Toilet training on your kid’s schedule

Guest post by Jasmine

A friend of mine recently expressed some dissatisfaction with her son’s toilet training — or lack thereof. He’s four now, but the issue of using the toilet was enough to send him into hysterics. Rather than push him and reinforce that terror, she made the decision to simply stop mentioning it and wait until he was ready.

Sure enough, a month later, her son came to her and said he wanted to sit on the toilet.

At the time I immediately thought over how my son’s toilet training went, and I had a bit of a strange realisation: my son and I never went through “toilet training” as such.

There was never a toilet training plan of attack; there was no proactive decision that it was time for him to start using the toilet. I never purchased a potty, let alone potty training books and guides. In fact I can’t even remember Googling it for advice. It just seemed to happen organically.

I can remember discussing it with my mother around my son’s third birthday, and asking how she went about toilet training me and my sister. Much like myself, she said she never had any particular routine or plan of attack. My sister and I were both toddlers in Malaysia, where the weather was hot and humid, so Mum simply let us both get around butt naked. Not only were we more aware of what we were doing, but there was far less fuss involved in getting us to the toilet as there weren’t any layers of clothes to remove, and if we peed on the concrete floors it wasn’t a big deal.

This was pretty much the approach I took with my son Eduardo. The summer after his third birthday, I let him run around largely naked, phasing out nappies during the day when we were at home. Rather than buying a potty, I bought one of those smaller toilet seats that you slip beneath the proper toilet seat, and pushed a stool up against the toilet. When I was running a bath, I’d pop him onto the toilet seat, just to make sure he felt comfortable sitting there. One day he happened to pee into it, which he found highly amusing, and I rewarded him with a heap of praise and a high five.

There was never any pressure to do it when he wasn’t ready, but if he did pee while sitting on the toilet, there was plenty of praise. Of course, with him spending his days in the nude and without a nappy, we had plenty of accidents. We had even more accidents when we started leaving the house without nappies. If I saw he was about to pee, I’d pick him up and sit him on the toilet. By winter he’d put two and two together and was comfortably using the toilet for peeing.

Getting him to poop on the toilet was a different matter entirely, and we went through many frustrating evenings where he’d save one up all day, and the moment I placed him in a nappy for bedtime, BAM, he’d drop one. But again, patience and letting him do his own thing was the key, and within a week of me shifting to being a stay at home mum, he was suddenly perfectly happy to poop in the toilet. He needed to feel safe, secure and confident and it happened without any pressure or coaxing from me.

Ultimately, this is my perspective on all of my son’s milestones, whether it’s getting rid of the dreaded dummy, stopping thumb-sucking, or switching to sleeping in a big bed: I don’t need to push and pressure and have a strict plan of attack. I just need to take my cues from my child, be patient, and provide the security he needs to feel confident that he’s on the right track — and heap the praise on when he does get it right!

Comments on Toilet training on your kid’s schedule

  1. Good post, definitely food for thought for me. I’d like to find away to incorporate this feeling into my ‘plan of attack’ because I’m afraid we will always have a plan. My daughter is disabled and at this point not being potty trained could stop her from going to school the way we would like her to.

    • We had the same issue with my son. He didn’t get completely out of diapers until the week before kindergarten started. She will do it on her time, trust me. It feels like one hurdle after another, but every gain feels like a mountain climbed. Internet hugs sent your way. 🙂

    • I’m going through this right now as well. My son has Aspergers and I fear he won’t be able to go to school if he doesn’t know how to go poop in the potty. He started trying over a year ago and we are still at it. We’ve let him lead the way in training. He’s 99% pee trained, 0% poop trained, and has no tells or signs that he’s going so we don’t know when to catch him. Routine is a big part of his life so trying to put him on the potty at regular times will just become a routine instead of teaching him what to do.

      • Tina and Liza, I hope the schools you’re considering have said their potty training rules can’t bar disabled children from attending. I’m sure *you* would like your child potty trained before school. But I hope the schools aren’t making you feel it’s a requirement. Not sure that would be legal. ?? I have found parents of differently-abled children to be very savvy and effective advocates for their kids, so forgive me if I’m telling you something you’re already fairly well-informed of.

        • As an aide in schools, for students with IEPs, out should definitely be written in.
          In fact, having worked with early childhood special ed, that’s a big part of the job.
          You may need to provide the diapers, wipes, etch but by no means should lack of potty-training stop a child from going to school.

  2. My mother and I had a battle of wills – I wouldn’t even sit on the numerous potties she had invested in. In the end, my mum bought a toddler-friendly toilet seat, put it on the toilet and said, “That’s for you, use it when you want to,” and walked off. I started using it that afternoon

  3. When my son was about 3 I asked my mom how she toilet trained my older brother and me. “Toilet train you? Daycare took care of that.” Thanks mom, that’s a lot of help.

    But in the end, that is exactly what happened with my son. The folks at our totally excellent on campus daycare told me to start sending my boy to “baby school” in regular underwear during the day. We put him in a diaper for naps and at night. After about 4 months of being pee trained, on my birthday my son managed to become fully potty trained. Since then we have had perhaps two accidents, and no looking back.

    In many ways my husband and I were lazy about the whole potty training thing and just let our son do it when he wanted to. It totally helped that he was in an environment where he saw his peers using the potty, and where using the potty was a requirement for moving up to the next class level.

  4. We are literally doing this with my daughter as I type. She is very stubborn and allowing her body to figure itself out has been the best way about it. My son was 5 years old and still in diapers (he has a disability) so I’ve just decided that she will do it when she’s ready and anything before 5 years old is a bonus! We started letting her be naked on Saturday and as long as she was naked, she was fine. Now, this morning, I walked into the living room, she took her diaper off, peed on the potty chair, put some undies on and that was that. I never asked her to do it, never even mentioned the potty. Plus, he diaper was dry!

  5. Couldn’t have been posted at a better time! Thanks so much for the advice. I’m so sick of people asking if my baby has rolled over/started walking/started talking/started potty training… I find our society is so obsessed with pushing kids to grow it’s nice to hear a different perspective. Thanks!

  6. i always waited until my kids were three. i put underwear on them on their birthday and said here you go!! i would stop putting them in diapers except at nap time and bed time. i would read them a few books and we watched the movie elmo’s potty time. i told them that they should use the potty to stay dry. i would remind them to go every hour or so and i would put their favorite outfits on them so they would want to stay dry so they would not have to take them off. they were potty trained in a few days. all my kids went to preschool at the age of three and had to be potty trained. i never pushed it and i never did it before they were ready… i just guided them on how to stay dry. if they didn’t, it wasn’t a big deal to me.

  7. I had not planned on potty training my child until at least 2 years, but at 14 months, she started showing interest. So much like the OP, I let her run around naked all summer. At 20 months, she now only wears diapers to bed.

  8. Great post Jasmine!

    That’s exactly what we’re doing with Aiman too. Neither my husband nor I have the motivation to train him, and with a new baby in a some months, he’d most likely regress by the time he fully got it down anyway.

    • I think the regression issue is one of the really paramount problems with having a strategy or plan … it doesn’t take much for them to be going just fine, to suddenly having no interest. We had that issue with dummies – he was nearly weaned by 16 months, but then he and I moved interstate away from my family/familiar environment … and he went back to needing it all day/all night, and it took another year or so to get him to drop it. You’ve just got to go with what they’re comfortable with.

      Although for your sake I hope he’s able to happily use the toilet before your next one comes along, if only to cut nappy/diaper costs (… and how much time you spend changing them!)!

  9. My mom tried potty training me via different reward/bribe systems, making me sit on the potty whenever she thought I had to go, etc. It apparently just made me really annoyed and the whole potty system started to feel like a game I was playing with my parents.

    So she gave up. She made a potty available to me but never mentioned it again. And, so the story goes, one day when I was about three and a half, I walked up to her, pulled my diaper off, and said, “I’m not wearing this any more.” And I never did, and used the potty regularly without any work from her.

    I don’t know if this would work for every kid, but it definitely does work for some!

    • That’s sort of how my mum got my sister off her bottle … she just stopped nagging her about it, but did let her know that there was only one bottle/teat left and once that was gone, that was it. One day my sister accidentally dropped the bottle down a huge storm drain, and she turned to my mum said ‘uh oh, no more bottle’, and transitioned straight onto using a cup!

      I think sometimes it really is just a light bulb moment for kids, and letting them make the decision gives them that control and independence they’re experimenting with at that age. If they feel they’ve made the decision for themselves, all the better.

    • My mom says that’s how I was potty trained. At the store I found some fancy underwear I wanted and she said “you can’t go in your pants anymore, you have to use the potty” I said “ok!” and that was it, I used the potty ever since then. She said she felt like the best parent in the world until she tried the same thing with my sister and then spent 4 months potty training her. 🙂

  10. Interesting. I can relate to the strong will of children. Both my daughters started using the potty as soon as they could sit up. By the time my oldest could say no she was out of diapers. There were times when she would decide not to use the toilet and they were frustrating. But looking back I should have been more understanding.

    Now with a second child, we started earlier, after naps and all bowl movements. I doubt I’ll be as worried about having her potty trained by 16 months. I can’t say I’ve experienced trying to potty train a boy but I could not imagine trying to potty train a toddler. Its too much of a battle.

    • My mom did the same thing with my sister and I. As soon as we could sit up, she would place us on the little potty at the times she knew we might have to go. She said it was because she really hated changing diapers, so if she got lucky and we went, that was one less she needed to change.
      She always gave praise when we went, ignored or didn’t comment if we went in the diaper. She said we were both about a year old when we started tugging her toward the bathroom when we needed to go.
      I am going to try the same approach with my child due in about 7 weeks…so if I’m lucky, about one year from now, maybe I will have less diaper days!

  11. This is exactly how my parents potty-trained us.
    My sisters are 11 and 13 years younger than me, so I was around/cognisant of their upbringing. I remember that when they were a little over 2 they started taking their diapers off, or loudly telling my mom that they needed to be changed. She said that when they started doing that they were old enough to be potty trained. So, come summer, she would simply take off their pants and let them run around like that. It was that simple. After a week or two of that they were potty trained. Night time was a little slower, but it came.
    I guess I never thought of it being done a different way. When my husband asked how to potty train a child I told him very simply “you take their pants off, when they have to go, they will.” My sisters never had any accidents really.
    It just seems so simple. No singing toilets, no potty training DVDs. It’s a pretty natural instinct. When they are ready, they’re ready.

  12. Great post. We are fast discovering that a child-led approach always seems the best way, whether it be eating, educating, potty training, whatever. Baby knows best!

    We are currently trying ‘Elimination Communication’ with our 6 month old son. We are being pretty laid back about it, we have him in nappies but try & keep an eye out for any signals that he’s about to go & stick him on the potty at nappy changes. I have no idea yet if he will be nappy free any earlier, but we are having a lot of fun!

  13. We are doing a very modified form of the hilariously-named EC, elimination communication. Since birth, more or less, we have held our child over her potty or on our laps on the toilet (I kept swearing she was going to pee on me, but nope, it goes right into the bowl) at times when we suspect she needs to go. When she first wakes up from a nap, that’s almost sure-fire, or anytime her diaper’s been dry for what seems like a longish time. We’re lucky in that she’s never liked having a dirty diaper — some kids aren’t too fussed about it. We’re also lucky in that she makes a great little face when she needs to go — again, with some kids you don’t get that early warning. Every kid is different, but if your kid takes to it, it’s sure nice for the potty to be something that’s always been there as long as she can remember.

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