November 26, 2012

How I Potty Trained My Girls by 18 Months


A number of people have asked me to share my tips for early potty training, so I thought I'd share here on my blog.  I started potty training my second and third daughters when they were about 12-13 months old, and they were both potty trained by 18 months.  The whole process was really easy and stress free.   My technique is very loosely based on the theory of "elimination communication" - which is a term used to describe toileting babies (even newborns) by watching their cues for when they have to poo and pee, and also cuing them to help them use the potty.  Although I love the idea of not having a babe sit in their own poo/pee - which is basically what happens with diapers - I am just a wee bit too lazy to put my floppy babies on the toilet numerous times a day.  So, as a compromise, I use cloth diapers and then start the potty training process around a year old.  Here are the specifics as to how I've done it.

A few important notes before you begin:

1.   Baby Can Walk.  I recommend waiting until your baby is fully mobile, able to walk and able to - with assistance - sit herself down onto a baby toilet seat. 

2.   Do It Early.  I think there is a lovely window of time between when your baby can walk and when your baby gets closer to two and has more of a "my way or the high way" mentality.   I have found the 12-18 month window to work really well for potty training.  Your mileage may vary depending on your child's physical development and temperment.

3.  It's Going to Be Messy.  There's no way around it.. toilet training in this way is going to be a bit messy.  If you're squeamish, a germaphobe, or a Type A "everything has to be pristine all the time" type of person, this technique is probably not for you.

Now to the How To:

4.   Have Her Watch You Pee and Poo.  You've got to be willing and able to be open about your bodily functions to do this right.  The first part of the potty training process is to help her understand what exactly poop and pee are, where they come from, and that those things go into the toilet.  So - when you have to pee or poo, bring her into the bathroom with you.  Let her watch you pee - show her the stream as it comes out of your body.  Say "Look! Mama's going pee pee! Pee pee goes into the toilet." And then after you go, you say "Bye bye pee pee!" and flush.  Do the same thing for your BMs.  (I know, you're probably cringing).  But just think of being diaper free in a few short months, yay! - and it will be worth it.  Also, if you have older children, ask them to do the same thing as you.  The message to your baby - everybody pees and poos and those things go into the toilet.

5.    Have Her Go Diaper Free.  Once you do the above for awhile, then you're going to start taking off baby's diaper whenever you have the opportunity and letting baby roam nakey butt.  The reason for this - your baby has to understand that poop and pee come out of her body too.  I remember the first time I did this with my second daughter.  She looked shocked when she saw the pee coming out of her.   When a baby is in diapers, they have no conception of how their body works... being without a diaper, they can make the connection - Look, I have pee pee too! 

For this stage, you're going to want to have baby potties in whatever room you're in.  We had two - one I brought with me into the room we were playing in, the other was in the bathroom.  So, you take baby's diaper off, go about your business and play - and then, your baby will - at some point - begin to pee.  When she does this, you'll spring into action - you're going to happily say "Look! You're going pee pee! Pee pee goes in the potty."  As you're saying that, you're going to sit baby gently down on the toilet.  After she's done, you wipe, flush (bye bye pee pee!), you wash up, and you say "yay!" 

Same thing goes for BMs.  Fortunately, with BMs, you typically get a lot more notice because you'll likely hear grunting, or they'll stop what they're doing for a minute and get a serious face, things like that.  Once you see those warning signs, say "Oh, do you need to go poo poo? Let's put you on the toilet! Poo poo goes in the toilet."  And then put baby on the toilet.  She may not actually go at that point, and that's okay.  If she does, then do the wipe/wash/praise thing.  Sometimes (and this is the messy part), you're going to miss a poo.  If you do, you'll just say "Oh, look, you went poo poo! Poo poo goes in the toilet."  Put her on the toilet, ask her if she has more poo poo, respond accordingly, and then clean her up.  Then, go pick up the poo poo with toilet paper and put the poo poo in the toilet and say "Look! Poo poo goes in the toilet."  There should be no shaming, guilting, punishing or whatever involved here.  Stay loving and matter of fact.

6.   Messes.  Having a number of potties will help minimize the poo and pee mess, but you definitely will still be getting them on your floor.  I highly recommend doing this process on a non-carpeted area - say the kitchen - so that clean up is easier.  If it's warm enough outside, you can also do it outside and just hose things away.

7.   When She Makes the Connection.  At some point after doing the above for awhile, your baby will start to pee in her pants, and then say (or sign or signal) "I have to pee."  This is great! It means she's making the connection herself.  When she does this, you say "Oh, you're going pee pee! Pee pee goes in the toilet!" And then take her to the toilet and do the routine above.  Soon, she will start to walk or run to the toilet herself when she pees because she's recognizing that she is going pee at the same time she is remembering that she needs to do it on the toilet.

And then, soon, all on her own - she will recognize her own bodily cues - she will recognize that she has to poop or pee before the poop or pee starts coming out.  She will tell you or signal, and then you'll put her on the toilet and go through the drill above.  When she actually does this - tells you first, you put her on the toilet and she goes - that is huge cause for celebration.  I usually clap and cheer! If you have older children, they can join in the praise too.  "What a big girl! Look, you went pee pee in the potty!" 

You're going to continue doing this - praising when she makes it, being kind and matter of fact when she doesn't.  And pretty soon - you will have a child that is potty trained!

8.  Taking the Show on the Road.   I would not recommend going outside and diaperless until your baby has a good track record at home with using the potty.  Once you feel she's ready, get her some thick training undies - tell her they're her big girl undies - and then venture out sans diaper.  Pack though - and be ready for accidents.  I recommend extra changes of clothes, a roll of paper towels and cleaner, and a baby toilet to be in your car at all times during this time period.  And ideally, have a partner/spouse/helpful friend with you the first few times.  If she has an accident, no scolding or shaming, just matter of fact - "uh oh! the pee pee came out on the floor!" - take her to the toilet, clean her up and change her clothes, and then pick up the mess.  Split the duties with your spouse/partner/friend.  If you're going to be out for awhile, do make sure to remind your little one about going potty - they often get really busy and forget - which can lead to accidents.  Set your alarm for every two hours and ask and/or put her on the toilet when the alarm rings.  If she fusses and doesn't want to go to the bathroom, let that be okay - and honor that.  You don't want toileting to ever be a power struggle.

9.  Nighttime.  Nighttime is typically the last step in the process.  Keep your baby diapered at night until you notice that she's gone a number of nights - at least a week - with a dry diaper all night.  If she's done that, you're pretty safe in going diaperless at night.  To protect your mattress, definitely have a puddle pad and/or plastic mattress cover to protect your mattress in case of accidents.  And try to get your little one to go pee before bed.  And when morning comes, pop her on the toilet when she wakes up (if she'll do so willingly.) 

Two final notes:

10.  This Is a Part Time Process.  This type of potty training should be a part time, low key thing.  Spend many weeks having baby watch you poo and pee.  When you're ready to take the diaper off, do it a few times a week, for a few hours at a time and/or whenever you have a nice chunk of time at home.  No pressure - no power struggle.  Remember, you're teaching here.  More to the point, you're allowing your baby to understand her bodily functions and what we do with our waste. 

11.  Regression.  A word about regression.  Fully toilet trained toddlers sometimes start having accidents again.   Regression may happen because something new is going on in baby's life (a new sibling or a move), because of illness, travel, or even just because your baby is going through a growth spurt.  Accidents should be handled with love and compassion, and just as matter of factly as when you were toilet training in the first place.  Remember, your baby is doing the best that she can!

So - that's the process I followed.  There are so many good things about early potty training: not having to wipe gross poopy blow outs (poops that go vertically into the toilet are oh-so-much cleaner to wipe up after!).  Your baby does not have to sit in her poop and pee anymore.  And - it's great for the environment.  As most toddlers don't potty train until twoish, or even way later, that's a lot fewer diapers to wash (cloth) or throw into the landfill (disposables).

Hopefully you find this helpful.  Let me know if you have any questions!!

32 comments:

  1. Wonderful article! Answered all of my questions and confirmed that I'm on the right track training my 18mo daughter :) thank you!

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  2. Exactly what I was looking for for my 14 month old. Thank you for sharing!

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  3. What a great article! I wish I had found it sooner, as my daughter is 18 months and I really wish I would have started sooner.

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  4. Yay some on else that doesn't think im nuts wanting to toilet train my 14 month old

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  5. Quick question, my 16 month old daughter is great at peeing when I put her on the potty, but not so great at telling when she has to go. Any suggestions? Also, she tends to hold in her poop until I put a diaper back on her. Sometimes we will spend 20 minutes reading stories on the potty because I could tell she needed to poop, but as soon as I put her diaper back on that is when she goes. I would love any advice and thank you for the wonderful article!

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  6. Anon, have you let your dd go without a diaper? It sounds like she needs help becoming aware of when she needs to go, and the only way to do that is for it to see it coming out of her body. re: the poop - I would suggest backing off for now, until she realizes that her body is cuing her to pee/poo (done through going diaperless). 20 min on the toilet becomes a power struggle which will have the opposite effect you're looking for. HTH!!

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  7. I have let my daughter go without a diaper, but not very often. I recently became pregnant so I am a little more nauseous than usual- hence the hesitance. I will try it though- Thanks for the help!

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  8. Great advice! My LO is 12 months and hasn't pooped in her diapers for months, except 2 accidents. I've been basically doing what you did, but since 4 months. Been wondering how to take it to the next level (she pees in her diapers as often as the potty), but you confirmed it's best to wait til she can walk. :) thanks for writing this!

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  9. Thanks for the article! LO is 13 mos and has recently begun to refuse to sit to poo and gets very upset when put on the pot. He has also begun to stop himself when he begins to pee in the pot and will immediately get up and try to play with the pot. He does not indicate when he is soiled and will soak through training pants without an apparent care in the world. Not sure what to do

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  10. Hi Anon, when did you start introducing potty learning for your son? It sounds to me like he's already hit that "I do what I want" stage with it. I would recommending backing off on the topic altogether, because if it becomes a power struggle, it will be stressful on both of you - and there are many many stories out there of children that will hold their pees or poos in because they are afraid of - or don't want to use - the toilet - and then that becomes a big ugly deal. The key to this method is low key no pressure at all.. if you do the first steps - like showing your LO how you go pee, etc. - and the child is not interested, it's not the right time. You can try again in a few months though!!

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  11. Hi! Thank you for answering!! I introduced the potty at around 7-8mos to get him used to it and work it into our daily routine. In the morning and after naps he will run in to sit and read, sometimes even without prompting and I let him get up when he is ready. He has seen me empty the pot before and waves bye when we flush. He has hit an independent streak lately as well. The last 2 days it also seems like he is holding his poo once he is on the potty and this actually worries me a bit. On 1 occasion he started to go but stopped once on the potty, then went several hours later. The other time I had taken him to the pot right as he was starting to strain and then he stopped, going about an hour later. I'm just not sure if stopping the routine will undo everything we have been doing up to this point. I really appreciate your input!!

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    1. To me, it does sound like he really wants this to be his own idea and not to be pressured into it.. hence the reason for holding his poos. I am a deep believer in children having autonomy over their own bodies and lives as much as possible.. we want our babies to learn their own body cues (elimination, eating, sleeping) but if we pressure or coerce them to poop/eat/sleep, etc. it will usually become a battle which it is hard for a mom to win. You are the mama and this is your LO but were I in your position, I would totally drop it until he wants to pick it back up. It's not a hard skill to learn even if he does have to re-learn it!

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    2. Thanks Katherin! I have backed off and am trying to follow his lead. He still likes to go and sit to read in the mornings and sometimes after naps and I'm trying to have more diaper-free time as well, which he loves. Today he randomly followed me up to the bathroom and pooped while there, so there's def a piece of him wanting to do it when he's good and ready!

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  12. That is great then! It sounds like he just wants it to be on his terms :) Toddlers are so like that!! Fun stuff :)

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  13. Hi there I have been letting my now 17 month old watch us in the toilet for months and she was pulling nappies off at 12 months so we let her be naked as well. She used to cry if she had an accident with poo but doesn't now. For the past couple if days we decided to do full toilet training and she has been wearing little undies and loves them. First day went pretty well and she would say mummy wee wee just as she started we would rush to toilet with lots of praise but she wouldn't go in the toilet. Second day she wouldn't say anything and just peed wherever she was. Was very frustrating but I just kept being positive with her lol. Third day she is back to telling me but not until after she has wee'd. I'm now starting to think I should just leave it for a while and start again in a few weeks. What should I do? We do put her in a nappy for her nap but she pulls it off as soon as she wakes and wee's in her bed if we don't get there fast enough. She really hates being in nappies. Thanks

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    1. Hi there - thanks for your post. I think it really does take a bit of time to learn to get to the toilet once they make the connection that pee comes out of them and goes in the toilet. At first, it happens after they pee.. then, they notice as they're peeing and dart to the toilet - and then after some practice, they catch it fast enough to get the toilet before peeing. So my thought is not to stress about this seeming backwards thing where she's not catching it in time - she will get it - it just may take a week or two! Not sure what she is wearing when you do this, but I would recommend nothing, or perhaps just a skirt - something easy and nothing requiring up/down. I'm also thinking since she isn't catching it routinely yet that the big girl panties may be a bit premature.. if she's willing, a diaper may help for a few more weeks until she is really solid with catching her pees. If not, no problem - it is just messier for mama :( Re sleeping - you can always put pants over the diaper - something she can't tear off easily.. or - do what you've been doing but make sure there is a plastic or wool puddle pad below her in case you don't catch her at wake up fast enough. Sounds like things are progressing though - take heart!

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  14. Great article.. just reassured that I am doing the right thing here.. Was kinda worried if starting at 12 months was too early, and taking such a slow pace wasnt gonna yield any result.. My DD is 16 months old.. and she understands everything about pee and poo, it goes in the toilet, but just would want to do it herself right now.. she did good for first few weeks,. She would poo twice a day in that and pee when ever i put her on that.. but suddenly she stopped.. would want to use the potty chair anymore.. I am jus keeping it a regular part of our routine, just reminding her everyday and let her roam naked bottom most times at home.. just waiting for her to take the interest again in using the potty! Yeah as you mentioned its a very messy process but i dont mind cleaning up everyday until she gets a hang of it :) Thanks again for such a genuine article!!!

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    1. Sounds like you're doing great - it's a good idea to back off if it becomes a battle of wills. She will definitely get the hang of it when she's ready!

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  15. Hi im just abit unsure of what to do because my 17 month old little girl wont wee on her potty or on the toilet? Wen shes in mid stream i try to catch it and put her on the potty but she holds the rest in and as soon as she gets off she'll wee on the floor :/ also i left her nappy off for about 3 hours and she held her wee in untill i put her in the bath and thats the only place she will wee apart from in her nappy! Any adivise please? Thanks xx

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    1. Hi there - I hate to say it but it sounds like she is already in the "I do what I want" phase of toddlerhood.. which means potty training will be a battle of wills if it's not your little one's idea. My recommendation would be to back off the potty training at this point - don't ask, don't push, don't try to instruct. Perhaps just do the first step - make sure she's aware of when you and your partner, other children - go to the bathroom.. at some point, she will want to do it herself, and at that point, you can proceed with the other steps :)

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  16. Hi just need some advise on what to do! My 17 month old little girl wont go wee wee on her potty or a toilet! I try and catch her mid stream but she just holds it in as soon as i put her on the potty and wen i let her off she does it on the floor! :/ and also when i leave her nappy off for hours she will hold in her wee until i put her in the bath! The only place she will wee is in the bath or in her nappy! Please help dont know what to do thanks xx

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  17. Great post! So often I hear negative feedback about potty training babies early. I think we don't give babies enough credit to learn to potty train early and particularly agree with the "battle of the wills" when toddlers are older. I love your philosophy and can't wait to try it with my 15 month daughter.

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  18. That was a great read Katherine! My 14 month old tells me when she needs to wee/poo or if she has already done it (through signs). So I introduced the potty. She used it for the first few days (sometimes wee/pood in the potty) but is now resisting when I go to put her on there. Walking is not fully established. Any suggestions how to proceed from here? Thanks in advance, Kelly.

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    1. Hi Kelly, thanks for your comments! I think when you meet resistance, that's the time to step back a bit. Have the potty out and available (preferably in a couple different rooms) but don't put her on it. You want it to be her idea! I would instead right now do the first part of the process which is having her watch you (and any other person in the home that can help) and talking about how it works. And lots of praise - praise if she tells you she's gone (even if in her pants), praise if she sits on the toilet. Also if you notice her grunting and ready to go, maybe ask her - do you need to go poop? do you want to go on the potty? and see how she does from there.

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  19. Sorry Katherine I forgot to mention that after resisting to go on the potty, she will wee/poo on the floor, and then let me know she has done it. Thanks, Kelly

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  20. Thanks so much for sharing your experience! There's so much hype about the 3-day method but I wasn't sure I really wanted to go that route. However, I do hope that we can get her trained "early" by N. American standards.

    My daughter is almost 18 months and I, too, wish I'd started earlier. But she didn't really start walking until about 6 weeks ago, so I guess I'll use that as my excuse :P

    She has been watching me go to the bathroom... forever! We have had a little potty for her since she was about 1. She went through a phase of using it pretty consistently before taking a bath, but then once she could get up from the potty on her own, she sort of stopped doing that. She definitely seems to understand what it's for, though, so I think I'm going to start giving her some naked time!

    I'm really hoping she can be trained before our summer vacation 3 1/2 months from now (although I realize that could throw her off) but we'll see what happens!

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    1. Hi Jean, good luck with the potty training! I do think walking is an important part of it so since she did recently start to walk, the timing may be just right :)

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  21. First off, great read! Secondly, as a father trying to potty train a daughter soon, I wonder about letting her watch me go pee. Maybe I should sit and just let her hear it and show her after? And I've had friends that have little potties that sing when peed in. It seems like that makes it a toy. I was thinking a plain little toilet would be better? Any help is much appreciated!

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  22. Hi there - I understand your concerns - every dad has a different comfort level with such things. Yes, sitting while going works fine (she probably doesn't even know men go differently anyway).as long as she can hear and see it and then watch you flush, etc. We had one of those toy potties for my first daughter and I agree it did seem more like a toy. I think plain potties are fine. Incidentally, not sure where you live, but here in CA, you can find plain old plastic portable potties at the 99 cent store! At that price you can have one in every room :)

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  23. Great article. This is exactly what we did and it worked very well. Big points I found are everyone in the house being open about their own bodily functions, letting the child lead always, being relaxed about the process always and never get into a situation with a power struggle with your child ever, even if you know she is going to have an accident if she doesn't go to the potty that's her decision. In the early stages, some days we were diaper free using the potty for whole days at a time and other days she was back in diapers. I felt it was very important not to be discouraged by what seemed like set backs. She was just learning and processing it all at her own pace. Now shes 19 months and we've been diaper free during the day, naps and outings for almost a month and she's already on her own starting the process of night time training. She goes for 2 or three nights in a row without wetting her diaper and wakes up every morning asking to go to the potty. I wish more people knew that potty training can be this stress free. You don't even need a starting point just have the potty around from day one, be open with going to the bathroom and let them take the lead.

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  24. This is a great article! I have always brought my daughter in the bathroom with me and have always explained what is going on. She is 14 months now and gets excited about the potty. She will run to the bathroom and want to 'sit' on the potty after reading a potty book. However I do not think she has made the connection that pee and poo need to go there. We are ready to go diaper less as you suggested. Here is my problem. We are in an apartment (no yard) and the whole place is carpeted. We have a tiny kitchen and bathroom that are tile.. but I can't see us being in those tiny places for a few hours of play. Do you have any suggestions to work around that but receive the same effect? Many thanks!

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    1. When I potty trained my second child this way, we had a similar situation in that the only non carpeted areas in the house were the small kitchen and bathroom. We did however have the outside - but not sure how much we were out there! The first thing was to make sure there was a potty in every room at the beginning, or in lieu of that, have one and bring it with you from room to room. You will have to be in the room with her watching her so that as soon as you see a pee coming you can scoop her up and put her on the potty and explain what's going on (look pee pee is coming out!). Don't leave her naked in a room if you're not there to minimize mess. Poops are way easier to catch because they grunt :) But even with a careful eye, you're still going to get a bit of pee on the carpet - so make sure to have a good carpet cleaning solution and rags on hand to clean it right after it happens. Good luck!!

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