Thursday, February 2, 2012

Five Suggestions For Potty (Without) Training

After I posted What I Do Instead Of Punishing My Kids, I had a few people ask on my Facebook page about potty training, and how it can be done without punishments or rewards. I think it starts with changing the way we approach it, even changing how we talk about it. If a parent looks at it as "training" a child then it will be almost impossible to do without the punishments or rewards.

"Training your child" means doing something to him or her. On the other hand, "helping your child learn" to use the potty is absolutely something you can do with your child as a "partner" rather than a "trainer." Here are some things that might help the partnership:
  1. Provide access. No matter how old your child is, you can get a small potty (or two) and let him sit on it and play around it. It can be right in the living room or bedroom. You can also get a seat to put on the regular toilet to make it more comfortable and accessible. Also, it will be easier for her to sit down and go when she doesn't have to pull down pants and take off a diaper first. If your child is comfortable being without a diaper or pants, let it happen whenever you can.
  2. Be present. Look for signs that your child is ready to go, and offer to read him a book or play a game with him while he sits on the potty, if he wants to. Sit on the floor next to him. Have fun instead of force around potty time.
  3. Prepare yourself (physically) for puddles. If there is diaper-free time, there will be puddles. It will be easier to deal with these puddles if you have a plan in place. Put a washable pad on the bed or the couch. Figure out in advance what you will use to clean up (I highly recommend cloth diapers for this - very absorbent) and where wet clothes and towels will go (I love a wet bag for this, because it can go right in the wash with whatever is inside it). Have the supplies handy.
  4. Prepare yourself (mentally) for puddles. A little pee on the floor or the carpet or the bed is not a major problem. Think about this in advance so you don't get upset when it happens. Just clean it up and don't make a big deal out of it. Clean-up can be a breeze.
  5. Drop the deadline and be flexible. If you have in your mind that it should or will happen by a certain age or within a certain time frame, it will make it more difficult to be your child's partner. Trust that it will happen. Avoid putting pressure on your child or your self. Just as children learn to walk and talk at different ages, they learn to use the potty at different ages. Your child might have no interest in using the potty whatsoever. She may go through periods of interest and use, and then completely turn away from it for a while.
Overall, try to remember that the learning will look more like a windy path with ups and downs, rather than a staircase with clearly defined steps. If you are "training your child" to use the potty with a staircase in mind, then any miss will look like a failure. Any pattern of misses will look like a step back, a regression. Expectations may be high unrealistic. If you are instead "helping your child learn" to use the potty, any miss is a curve or a bump in the path. It can be something you have planned for, so you clean up and don't worry about it. You can expect that your child is doing exactly what he is capable of doing in the given situation.


On a personal note, I practiced some "part-time EC" with my second child, starting when he was eight months old. I did not use this as a way to get him "trained" earlier or faster, but simply as another way to partner with him, to support his learning, to help him feel comfortable with using the potty from an early age. It was very cool. You can read more about it here, and feel free to ask me about it.

Also, none of the links above are sponsored, just my own personal suggestions. This blog continues to be ad-free.


  1. With all three of our kids we waited until they showed an interest and committed ourselves to always stopping whatever we were doing to help them when they were ready. I think that is the most crucial thing...don't delay because it is inconvenient to you. I had friends do this and it pushed back potty training by years and years. All our kids were done before two on their own with little work. Was it tiring that my 18mo daughter had to sit on every potty she saw? Yes. But I did it everytime. When we were very close we chose a weekend and went diaper free in big boy/big girl underwear. We were prepared to have fun and stay in all weekend and not worry or critize the accidents. Come Monday morning each kid was no longer wearing diapers ever again.

    I will say I know this worked too because none of my kids enjoyed being unintentionally messy. I have other friends that their children really were unfazed by wet pants.

    The most successful plans come from knowing your children and plugging into them. And relaxing your own demands and need for a schedule.

    We also keep a training toilet in the van to this day and my kids are now 6, 8 and 11. The emergency toilet was a lifesaver in the early days when their bladder control or dirty toilets were an issue.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience. The emergency toilet is a great thing to keep handy. And I agree, the most important thing is to be in tune with your child's needs and capabilities. However, even with the best plan, and starting early, some children will prefer diapers for longer than others. :)

  2. excellent blog post (and comment).

    we started ec with my daughter when she was almost 4 weeks old, and now at almost a year, we just purchased her first set of "training" undies. we use sign language and i watch her very closely for body language, and we make frequent trips to the potty (where she has a basket of books and toys within reach). we also moved all her diapering into the bathroom (cloth diapers help them stay in touch with their movements, no pun intended).

    we don't catch every pee, she doesn't tell me every time she has to go, and i simply say "you went potty!" with a smile and a yay, no matter where it happens.

    she's gone through periods where she'll go several days refusing to use the potty (though now that eveything is in the bathroom she seems to like it much more than the changing table). i don't force it, just keep offering until she wants to try again.

    1. My son had a few months, right after he started solid foods, when he had no interest in using the potty. I didn't force it either, and he eventually did have an interest again. He used it occasionally (a few times a week) until he was ready to be done with diapers completely.

  3. yyyeahhhh. I don't do punishments or rewards with my daughter, and I was totally committed to waiting for her to be ready to potty learn. Then she turned 3. Then she turned 4. Then she turned 4 and a half. Then I was like, OK, this is OVER. She was 100% fine with going in the diaper and 100% not fine with going diaperless or sitting on the potty. Seriously, I tried everything. I had to force her to go diaperless and have accidents because she wouldn't sit on the potty. Eventually it worked. She's pretty much learned now.

    In summary: I'm all for not having a deadline, but let's be honest, there has to be a deadline eventually. Sometimes you need to be flexible with your parenting paradigm, in a loving way.

    And by the way, EC doesn't work for all kids. Not all kids have a schedule, not all kids have body language cues, not all kids can feel when they have to go. That is a true fact. I just don't want people to go through the guilt that I went through, thinking I was "doing it wrong", because the only EC stories you hear are the success stories.

    1. EC didn't turn out to be a magical thing for us. I only did it part-time, and I considered any "catch" to be a success. I enjoyed whenever that happened, and I didn't stress about getting it right all the time. There were a few months when we didn't get a single catch. I mentioned it here because I wish I had known about EC when I had my daughter. I wouldn't want anyone to feel guilty about it not going perfectly.

    2. Ah! Yes . . . this is us right now, Jill. DD2 is almost 4 and has ZERO interest. I'm all for waiting until she's "ready" and trying to be all zen about it, but some days I'm just like COME ON ALREADY. I'm not sure what to do next, but your post made me feel a little better. So thanks for sharing. Just wondering . . . how long it took from going diaperless to when it "worked"? I ask because we've tried that and she couldn't care less . . . it's like she didn't even notice.

    3. How does your daughter feel about the situation? Does she prefer to wear diapers? Does she mind not wearing diapers?

    4. It doesn't even seem to be on her radar. She doesn't mind diapers, or getting changed, or staying wet, or wearing underwear, or going naked, or peeing on the floor. It's all the same to her. She truly couldn't care less. She is not motivated AT ALL by the prospect of a reward (which we don't normally do, but hey, desperate times). Believe me, if there were something I could do, I would do it. Chocolate? Sure. Stickers? On it. Out for ice cream? Why not. Mickey Mouse himself show up to congratulate her personally? I WOULD DO IT! I'm just at a loss because she simply doesn't care.

    5. Yeah, mine was a honey badger too. (Honey badger don't care!!) She also didn't care that all her friends and preschool classmates were using the toilet. Or that random kids at the park asked her why she was wearing a diaper. Didn't bother her.

      I got a potty with a cushy seat and just presented it as the new normal - while at home, no diaper, and we sit on the potty for x minutes every y minutes. I just insisted that she try. If she went on the potty, it was full-on freak out dance party mode. There were a lot of accidents. I kept towels (wood floors), a pile of clean sweats and a pile of clean undies in the living room for a long time. Eventually it started to sink in.

      It was really hard at first; she really didn't want to risk accidents, so she hated getting her dipe off. I hated forcing the issue but I felt like I had tried everything else! She's off to public kinder in the fall (ugh) and I really wanted her feeling secure in panties by then.

  4. My son didn't stop wearing diapers until he was almost 4. We tried going diaper free a few times and he would hold it until we put him in a diaper at night. I figured that wasn't good for him to hold it all day so we'd just put him back in diapers and wait a while. Eventually it happened, and it happened pretty much overnight. He went from diapers to underwear with very little fact, I think the only potty accidents that we ever had were during the times when we tried going diaper free at home and he wasn't ready. Once he was ready it was the easiest transition imaginable.

    Now with my daughter, she is 2 and has been using the potty for a about a year but still wears diapers too. I am sure she would be capable of it if I wanted to potty train her, but honestly I think that is more work than just letting her be and use the potty when she wants to, and diapers (or nakey time at home) the rest of the time. I'm not worried about it, it will happen when it happens.

  5. I also found that when she is naked or in underwear, she will hold it for like 6-8 hours and then finally give out. With my first, it was 2-3 days tops; clearly she was ready and that was that. I'm hoping that once this one is ready, we will see the same quick move to accident-free. I'm just hoping that she decided to be "ready" before too long. Diapers don't fit her well (she's tall/big for her age) and it's nearly impossible to change her when we are out and about or traveling. Ugh. And I'm getting kind of tired of the two in diapers thing (did I mention I also have a one-year-old?). Thanks for the comments. I feel less alone, even though I still feel clueless.

  6. I fought and battled and pushed my oldest to potty train for 6 months with no progress. I finally threw up my hands, said, "I don't care if shes in diapers until she's 18." At 3.5, she decided to potty train herself. It took one day.

    With my son, I knew better than to push it. We had a potty, he knew how to use it and where it was, and that's about where we stopped. He potty trained himself at 2.5. It took 2 days.

    Aside from some regression from my oldest when her dad deploys and she has accidents, the kids have had few situations where they peed their pants. It is so easy. No stress, no pressure, no deadlines. And I didn't have to do any "training" or work. My kids literally potty-learned themselves.

    Both of them still wet the bed, and both wear pull ups to bed at ages 6 and 3.5. However, just like with the potty learning, I figure - they won't pee the bed forever. When they're ready to toss the pull ups - they'll let me know. Sometimes we get a "no night pants!" and they sleep on a waterproof mattress. But, for the most part, they always choose to wear the pull ups. But, I'm not worried about it. With due time, I know they'll lose the pull ups. And, when they do, it won't be a fuss.

    I always tell every mom I know that potty training doesn't need to be this orchestrated and scheduled frustrating disaster. My son, who had no pressure, potty learned at 2.5 - the average age of doing so. Which means he figured it out on his own at the same rate as his trained peers. And I didn't have to bribe him. Or feel inadequate at my inability to "train" my kid. Seriously. So simple. I don't know why anyone wouldn't take the easy way out on this one haha

    1. Yes, that certainly does sound like the easy way out. Please do remember, though, that not everyone that takes the route you chose has the outcome you had. You're lucky.

    2. How am I lucky? If my child didn't potty learn until they were five- I'd be okay with that. I just said my oldest didn't potty learn till 3.5- and wasn't out of pull ups at night until she was 6.5. And IT WAS OKAY.

      Being okay, not pushing my child, letting them learn at their own pace is not "lucky." It's EASY. Your comment implies that I was lucky my kids potty learned without me pushing them- guess what? So would your child- but you can not force a time limit on them and you can't stress about it. If you do that, you too can be "lucky."

    3. And yes, everyone who chooses the route I did WILL have the outcome I did. Again- because there's no deadline. There's no pressure to have a deadline. Which means that everyone who does that route will have the outcome I did so long as their kid, at some point in their life, uses the potty.

  7. I've been doing pretty much you describe since my son was 12 months. He's 22 months now. He's had periods where he went almost exclusively in the potty, and other times when he goes on the floor (or worse, on my lap) every time. It doesn't really faze me. We have wood floors and I expect accidents. But some days I look over and see him running over to the potty to go, without a word from me! That's when I really feel it was worth it to (mostly) ditch the diapers at one and play at potty training.

    Is it a "success"? Not as most people would measure it. He wears a diaper when we go out because I can't really guarantee he will let me know when he has to go. Maybe by two he'll get it. Maybe not. But he is pretty aware of what's going on, so I'm pretty sure when he really wants to, he won't have too much trouble training for real. Meanwhile, I don't have to wrestle him into a new diaper every couple of hours ... which, considering I can barely get him to wear clothes at all, is a plus. And every "catch" is less laundry for me!