extra clothes in case of timing issues but she’ll go 8 hours at nursery with no problems. The turning point seemed to be the ability to put her own pull up on. I fully believe she new what she needed to do but was waiting until she had all the skills she felt she needed. The way I see it is that you can either spend time endlessly ‘training’, putting them and yourself through stress, or have faith in them. If you have a otherwise healthy child still in nappies at 6 years old I would say you maybe had other issues to deal with.
If you look at 3rd world culture s they potty train very early as they are in tune with there child’s bathroom schedule. As for me I am not changing a 3 or 4 year olds diaper it is just not for me. I think there needs to be a happy medium when training a child. Every child is different and if you approach there individual needs in coaching them though the process you will always have positive results.
Hi Janet – I really understand your theory and it’s what I have been trying to follow with my son. So I haven’t introduced any kind of training with him, just been talking about it, we read Dr. Sears book on the subject, and I have been waiting for signs. However he is almost four and will be starting nursery school in the fall. They require him to be fully potty trained. Any advice for how to handle this now with him now that I have a deadline (fast) approaching? I have been trying to just matter of factly discuss this with him – that school is coming up, that there is this rule, and I have to help him follow the rule. But he keeps saying he will do it after school starts and he cries whenever I try to have him sit on the potty. I don’t want to shame him in any way, or make him feel stigmatized if he goes to school and isn’t ready. I would so appreciate any advice you have for me on this subject.
It’s entirely true that children don’t need toilet training. However, they need diaper un-training, especially if they have been diapered until late toddlerhood, which we have seen only since the last 20-30 years or so, and is without historical precedent.
Almost all the 3 “readiness signs” you discuss are obstructed by prolonged diapering, and not by a lack of maturity or physical development. It’s almost a vicious cycle: the longer we wait for “readiness”, the less ready they are, maybe thats how we went, in the last 50 years, from 1 year to 18 month, and then to 2, 3 years, and as you advocate here, even 4.
All the problems your readers report of their toddler/preschooler with toileting, stem from excessively prolonged diapering. For exemple, the bizarre but recurrent, behavior were a 3 year old refuses to poo in the potty and asks for a diaper. I can guarantee you that my 8 month old, since he’s 3 month old releases within seconds upon being held over, and now sitting on a potty. It’s the most natural and easy thing in the world from him. The “emotional” problems you cite are nothing but the result of having been in diapers far too long.
The “cognitive” readiness you list also is severely impaired by diapering: how on earth can children know “when they need to eliminate” if they don’t even know that they eliminate: they cannot see it because the whole area is covered by a diaper, and they cannot even feel it , since modern diapers are so absorbant they don’t give any feedback.
Lastly, the “physical readiness” is also impaired by diapering: never having had to hold it even only for a few seconds, how can his muscles and skills evolve? This is like swaddling a baby 24h/24h until he’s one year old and then declaring he’s not “ready to walk”….
With all respect for your blog and your other posts that are often truly great, your bias and narrow-mindedness on this issue is staggering.It’s almost like a cultural bias, as if a practice common to a particular society during a very narrow time-frame were an universal necessity, a natural law. Like if I declared eating with chopsticks was bad and only forks and knives were good…
And so you sometime have a hallucinating double standard:
For exemple, you reject EC because it is “parent lead” but not “child lead”. But you don’t have any qualms whatsoever with parent-led diapering… Newborns don’t choose to put on a diaper, older babies and toddlers often very actively resist diaper changes, which is understandable, since it is an extremely humiliating experience to have an adult force you to lie down and the scrape around in your rectum and genitals.
But no, forcing a toddler to have his diaper changed, as you flatly advise one of your readers, is perfectly OK. But gently holding an infant over his potty or reminding a young toddler to go the toilet is NOT OK !
Sorry, I find this perfectly insane.
Belsha – more will be revealed when your 8 month old develops more of a healthy opinion of her own. I would not attempt to present yourself as an expert on this issue quite yet, because I can assure you that there is no comparison between a toddler (in terms of healthy resistance) and the relatively ageeable infant you have now. Toilet learning is delayed when toddlers sense their parents’ agenda and then their developmental need to resist causes them to push back. That is why I strongly advise TRUSTING children. If we wholeheartedly trust, we can avoid delays, pushing back, constipation, etc., and give our child the powerful gift of autonomy.
I’ll admit you lost me in your rant about diapering “impairing” children. Diapering does not impair children, it honors their stage of development. A toilet does not, particularly in the inconsistent manner in which most parents use it. And your portrayal of diapering as “scraping”, “humiliating”, and forcing a child to lie down is way off the mark. If you would like to discuss the EC approach with me rationally, I would be happy to engage with you.
The “healthy resistance” of toddlers is exactly the reason why toilet learning should begin BEFORE children reach toddlerhood.
I never pretended that diapering “impairs” children in general, but simply that it impaired their emerging learning of skills to perceive and control their elimination needs.
Do you find it’s OK to pin down a 3 or 4 year old and to fiddle with his genitals, wiping and scraping poo around his scrotum or her vagina? Sorry, I do find that humiliating and intrusive, and I would like to avoid such a situation for my child.
Early toilet learning to me is all about giving the child autonomy and respect. If toddlers changed their own diapers and cleaned their own butt, I wouldn’t have a problem to wait that their “ready”. But they don’t, and diapering puts them in an extreme situation of dependence and inferiority to their carekeepers, which I believe they don’t deserve.
You complain about my post being irrational (what is it exactly, just the words “impaired”, “humiliating” or “scraping”? — which could be considered hyperbolic, which is different from being irrational), but I’m sorry to say your biais against EC is completely irrational. Maybe this biais is so ingrained that you don’t even perceive it:
— You object to taking an infant to the potty while he’s playing since that interrupts him, without acknowledging you would interrupt him just the same to take him to the changing table just a few minutes later if he were diapered.
— You state that only “EC-ed” infants dislike soiling themselves, without perceiving that the inverse is equally true: only diapered babies don’t mind being wet or soiled. But since babies are not born with diapers, the first case is maybe the more fundamental one.
— You see toilet learning as a natural process comparable with learning how to walk. It’s quite clear that this cannot be true, for the simple reason that neither toilets nor diapers are “natural”. And you can see this very easily when you consider that despite individual variation (between individual babies), the average age range for the walking milestone is the same all around the world, and across historical periods.It is not the case that chinese babies walk at 1, while US babies walk at 3 or 4 on average, or that US babies walked at 18 months 50 years ago but now only walk at 4. But this is exactly what we see with toilet learning. A pretty basic principle of anthropology is that what’s universal across cultures is natural, and that what varies or differs is cultural or “nurtured”.
I sometimes wonder how the ultra-late toilet learning we see today in the west and the US in particular relates to the ultra-late stroller use we see today in these same societies. I recently read Benjamin Spocks advice to ditch the stroller as soon as babies can walk, which seems crazy now, and of course it was at the same time back then babies were toilet trained. Toddlers still ditch strollers and diapers at about the same age, only 2-3 years later than 60 years ago ( a steady delay of about 6 months per decade).
I find it fascinating that this amplifying trend of treating toddlers like small babies (in diapers and strollers), is accompanied by the apparently opposite trend to treat toddlers like grade-schoolers, and wanting them to read or do math at very early, and I believe inappropriate ages.
Sounds like you are passionate about an approach that is working for you.
This is your in-depth reaction to Belsha?
Very disappointing 🙁
I followed my sons lead and he decided he would use the potty full time from pretty much being in full time diapers at 4 and a half (before this the only time he would use the potty is if he was naked- and he hardly ever pooped in the potty). He decided he wanted to wear boxer briefs and that was that. Only one accident at a wedding and from that moment on he’s been fully in underwear during the day and throughout the night. He also gets frustrated with me if I ask if he has to go, esp when I would push for him to go before bed. So I’ve stopped a lot and he’s never wet the bed, so I have to trust.
I have allowed my son to take the lead with toliet training. Have done all you suggested and he will be five in 2 months and still no interest in using toilet/potty. I cant send my child to school in a diaper. What do you suggest I do? I have listened to you and it hasn’t worked. I notice other comments on this thread in similar predicament, asking for advice and these comments have been neglected to be answered. I wish I had done something sooner now, feeling very deflated about the whole thing.
Can you share in more detail about “Have done all you suggested”? Have you not coaxed this process along at all? Ever? Delayed toilet learning is almost always a response to some level of pressure the child has felt from the parents.
I’d love to discuss this a little further. I’ve always been a big fan of your work, and enjoyed this article. But I will say, it makes me kind of feel a little panicked when I think of my situation. I have a 4yo son with PDDNOS and chromosome 1q21.1 microduplication syndrome.
I used cloth diapers up until around the age of 2 (never even thought, looked, urged or considered potty training because he was barely walking before 17mo due to a physical issue that has now corrected thanks to Osteopathic work).
I went back to work when he was around 2yo, he went into daycare for 2 days a week, and was with my mother 1 day a week. Potty training was not addressed until this year (age 3.5) as he has to go to kinder next year. Even before this he showed absolutely no interest in using the toilet.
It has been routine prompting during nappy changes at daycare (once every 2hours) that has seen the most results. I’ll admit, I’m more laid back than my mother would like, I don’t push the toilet at all when we’re home by ourselves. Yet, he still has very little interest.
He is weeing somewhat consistently on the toilet – still in pull-ups- at daycare, not at home (he might ask to go to the toilet once or twice a week when I’m around). He has yet to do poop on the toilet at all – and I’m starting to see him hesitant to tell anyone when he’s done a poo in his nappy too (I’ve never shamed about this at all – although my ex, his father, probably has because he’s an idiot, and unfortunately I still rely on my Mum one day a week to watch him and I think she’s been doing the whole “oooh stinky, sore bottom” routine).
I personally had a really laid back approach to this, figuring it would happen when he was ready, but NOW I’m starting to wonder if that is going to be before school… and I’m feeling pretty panicked about it, especially since I really DON’T have a lot of control over his environment through the day, and as a single mum, I don’t have the luxury of not working.
I figure I’m screwed whatever I do at this stage.
That sounds very challenging, Donna. I am sorry you are in this predicament. It sounds like your son is extra sensitive… so I believe your laid back approach is even more important — the safest way to go. Have you articulated to him that you trust him to tell you when he’s ready to go to the potty and that you’ll be glad to help? It can be so hard to have complete faith in our children, but that really is the key.
Does this technique take into account the 5.5yr old who was given the space to learn in his own time and is still wetting his pants and refusing to go to the toilet even now
Can you share more about what you mean by “given the space to learn in his own time”? Have you not coaxed this process along at all? As I mentioned in my reply to lil, delayed toilet learning is almost always a response to some level of pressure the child has felt from the parents.
Hello jannet my daughter is 3 yrs old I started her potty training 8 months ago resulting she can pee or poo when put on potty BT she didn’t tell me when she needs so as I’m working lady from 8 to 4:I can take her to potty before school n before bedtime at night BT I’m worried when she will start telling me about her urge I have seen many of her younger cousins who are trained completely now I feel v disturbed need ur guidance
I totally agree with this article. I have one question for you in terms of the Observation. I have twin girls. They both chose to start doing potty time when they were quite young. Around 10 months – which we were quite surprised at. I was going to the bathroom one day and I explained what I was doing. One of my girls went to the toilet in her nappy sitting on the floor almost mimicking me (quite hilarious really). The next day I had a potty there (my mum is a nanny so had one spare) and I asked if she wanted to sit on it. She did. She then went to the toilet on it. So since then they have been going to do poos on the potty/ now toilet. However not to wee. They are 2.5 years old now and still in nappies. They tell us everytime they want to poo and they go to the toilet, but only once or twice have they ask to go to Wee. I have offered Knickers, and they tried them for half a day (well one of them, one said no, which was fine), then said no after not quite making it to the toilet twice. I didn’t push it and she went back to nappies. I haven’t offered knickers again as I figure they know where they are and when they are ready they will ask. When you say in the above observe, I guess it’s hard to observe when they are going to do a wee. I’m in the mindset they will work it out when they want to be nappy free, or would you offer any suggestions as to if I should mention it to them again or ? I’d be interested in your opinion. Thank you. Rish
Hello, I made the mistake of trying to train my baby to use the potty starting at 10 months. Now at 13 months she is able to sign that she needs to go, yet it is inconsistent. Should I “wipe the slate clean” and follow the great suggestions in this article? I am very confused and want to do the best for her. I will do whatever you suggest. Many thanks!
Hi Kerry! My inclination would be to give your child some space and all your trust, which would mean completely letting go of coaxing this along and letting your daughter know that there’s a potty available to her whenever she feels like using it.
With all due respect, unfortunately, you are comparing apples to oranges in regard to the “taught” skills and toileting. Firstly, the skills you listed such as manners, using forks, coloring in the lines, Etc…all differ GREATLY from the potty issues as they have very little relation to biological body function. One can’t compare a behavioral skill or even fine/gross motor skills to a biologically controlled skill.
Secondly, taught skills including those you listed as examples, may have social consequences but are typically not socially recognized as early, as often, or as strongly as potty skills. Everyone in a child’s presence will recognize, very quickly if he poos in his diaper or underwear, regardless if he is 2 yrs or 6 yrs. And it’s likely that at least one person will mention the mishap whether it’s another child holding his nose with a “ewe-oo” OR if it is just to excuse yourself to change the child. However, lack of certain manners(unless involves defiant blatant behavior) such as poor fork usage or coloring skills won’t be as easily recognized by everyone present in large group situations. And if there are lack of manners or even misbehavior/defiance, that is normally viewed very differently than potty probs. I’m sure in a social regard, even you see manners or lack thereof or any other taught skill, a little differently than pee or poop mishaps. (Of course, there are situations where defiant behavior chronically involves purposeful incontinence or defecating. But those are separate underlying issues and for now, I’m referring to general expectations only) These typical socially occurring pressures or consequences are natural and are actually some of the natural affects and motivators behind a child’s maturation in the area of toilet control, regardless of a parental reaction or training technique. A child will naturally strive to do what is needed to mature and fit in with same age peers.
I could make several other points because as a pediatric Speech Language Pathologist/Developmental therapist for 17+ years, I have found Janet’s theory to be spot on and have seen it work even when our suppositions and assumptions based on limited knowledge and parental paradigms, pull us in the opposite direction intellectually and emotionally.
My final point, again, would be inapplicable to the compared examples you gave ie…using a fork, coloring, moving to a cup, etc.. But a child is going to react different and be influenced and affected differently when it comes to a skills over which he possesses a control which can’t be revoked.we as adults do the same thing. How many times have you heard a person say, when explaining why they overeat, “Because at that difficult time in my life, it’s the only thing over which I had all the control.” While a child may not consciously understand all the theories or be able to communicate, what it is that prompts them to assert more control over the potty issue than other behaviors, the principle is the same. They CAN maintain the control. As a parent, you can use hand over hand guidance to elicit coloring between the lines, you can stop and correct them and demand a do-over when they use inappropriate manners, you can place a fork in their hand and hold it there or tactically guide them to use it. But you can’t make a child hold or release his poo. You don’t have that power or control and the child innately knows this.
With all due respect, For these reasons and more, I find your argument using these examples and comparisons, to be essentially irrelevant and non-credible. Trust your children. Yes, it requires patience and selflessness but the you’re actually rewarding yourself and the child in the long run, and possibly preventing extra stress, medical problems and thus, expense, by following his/her lead.
Thank you so much, Janet for educating on this topic!
I have three children in diapers and I am currently potty training my 3-year-old. I don’t have the patience for this sanctimonious lecture on potty training.
And the mom in the video with twins who potty trained them before they were 2 because she was sick of changing diapers? Cry me a river.
Janet, I love your approach in general, but this is a bit controversial… Leaving my experience aside, the fact is that disposable diapers are unhealthy and for boys they pose fertility threat as groin area temperature is kept high at all times. Then there is the constant threat of diaper rash which occurs all too often. All and all, there must be a middle of the road approach by which kids are made aware as early as possible of options to diapers.
As to diaper changes, my daughters hates them deeply and i’ve tried all the nice suggestions you make in other articles and they work sometimes only as a distraction (9 months now). She hates lying on her back and fiddling around when she could be crawling, and she hated it when she couldn’t crawl also. I’m placing her on the potty a few times per day -let’s call this EC – and for her it seems to be zero stress. Overall, less stress than the longer process of cleaning after a pooed diaper. I would add that skin looks significantly better since less time is spent wet (poo is always changed right away).
We cloth diaper and i would add this can make parents more aware of their kids’ body cues.
It is clear that you have not read my suggestions, because they certainly do not include distracting a child. I am glad you’ve found something that works for you. I don’t recommend it.
I believe Aida didn’t say that she used “distraction” as a method during diaper changes (which you advise against), but rather that the methods you suggested work only as a “distraction”, i.e. that they only worked temporarily, until the fighting of diaper changes resumed.
I do wonder though, why you “don’t recommend” sitting a baby on a potty during a diaper change. It usually takes less than 30 seconds, the child either eliminates or doesn’t, they often do (they do have phases where they do it more or less, sometimes every time, sometimes rarely), there’s no pressure, no struggle, the child simply learns this is the natural place to eliminate, what on earth could be the harm and even the inconvenience?
There is nothing wrong with this point of view and I’m sure it works great for lots of families, but what makes me cringe is this western idea that that independence and doing things on your own the “right” way. I’m not a child care expert but I do have a college degree in childhood development and some background knowledge on cross cultural psychology. Kids needs to be respected, that’s for sure, but the way it’s done is not the same for everybody. There is absolutely nothing wrong with guiding your child lovingly through anything and I don’t believe people should be bullied into thinking they can be emotionally scaring the child if the parent takes the lead. We teach our kids lots of things all the time and that doesn’t make us strict authoritians. What I don’t understand is how encourage your child toilet train when the timing feels right, is different than encouraging your child to enjoy reading by reading to your child from day from way before they can read.
I am sorry (though a bit perplexed) that you felt “bullied” by the advice I share on my own website. Believe it or not, my intention is not to be bossy or controversial or convey that there is only one “right” way. My hope in writing this post is to help parents and children avoid the struggles and failures and physical issues like constipation that hundreds of families I’ve been in contact with over the years have endured because they toilet trained their children. It is true that for some families, toilet training works. For me, it is not worth the risk.
Janet, I agree with your advice. I’m a home childcare provider with over 30 years of experience and have found that the more a child is toilet trained, the longer they have accidents. I learned it myself quite by accident. My boys were born in ’82 and ’83. I began training the first at 2. Like many, he did very well for awhile then regressed. Not knowing better, I felt I couldn’t then put him back in diapers and what followed was accidents and frustration for us both. I started after 2.5 with my 2nd child and it went better but still not great. When my 3rd child was a little over 2 I became pregnant with my 4th. Knowing the baby was due just after her 3rd birthday I made the decision not to try to train her at all- I knew enough to see that if I was involved, she’d regress mightily when the baby was born.
Well, she decided at 2 yrs 9 mos that she wanted underwear and that was that. No regression at all after the baby either. So I followed the same practice with #4 and it was a similar experience.
At the same time, I don’t disagree with parents who practice EC- done CORRECTLY. I was quite concerned when I first heard of it so did some reading. The parents I knew who practiced it were exactly the opposite of people who pressured their kids to do anything and it didn’t seem to fit.
What I learned was that EC is quite different from toilet training. The onus to do it right is where it should be- on the adult. If there’s an ‘accident’ it is not the child who missed the cue, it is the parent. And there’s really no recrimination on either- misses are an expected part of the process. It is, in my opinion, an enormous responsibility to take on- even after all these years with babies, I don’t notice the small cues that a parent must be aware of to do it. But if a parent has the temperament and patience to do it the right way, I think the learning process for the child is pretty natural. No one ‘expects’ an infant to ‘hold it’ until taken to the potty, so if begun early the sense that they aren’t held responsible is clear. It seems to me less like the process used by American parents in my mother’s generation than like the natural process done in some developing countries. And yes, accessibility is an issue- I’ve known some families who practice EC at home but diaper when out for this reason.
To those who say they tried the child-led learning you recommend and have an older child who still won’t use the toilet- there are exceptions to any rule. The vast majority will learn to use the toilet with no pressure – though a little positive reinforcement for their efforts isn’t a bad thing IMO. We certainly cheer on their other natural accomplishments. The exceptions may have a certain personality type, an experience with diarrhea or constipation that caused them discomfort, etc. Children are complex beings and there will never be any one thing that affects them all in the same way.
Lastly, to parents who say that babies were trained by 1 or 1.5 in their or their parents generation- don’t believe everything you hear! It may have been true in your family or group of close contacts, but I am 54 and my mother recalls me being close to 3 when I got out of diapers. And my son is 33; by his birth many knew that waiting at least for the signs of readiness Janet listed was best. Aware pediatricians like the one I was lucky to have taught it as well. Certainly a good percentage stuck to the older ways, but don’t assume it went well or was even the norm by then. I never took care of a child in my daycare, begun in 1982, who was trained at 1 or 1.5. Admittedly though, I’m in California!
Lori, I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to share your experiences and wisdom. I agree with all you say and really appreciate your additions to the conversation.
Interesting read. I’m in Australia & I guess every culture has it’s preference. My daughter decided to use the potty at 23 months when I came home with my newborn son. She wore a nappy (diaper) during nap times till she woke up dry – this took about 4months & we put her in underpants at night just before she turned 4 – she is 4&1/2 now. She only has accidents when she is sick, occasionally wetting the bed. She had advanced fine & gross motor skills putting on clothing & shoes around 13mths – was also very interested in dress ups so this helped. I used to put underwear over her nappy (diaper) with her favourite character on it (peppa pig or tinker bell) to get her used to the idea & negotiated taking the nappy away. My son has no interest in clothing and struggles putting on shoes – he is 2&1/2 so I have not rushed him to use potty or toilet. I realised as others have mentioned that he needed to be able to put on his own clothes & I’ll soon put him in pull ups as he is becoming more interested in dress ups. I also found summertime easier for the kids to run around without a nappy on. Personality is also a big difference between my kids. My daughter is very determined & will sit and try to figure things out, while my son gives up easily & needs a lot of encouragement and scaffolded learning. We also moved house when he started becoming interested in using a potty but it’s winter now, so I just leave the potty I the bathroom and occasionally before or after the bath he will use the potty – he also politely asks everyone if he can look at their poo when they are on the toilet! I would love for him to be out of nappies for the start of pre-school when he is 3, but I’m going to let him decide. Thought I’d share because I found the lead up and expectation to “toilet training” very stressful; trust your judgement, have heaps of patience & toddler friendly clothing & it will all work out 🙂
I can’t say that I completely agree. I think every child is different. Some can be self-motivated enough to lead the process and others will need to be led. Children really want to please their parents prior to age 2. Sometime between age 2 & 3, children start inserting independence and power struggles can develop. If you wait too long to start the toilet training process then you could end up with a child who absolutely refuses to try. Sorry, but I have no desire to change diapers nor lay out the cost of diapers until a child is 3 or 4. We all have heard of those kids at 3 & 4 who are still using diapers because their parents are waiting for the child to show interest! Those cases, the parents need to step up and lead. No one approach will work for every child. Parents need to trust their intuition on what is right for themselves and their children.
I had my first child fully toilet trained at 20 months. I rarely changed a poopy diaper past 15 months. It was a gradual process…I didn’t take a weekend or let him run around without diapers. I put him on the toilet upon waking up from a sleep if within the first 5 mins. as children typically pee within the first 5 mins. of waking up. I didn’t hold him there longer than 5 mins. because I didn’t want him to dislike the toilet. He either peed or didn’t. We celebrated with a song. I watched for signs of when he might be ready to poo and eventually he told me himself through sign language that we made up of when he needed to poo. Once fully trained he has only had 2 accidents. Now I have 18 month old twins. I’m doing the same thing but I know they will take longer since it is just more difficult to stay on top of two. But my goal is to have them trained around age 2. I have no desire to hit the power struggle stage. My sister has 4 kids and she used the weekend approach to train all four around age 2. No regressions.
People trust your instincts and adopt an approach that matches your personality and know your child. Don’t let it get to the stage where your child no longer has a strong desire to please you. Still changing poopy diapers at 18 months vs 15 months (my first), I can attest to how much more disgusting it is as time goes on. It is awesome when they are out of diapers!
Hi Janet, I really appreciated your article, and am sharing it with my wife. I’m the father of 11 month old boy – girl twins. We mainly use cloth diapers during the day, and disposables at night.
I work as a special education support worker, which in the past meant being involved with the toilet training of children between 7 and 12 years old. One strategy I was taught to use was to have some of the students (at the discretion of a psychologist) wear underwear under their diaper to help them become aware of when they were eliminating.
What do you think of that, in the context of toddlers?
Thank-you! And any other advice pertaining to our situation will be heartily appreciated!
Hi Chris! Interesting idea… It just doesn’t seem that helpful to me. Toilet learning is about kids sensing that they are about to eliminate, and then deciding they want to do this on the toilet.
Is there a way to print this article in order to share with day caregivers?
Unfortunately, my template doesn’t offer a print option, so the only way is to copy/paste. Thank you for your interest!
I just wanted to add a perspective here. First off, I’m a nurse; so although I’m not a child psychologist I do have some background in childhood development and pediatrics.
My sister has a son who self potty trained at the age of 2.5 with no pressure from her. He decided after six months and almost no accidents to regress. He went from using the potty all the time to never using it. Not wanting to push him because of viewpoints similar to the one stated in this article, she put him back in diapers. He remained contentedly in diapers until at the age of six she made him start changing his own diapers. After 2 weeks of stubbornly spending 2 hours cleaning poo off himself every time he deficated, he finally decided to use the toilet.
In my mind at the time that was inexcusable stubbornness. I vowed to myself I would not go through the same ordeal with my own children. During my pediatric classes in nursing school I learned that there comes a time when infants are physical capable of concentrating their urine more. It is usually signified by a dry diaper upon waking which then is peed in within the first 10 minutes of waking up. This happened for my first daughter around 9 months. I decided against all the “let the self-direct” advise and decided to try out just going potty with my daughter in the morning. When she woke, we would both go in, sit on the potty and read books. She usually peed within 2 mins. Later in the day if I caught her grunting in a corner, I would say, “you’re pooing. We can do that in the potty. Do you want to go potties?” She would invariably get up and run to the potty. By 14 months, she always told me when she needed to poo and always went on the potty. By 18 months she was always telling me when she needed to pee. It was actually me not realizing for a time that she had much less cognition about when she was peeing than pooing that made it take longer. I finally put her in panties about 2 days before she started peeing on the potty all the time. I’ll never forget the look of confusion on her face the first time she peed in her panties. It was like, “what in the world just happened? And why am I wet?” I told her she had peed and we could do that on the potty. After two days, no accidents. I did verbally reward her, but personally I don’t think there’s anything wrong with helping your child know when they’ve done something good, and using the potty is definitely good in my world.
My next daughter progressed much the same way. Same tactics employed at approximately the same age. She was a “stealth” pooer though and ended up with no more accidents around age 2.
My third girl is why I read this article which I think gives great advise if you’ve missed the early window and are now working with a toddler. Toddlers as she states are very different from infants. They have a very different psyche than an infant and definitely feel the need to assert themselves. With my third daughter, we were super busy with various family things like ballet and gymnastics and finishing the basement in our home. I did not try putting her on the potty until about 16 months when she “started showing interest”. My experience for my family has shown that this was a bad call for my daughter. She is now two and struggling. Now I am looking for ways to get out of the power struggle I find myself in with her. I am hoping the tactics in this article work and I don’t end up with a 6 yr old who is still in diapers.
From my point of view, it seems obvious that we missed the window where the child does not perceive using the toilet as a power struggle but sees using the potty as the normal thing that everyone does. I wish I had been more dedicated to introducing her earlier to the potty in a positive way.
Lastly, I just have to point out that it is true that the age for potty training has slowly been creeping up since the advent of disposable diapers. And I don’t personally know of anyone from my parents generation or grandparents generation who suffered from life-long constipation or bed wetting. Longitudinal data does not support the claim that if you don’t wait until your child is “ready” they will have these problems as well as emotional scarring.
It has been my personal experience that if you introduce them to the potty at the time that they are ready physically (around 9 mos for my children), instead of waiting for them to “show interest” that things go much smoother. We had no power struggles with this issue with my first two and are now struggling with our third who I postponed. You could pass it off as a “different personality”, but my older two are very different children and potty training them took different paths so that kinda negates that theory. I don’t mean to be bashing anything in the article, I think it’s great for toddlers, but I do believe you can potty train very young children without scarring them for life. I think a lot of this advice is best taken in context. This probably really helps with toddlers. I’m hoping it will help mine.
Some of this is good, other parts of this article are completely child dependant. There is a lot of generalizing done here. A lot of assumptions made. There are other things besides poor diet that cause constipation. Some children do not take to change that easily. We are forgetting some kids need time out of diapers and underwear to become more aware of their bodies and what happens when we ignore functions. He was peeing on the potty naked,but it did not dawn on him to hold it until he woke up one night wet because he was in underwear and cried. Yes I changed him and sent him back to bed, after that mysteriously he started holding his pee. As long as I allowed the diapers he just refused to learn bladder control why should he it is contained in a diaper or pullup that keeps him dry As far as poop goes, he makes it if you remove the diaper. That snug feeling of the diaper, he got used to it. Also does not cover the willful/stubborn toddlers. Going commando helped my son and giving him the option of using the potty himself, allowing him to choose a toilet allowing him to choose what underwear. Giving him control helped him a lot. Some places opt to manage willful kids by putting a diaper on them only gives some of them like mine what they want to stay busy and not stop to pee/poop. Also does not cover the perfectionist child who wants to do it right or not at all and do it himself. He would start to pee miss the toilet and get upset and stop the stream.
I disagree, Marie. This covers strong-willed, “perfectionist” and every other kind of toddler, because it TRUSTS them to own this process, rather than trying to manage/teach/direct them as you are suggesting. I think parents might want to consider why they feel the need to dictate their child’s development.
Are you seriously pretending that parents that diaper their kids don’t “dictate their child’s development”? It seems to me its the parents, not the child, that put on the diapers, and thus prevent him from becoming aware of his bodily functions and gradually learning how to control them… how on earth wouldn’t this be “dictating your child’s development?”
I strongly disagree that diapers prevent children from becoming aware of their bodily functions. In my 20 years working with families of toddlers I have never, ever seen that happen. Children can and do learn to control these functions and honoring that process is an important aspect of respectful parenting. It’s when we assert our own agendas for our children that we risk disrupting and thwarting these natural child-directed processes.
Absolutely agree with you Marie. During the weekdays one of my cared children does his stuff on potty and is in pants. On the weekends only diapers and all poo and pee in there….
Both my children were on the potty before age 1. It just became an accepted routine. I saved about 3 diapers per day on average. They were both completely trained before age 2. My granddaughter is 19 months old and is almost trained. There are many ways. The goal is a happy well adjusted child. If you want to change diapers for 4 years that is your choice.
I don’t when this was written so I am hoping you can still read comments and reply. What would you suggest for a high functioning, brilliant, verbal boy on the spectrum. He is 5 and shows little to no interest in pottying like a big boy. I’ve tried this last week to no avail. I don’t want to push but I don’t want him to be in diapers until he’s 6 or 7 when he’s capable. I feel so lost.
My 2yr9m boy has started using the potty on his own at home with no accidents, he wants his pants off & just goes but he would just wet the second we go out if i did not put a nappy on.
Everyone is saying I am confusing him by putting a nappy on going out but if I am following his lead & readiness I let him his potty as he wants to at home but put one on as he wants it going out.
What is right in this situation, should I just use nappies all the time & wait till he is completely ready to wear underwear at home & out?
Hi Emma, i think your child is old enough not to be confused about different circumstances. You might try asking what he is comfortable with, a diaper or pull up or even underwear. When he decides underwear, bring something to protect the car seat if you are driving, change of clothes, and a portable potty. This will make him and you more comfortable with the changes and possibility of mishaps. Good luck!
I agree with the article, while still cautious about differences among children, what might work for some might not work for others. In my experience, potty training my son was very frustrating to say the least, he frequently refused it, no amount of candy, stickers and prizes convinced him. I bought books, used all the methods out there. He was over 3 when I finally decided to chill out and give it a break. Only then he decided to use the potty. It was very gradual, but the point is, pushing him or talking about potty only backfired. It did turn into a power struggle. Only when we “gave up” and stopped talking about it it’s when he started to use the potty. It had to be on his own terms. I have a 30 month old daughter and hoping the same will work for her since she’s pretty headstrong too 😉
Theoretically, I agree with this article. In the real world, however, a child cannot attend preschool until he or she is potty trained! This poses a big problem for my 4.5 yr old son! I am not able to home school (nor do I desire to). Then it becomes a legal matter with the question of “why is your child not in school?” Unless you are living in a hippy compound, what do you do?
Well, I truly agree that the whole process is based on the emotional acceptance of the process, and mutual trust. Our job as parents is to model our expectations. However, I do not agree that children are to be put in diapers!!! No no no!!! The diapers have turned into a terrible tool for securing the body waste, and are a hard habit to break. The earlier you get rid of them the better! Talk to the child, gain their trust and show them that pee and poo is the stuff that the body doesnt want and throws out. Take them in the toilet with you. Give them plenty of panties, keep the potty within a close distance, be happy and encourage your child that if they wee in their pants, that is absolutely ok. Once the child trust you that they are loved, supported, and following your example, then that is the main achievement of the process of potty training. But definitely, no diapers, pull ups, or whatever nonsense may be there, lacking the learning in it.
Feel free to abuse me as much as you want, this is my opinion.
Hi from Australia! I come back to this article time and time again with my 3.5yr old daughter (eldest). She has essentially “trained” herself, yet is almost TOO controlling of her bladder and bowel. It’s harder for her to hold on to her wee and eventually she will finally ask me to go with her to the toilet to “help” (she really just wants me to stand there with her), but her bowels are really beginning to concern me. She holds on and on and on. Whenever she needs to go her behaviour changes from calm, grounded, cooperative and connected to aggressive towards her younger sister, “shitty” with everyone and everything, and just downright irritable! Its really hard for me after several days of this to stay calm when she says no to my question if she needs to do a poo. She will often take herself out of play to sit down to stop the urge. Often she will answer to my question if she needs to go: “I dont WANT to do a poo!!!” and then we discuss the difference between need and want…but she will never do it herself. Most of the time I end up putting a nappy on her (she will never do it on the toilet as she is anxious of the sound it makes when it plops in! She is also nervous about the sound with wees and won’t do it in front of anyone but me but also won’t do it on her own either! Dont know what I am going to do when she goes to Preschool next year!). She will get a bit upset about not wanting to do a poo as she puts on her nappy, but is mostly obviously relieved that she can finally go. She needs me to hold her hands. She has a full body experience with it, maybe because she has held on for so long: goosebumps, whole body pushes…sometimes I feel like I am supporting a woman giving birth because she is so scared and unsure about it that I am coaching her along and telling her she is doing an amazing job etc etc etc. Part of me wants to just let it go and let her eventually tell me when she needs to go, but I fear that will never happen – we have gone 4+ days before with a whole heap of obvious discomfort for her. I dont know how to best support her anymore with this. She has always insisted that I stay with her while she poo from about 7months of age when it started to really hurt after introducing solids. Its an ingrained issue for her and I have no idea how to help her relax about the whole thing! Sorry for such a long post or too much info…Ive hesitated asking this question for so long, but thought I would today after seeing her so uncomfortable and outright refusing to help herself feel relief. [we try to dispel some of the tension about this with play and silly songs about poo and wee all the time. She laughs and enjoys it, but its not getting deep enough to change her fears. My mother-in-law who is an ex-teacher says she has never met any child who can be so controlling of her bodily needs as my daughter…]. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and respond! 🙂 x
Hi, I haven’t had quite the same experience as you but I understand the stress that toilet issues can cause. Both my kids (with very different personalities) have had their own issues. I have tried a zillion different things for each of them and now they are both doing well. It is hard to say which bits helped but heres a few things I learnt that seemed to help my own:
1. An early break approach with my nervous girl was “personifying” the poo! I had read about it as a suggestion and thought, what harm can it do?! So when she looked like she needed to go i’d ask about Mr Poo Poo. Whilst sat on the toilet if things seemed hard i’d encourage her to talk about it, tell him its time to get out of my tummy now Mr Poo Poo (giving some sense of control over the situation. Tell him to get out! Gross I know, but we were desperate at that stage)
2. We’d have a long running toilet sitting game where I’d ask “is he going to go…..(insert ridiculous whizzy noise often with actions) or will he go ‘plop’ into the water? This developed into a popular game of silly noises but was handy for my anxious girl and touching on the issue of it will make a noise in the water and thats normal.
3. If you have concerns over constipation consider encouraging extra water intake. We initially had the doctor prescribe lactulose for constipation but eventually found we did better without it. I think each child has their own balance of specific foods and strategies that help them, but for both of mine natural licquorice (the soft eating stuff with extract in it) is an easy thing to get them to eat that made getting the poop out easier. Prunes are the usual go to but with sensitive kids overdoing foods that give them an intense urge can sometimes make them more anxious. We do better with citrus fruits (oranges) and pears. Avoiding apples seems to help them too.
4. With our girl that likes control then a well considered bribe helped well. (Her first voluntary potty poo was rewarded with a Duplo set that was in the house in view but out of reach). Sticker charts can work with some. Some friends give a small chocolate. Now that shes older and all sorted I take more of the approach of “i can tell you need to go, we’ll stop this and carry on when you get back”.
If your girl likes control the hardest thing to do is not stress too much as the more intense/assertive your intervention the more that she is getting a reaction.
5. Its totally a work it out as you go. Some things like letting her choose the princess nappy pants or actual training pants can help too, we don’t want to get the princess ones dirty (you vould change into cheapo nappies if they become wet/dirty after, with a “never mind. You can try another pair tomorrow” approach)
You’ll find your own way and on your own timeline. Going to kindy etc does speed up the process for some as they naturally try to do what other peers can do. Good luck and try not to stress about it. It’ll be a non-issue in a year 🙂
I have almost 3yr old twin girls. I decided not to potty “train” them, just told them they could go on the potty, toilet or have a nappy and left the choice to them. They now use either potty or toilet almost 100% of the time.
This confirms my theory that people who get easy kids think that they’re awesome parents and then go on to make a living writing books and articles that make the rest of us feel like failures. Thanks. I’ve done all the things in your list for over a year. My kid has no interest in using the toilet. She is not the least bit uncomfortable sitting in feces or soaked pants. She’s happy as a clam in her diapers at preschool. And yes I’ve also tried doing nothing at all for weeks at a time. It’s just hopeless.
This is free advice that you are welcome to take or leave. Sounds like this isn’t the approach for you.