Ask the Mamas: The Start of Potty Training

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MSW reader Janice asks:

“When did you introduce the potty? How did you do it? What did you use?”

  • We still haven’t, yet, at almost 21 months. Our son is showing ZERO signs of interest or being ready. So I guess we’ll be waiting a while! ~Mary Ellen M.
  • My son will be three this month and he isn’t ready for serious potty training. About nine months ago we purchased two potties for our home. One is a seat that sits on top of the toilet, the other is a small portable potty. We have one in each of our two bathrooms. Any and all potty-related happenings have been completely child-led. For a couple of months, he asked to sit on the potty at random times so long as he got to play with daddy’s iPod. We hit lucky timing and he pooped in the potty on two separate occasions. The excitement of the potty must have worn off quickly though, because he refuses to sit on the potty at all these days. Getting to play with the iPod isn’t motivation enough anymore. He has recently started going to another room when he has to poop and wants to be left alone, which I know is one of the readiness signs. The few times I have tried to get him to go on the potty has only resulted in a very frightened-sounding, “No mommy!” The last few weeks he has asked to wear his underwear instead of a diaper, but he treats the underwear just like a diaper, and doesn’t care if he ends up with wet pants. So, he no longer gets to wear underwear. It has become a reward for going pee or poop on the potty, which hasn’t happened at all since that reward was set. I’m waiting for TJ to tell me when he is ready and I am in no hurry to speed the process along. Now if I could get my in-laws to understand that, we’d be set! ~Alex T.
  • Our little man is only 17 months so we haven’t introduced the potty at home. However, I do plan to start putting him on the potty first thing in the morning (when he ALWAYS poops) starting in the next month or so. I know this is very young, but he hates having a poopy diaper and will always come up to my husband or myself and ask for a clean diaper once he’s pooped. I also think that, because my son is in a daycare setting and some of the older children are using the toilet, he is learning about the process. They, of course, have a tiny, plumbed toilet which you would never have in your home, but it really is perfect for a learning experience! We are planning to get the frog potty from Target to start, since he still is so little. Eventually, I would like to get a seat that attaches to the actual toilet so I’m not stuck cleaning poop out of the stand alone version. ~Corey P.
  • We actually started when she was around four months old using Elimination Communication part-time when we were at home. We were cloth diapering at the time and I had read about it on Diaper Free Baby. I was amazed at how easy it was and that it actually worked! It was great not having to change poopy diapers! We took a ten-day trip when she was about ten months old and that was the end of EC. I think it was because we used disposables during that trip so she became less interested in EC. We had used the Bjorn Little Potty and Little Munchkin Toilet Ring so we always just kept them around, and she’d sit on them from time to time, but never pottied on them. She did know what they were for and would talk about it, so we just let it be. Around 20 months old, I got her a Bjorn Potty and “Once Upon A Potty” book. She was more interested this time and started talking a lot about it, wanting to do it “just like Prudence does!” (the little girl in the book). We tried to make a go of it over the Thanksgiving weekend when she was 22 months, but she wasn’t ready. Since her little brother arrived six weeks later, we decided to drop the potty learning for a bit. Finally, around Easter, we tried again. She was 26 1/2 months old at the time. I had a long weekend for the holiday and we just did the three day approach with no diapers/naked from the waist down and lots of positive talk about pottying, being a “big girl,” etc. The first day she didn’t use the potty, but had no accidents. Rather, she waited for her naptime diaper! The second day, she held out again, no accidents, but waited for her diaper. The third day she peed in the potty, but asked for a diaper to poop. And that’s basically been her routine ever since… she’s now 32 months old and in panties all day, including her naptime (if/when she actually takes a nap). The first month or so, we gave her a sticker anytime she peed in the potty. We did this because we didn’t want her to hold her pee all day. It helped motivate her for sure. We didn’t use a chart or anything, but I did put up a 12″ x 12″ sheet of scrapbook paper next to her potty chair for her to put her stickers on and admire her achievements (and keep stickers off my walls). We also clapped and said, “Hooray! You did it!” when she’d go. We don’t really do stickers or cheering now but sometimes she’ll ask for a sticker or say, “Hooray, I did it!” after she’s gone potty. She’s only had one or two accidents in all of these months and both times she was engrossed with a new toy and waited too long to go to the potty. She uses her Bjorn Potty as well as a toilet ring reducer with a step stool (she chooses whichever she wants). She’s gotten very good at taking down her pants and pulling them back up, but we still help her wipe of course, and wash hands. A few weeks ago she asked to go all night without a diaper (well, asked isn’t quite the word… she ripped off her Overnight Pull-up TWICE!), so I let her. She stayed dry from 8 p.m. until 7:30 a.m. She awoke dry but, out of habit I think, stayed in bed and peed a little bit. Once she realized she was wet, she jumped out of bed and dashed to the potty! (Her room is adjacent to the bathroom). She was so upset that her bed was wet (albeit slightly), so we’ve not tried overnight again. For now, we have her potty before bedtime, put on an Overnight Pull-up and when she wakes she poops in it and then asks us to change her. That’s her routine for now. Her poops are starting to be too much for the diaper though, so in recent weeks we’ve had incidents where it’s come out the sides! She’s completely mortified by it, so she’s now more motivated to try pooping on the potty. We’re not there yet, but I suspect that by 36 months we will be… at least I hope! I think it helps that she’s just started preschool two days a week and she’s with other kids her age that are also learning to use the potty.~Lori W.

  • At this point, our daughter isn’t completely ready for the potty (although I wish she was!), and we’re not really pushing it on her either. We got her a potty around 14 months, and she’s 20 months now. We have it set up in the bathroom, ready for her to use when she wants to. We’ll ask her if she has to go potty, especially before and after baths, and sometimes she’ll sit down, but sometimes she’ll refuse. There are times she’ll grab our hands and drag us in there, but she’ll just want to sit there and hang out and not actually do anything! We keep a book in there for her to read, and wait until she’s ready to move on. We don’t mind, because she’s getting acquainted with the potty. She’s just now starting to understand when she wets or messes her diaper, it’s just a matter of her understanding to go to the potty before going in her diaper now. It’ll take a little bit of time and patience before she’s at that point, but like I said, we’re not going to push her until we know that she is ready! ~Sam A.
  • When he was about 14 months old, he mastered the sign for “potty” and loved to run into the bathroom while I was using it to show me he knew what was going on in there. Soon he started signing “potty” when he was going himself. One night in the bathtub, he made the sign then stood up and proudly peed. I thought, if he was going to be this aware of his functions and this eager to communicate about them with me, I should introduce him to his own potty and see how he feels about it (even though I had no intention of getting one this soon). At first, it was a great novelty for him. It became a nightly ritual before bath time. After he got all of his clothes off he’d want to sit on his potty for a bit. About half the time he actually did pee, other times he sat for a bit then hopped up and wanted to start his bath. Still, I wasn’t doing actual potty training. I saw it as a fun, positive introduction so that when the time comes for real training, he’d be familiar and eager. After a few months he lost the intensity of his interest but would occasionally request to go on the potty. I never pushed, only offered, and made the option available. Recently at 21 months he’s had a few days where he has asked to go diaper-free for the day and use the potty exclusively. By “ask” I mean he tore at his diaper saying, “noooo,” and then, “potty,” repeatedly, and replied, “Yes,” when I asked him if that’s what he wanted. We’ve had some very successful days this way with only a few accidents. We are nowhere near the end of “training” and I have no intention of pushing it on him anytime soon. I am letting him lead the way and do with his body whatever he’s most comfortable with. For us, this is a process and we are taking it slowly, one step at a time. ~Laura K.

  • Around 18 months N became interested in the toilet. At first we would hold him over the toilet and let him try to go. Pretty quickly we got a toilet ring/insert. Before bath time almost every night we would put him on his seat and make a big deal of it. 98% of the time he was super excited about it. The times he wasn’t, we didn’t push it. Pretty early on I started teaching him the sign for “potty”. That made life a lot easier and was the first sign he really learned and started using. He started taking showers in the mornings with me some days after a messy breakfast and I would let him run around naked while I got ready. This also helped him to start realizing when he had to go to the bathroom (and I had my fair share of clean-ups because he would come running, but not quick enough). Slowly it evolved to the point where he would get to run around naked at home and got really good at letting me know he had to go to the bathroom. We still had days though where he wanted a diaper and there was no chance we were going to use the potty at all that day.One of my best potty training stories was when N was 22 months, we were flying home from Seattle. He urgently signed that he had to go to the bathroom. I was hesitant because we were on an airplane. I didn’t want to have to deal with all of this on an airplane! At the same time, I didn’t want to discourage him from telling me he had to go. So we went as quickly as we could to the bathroom (thankfully we were on a jet that had a bathroom with a “changing table” — I use that word very loosely).  And guess what he did on that toilet on the airplane?! He pooped! I was such a proud mama (and thankful that I didn’t have to deal with a poopy diaper on that tiny changing table)! After he turned two, we started working on it a little more, but I still wasn’t in a huge hurry and I was okay with him taking his time and leading the way. We introduced giving him an M&M every time he told us he had to go and actually went to the bathroom in the toilet. We still had days where he only wanted a diaper and days where he wanted to be naked all day to use the toilet. We still had the problem that as soon as he put underwear on he thought it was okay to pee in them and would have to change clothes and clean up. So we stuck to what worked for now. We were buying fewer diapers and everybody was happy (except the occasional visitor who was surprised by the naked toddler running around). Fast forward to two-and-a-half. He decided he wanted to try his underwear again. And wouldn’t you know it, we went a week without any accidents AND he hasn’t peed during nap time either. We still use Pull Ups for when we are out and about where we may not be near a toilet or for a long car ride, but so far, he hasn’t had any accidents in those either. ~Cari H.

The advice given here is solely based on our individual experiences and in no way is it going to be perfect for every mama, every baby, and every situation. None of us are medical doctors. If you have a question regarding a medical topic we can give our opinions, but please consult with your doctor. We are not liable or responsible for the results of following any specific advice in any given situation.


3 Responses to Ask the Mamas: The Start of Potty Training

  1. I will be bookmarking this page! My daughter is 18 months old and her brother will be making his appearance when she is 21 months old. I’m going to wait a while after he’s born, but when she starts showing some signs of readiness, we’ll decide which method of potty training to use.

  2. This had some great tips!!

  3. Just sayin… I potty trained both my kiddos (boy and girl) by 18 months. It’s way easier to train them younger than to wait until they’re older & are trained to soil themselves (very unnatural).

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