Toilet Learning Made Easy

November 28, 2011 · 76 comments

in Daily Life, Toddlers


“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 to do on his own, trust that he will learn when he is ready. Respect is based on trust.” – Magda Gerber

potty training? “Potty training? He is more fond of wearing the potty seat than sitting on it.”

Maybe you’ve heard the old adage,”You can lead a toddler to the potty but you can’t make him use it (until he’s ready).” During workshops for parents and toddler teachers I love to read the story,  The Princess and the Potty by Wendy Cheyette Lewison, about a little princess who won’t use her potty,”because it doesn’t please her.” The king and queen are not happy with this and are a bit beside themselves as they worry about what their neighbors in the kingdom next door will say. They go out of their way to find a potty that will please the princess, to no avail. The princess simply has better things to do. So the king and queen try other tactics like reading to the princess, sending her teddy bear to keep her company, in fact, sending the whole court to keep her company, and even sitting on the potties themselves to show the princess what fun it is. Finally, not knowing what else to do, the king and queen send for the royal wise man to get his advice.

“If you ask me,” said the royal wise man, “the princess will use the potty when it pleases her to use the potty.”

But alas and alack, not even the royal wise man can predict when that time might come. So the king and queen wait and wait, until finally, one day the queen is dressing for a royal ball, and her daughter notices the beautiful pantalettes her mother is wearing and she decides the pantalettes please her. Of course,  the queen, being the good Mom that she is, takes her little girl shopping the very next day to allow her to choose her own pantalettes, and the princess is so pleased, she wears the new panties home, and all through playtime, and snack time- when suddenly– the princess can’t sit still. The king and queen yell to the royal chambermaid that the princess needs her royal diaper, except the princess doesn’t want her royal diaper because that means she will have to take off her pretty new pantalettes, and this she doesn’t want to do, so she calls for her potty. While the royal servants run to get every potty in the castle, the princess takes matters into her own hands and runs to the plain potty, because it is the nearest, and that, in the end, is the potty that pleases the princess.

Like with sitting, standing, walking, and other accomplishments that involve a baby’s mastery over his  body movements, when it comes to learning to use the toilet, the way loving adults can be most helpful is to provide an optimal environment, and then wait patiently for baby to be ready, and indicate her desire and willingness to participate in the process. The toilet learning process can sometimes cause parents needless worry and anxiety, and can feel endless to parents who are tired of changing diapers, or who are worried their child won’t be accepted at preschool unless she is toilet trained. (A good childcare center or preschool won’t require a child under the age of four to be potty trained, and I always advise parents to seek alternate care arrangements, if at all possible, should they encounter a program that requires potty mastery by the age of three.)

So what can you expect?

There is a wide range of  normal, and while some toddlers may learn a bit earlier or later, the average child will reliably use the potty during the day somewhere between the ages of two and three years old, and will consistently stay dry at night somewhere between two and a half to five years old. Some children may happily and willingly use the toilet for a period of time, then decide they aren’t interested for awhile. This is perfectly acceptable, and it’s best if you can meet your child’s disinterest with a calm, matter of fact, “If you don’t want to/aren’t ready to use the potty, you may use a diaper.When you’re ready to try the potty again, let me know.” Learning to use the toilet is a complex process which requires a child to listen to his body signals, control his body, and understand the process, and what is expected and accepted. It involves physical readiness, or the ability to control the muscles that hold in bladder and bowel movements, cognitive readiness, or the ability to understand what is expected of him, and emotional readiness- this is all about holding on, letting go, and conforming to grown- up standards. It’s about who is in control, and in this case, it’s your child!

“Parents lay the groundwork for the child’s readiness when, beginning at birth, we make diaper changes an enjoyable, cooperative time together, and respect the baby by slowing down and talking him through each part of the process.” Janet Lansbury 

If you expect and accept that it will take time for your child to master this new skill, it can go a long way towards helping your child to “go with the flow,” so to speak. Stock up on training pants, be prepared for extra laundry, know where all the public rest rooms in town are, (because children can’t wait long when they are just learning, and inevitably, they will have to use the toilet fifteen minutes after you’ve left the house). Carry extra underwear, wipes, and a change of clothes with you at all times. Some parents even choose to carry a portable potty chair with them on long trips. If an accident happens, try to remain calm, matter of fact, and supportive. “Your pants are wet. Can I help you get cleaned up and into dry clothes?” “Accidents happen sometimes when you’re just learning to use the potty.You tried really hard to get to the potty on time. Next time, you’ll  be able to do it.”

How do you know if it might be the right time to start the process with your child?

First, there should be no other big changes happening at home. It’s usually best not to start the process if a new baby has just arrived, you are moving in two weeks, or your child has just started  childcare. Changes in the family, or stress can make the process more difficult and prolonged than it has to be. Summer time can be a great time to start, because family schedules are often more relaxed, and children can be allowed to run around naked or just in underwear at home, which helps them become very aware of what’s happening with their bodies (in a way they don’t when they are wearing super absorbent diapers or pull ups). If your child is in childcare or you have a caregiver at home, it’s a good idea for you all to have a discussion and maintain clear communication, to make sure you’re all on the same page and using a consistent approach and language when it comes to to toilet learning. (I’ll never forget the time when I was  a new teacher’s aide, and one little girl, who was very soft spoken, and about five years old, tried urgently to communicate she had to use the bathroom, by whispering to me she had to “make.” I had never heard the expression before, and while I was trying to figure out what she was saying, she had an accident. She was mortified, and I felt so bad for not being able to understand and help her when she needed me to.)

Your child may indicate readiness to start potty learning when s/he: 

1) Stays dry for 2-3 hours at a time or wakes up from a nap with a dry diaper.

2) Shows increased awareness of bodily functions- she may move to a quiet or private spot to have a bowel movement, for instance.

3) Tells you she has peed or pooped in her diaper.

4) Dislikes staying in wet or soiled diapers.

5) Shows interest in wanting to sit on a toilet or potty chair or expresses a desire to wear underwear.

6)  Is able to follow two step instructions.

7)  Is able to pull pants up and down easily.

Besides being prepared by knowing what to expect, watching for signs of readiness, and relaxing and trusting that your child won’t go to kindergarten in diapers, you can encourage your toddler’s interest and support her learning by:

1) Bringing your child’s awareness to what’s happening with his body and how he might know he may need to stop playing and go to the toilet. Use correct terms for body parts and body functions, and maintain a neutral tone. If your child is showing readiness, and you notice him pressing his legs together or dancing about, you can say, “It looks like you might have to go to the bathroom. Do you want to use your potty chair?”

2) Being a good model. Show your toddler how you use the toilet. Most toddlers become fascinated with the toilet and what happens there, long before they’re ready to use it themselves.

3) If your child is expressing that they don’t like to have their diapers changed, or they don’t like to sit in a wet diaper, you can offer, as I have been with 34 month old J. as of late, “You don’t like feeling wet and cold. You don’t like to get your diaper changed. If you wanted to, you could put your pee in the potty, and then you wouldn’t have to have your diaper changed.” So far, he says “Not yet, Lisa. Maybe later,” which I completely accept. But in the past three weeks he has started to ask to sit on his potty when his six year old sister goes to the bathroom. He’s had several successes, and he’s just so proud. Last week he came running to show me he “peed in the potty just like the boy in the book!” Beware insisting upon or cajoling your child to sit on the potty if it’s not her idea. You may offer at natural times, for instance, when your child is preparing for a bath, but if she says “No,” let it be “No.” Let him “practice” in his own way. Some children like to sit on the potty fully clothed for many months before ever taking off their diapers.

4) Dress for success. Pants with elastic waists are best for both girls and boys- easy for them to pull up and down by themselves. No dresses to get in the way, no buttons, snaps, belts, overalls, etc.

4) Read a book with your child about using the toilet. Two of my favorites: Once Upon A Potty by Alona Frankel, and Going To The Potty (First Experiences), by Fred Rogers.

5) Let him choose his very own potty chair. Potty chairs are great, because they let your child sit with his feet firmly planted on the floor, which assists in  bowel movements. They also allow your child to be in charge of their process- I’ve never known a child who didn’t love to participate in pouring the contents of their potty into the  toilet, then wave goodbye and flush it away. (Remember, young children are sometimes very attached to their bodily fluids. Children are not born with any negative associations when it comes to bodily functions, they are  taught to think that urine and feces are “yukky” or “stinky” or “disgusting” or somehow shameful.) Some children are afraid of sitting on the toilet with it’s big gaping hole, even if a child size seat is installed. If you are going to use one of the seats that sits on the top of the regular toilet, make sure you place a step stool beneath your child’s feet so she can climb up by herself and her legs aren’t dangling when she sits.

6) Let him choose training or underpants. My feeling is that pull ups give a mixed message, and don’t help a child learn, because they are too much like a diaper, yet, some parents feel they can’t do without them- they like that their child can pull them up and down like underwear, and it saves on wet clothes, and laundry. I’d prefer a child wear training pants or a diaper, if at all possible.

7) Remember, this process is your child’s. You can’t do it for her. You can’t hurry her along. Time and maturation can make the process a painless one (for both of you) if you allow it to be so. The natural reward for your child is the mastery she feels at accomplishing a new skill and body control.

For those of you who have asked me for information and my opinion about elimination communication, I will refer you to an excellent discussion at Janet Lansbury’s community forum, where I, and others weigh in with our ideas and experiences on the topic.

There you go, my best advice when it comes to potty learning. Have I missed anything?



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Diana November 28, 2011

Thank you for this! I am trying to anticipate our future needs with our daughter and this approach is very easy going. I look forward to additional posts from you!

Lisa November 29, 2011


You’re very welcome!

janetlansbury November 28, 2011

Lisa, this is brilliant. Absolutely perfect. Covers everything beautifully. I hope every single parent out there reads this!

Cristina November 28, 2011

There is another way, much easier, and more in tune with your baby and incredibly respectful, infant hygiene, or elimination communication. It’s amazing, please look into if you haven’t heard of this before: my daughter stopped pooping in her diapers at 6 mths and has been doing it on a potty or toilet since, for pees we have a few misses here and there but she’s been in undies since she was 1. No pressure, no bribes, no stress no expectations… just tuning in to her signals and helping her to not lose awareness of her bodily functions since birth. Sorry don’t have more time to write now.. but I think this way of approaching a baby’s natural need for elimination is much more in tune with RIE’s philosophy.. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it though!

Cristina November 28, 2011

oops just saw your note on the bottom of the post! I’ll def take a look at the forums as I’m curious to know what your thoughts are 🙂

jodi escapule November 29, 2011

this was posted just in time! My daughter is 28 months, and got the potty training down right off the bat, did great for 3 weeks, and it has been nothing but tears for me and fears that I’ve damaged her because she has accidents all day for the last 4 weeks…. I was so fearful to go back to diapers because it feels so wrong, guess I should maybe consider it.

Lisa November 29, 2011

Hi Jodi,

Try going back to the diapers, and be gentle with yourself. You haven’t damaged your daughter. It just takes time, and sometimes a child will start, and then change her mind. It’s all part of the learning. Sometimes babies like to go back to crawling even after they’ve taken their first steps. It’s all part of the learning process. It may be a relief for both of you to go back to the diapers for a bit. Your girl will let you know when she’s ready to try again, and if you are calm and matter of fact about the whole thing, she will be too! Best of luck, and let me know what happens! I’d love to hear!

Jodi November 30, 2011

I’ve got huge red flags about going back into diapers…. I think I have internet research overload to be honest. So let me run this by you, this has been her behavior for the last 3-4 weeks since we started this about 6/8 weeks ago. She gets mad if you call her a big girl, she follows it with “no I baby”. Even if she is doing the I can’t hold it anymore dance… you take her to the potty, she’ll say “no”, she will go. She has been displaying baby behaviors, like baby talk, grunting, pointing she even was laying on the floor the other day with one of her dolls bottles sucking on it. I’ve just gone with the flow on these behaviors because I know she is trying to tell me something. She takes her babies to use the potty all the time, like the potty is a toy. I have a huge knot in my tummy over this, I really can’t imagine how she feels. Thanks for your time.

Lisa November 30, 2011


I want to encourage you to listen to your little girl. Her message is clear. She’s struggling with this developmental leap right now. It’s not uncommon for children to take a step forward (testing the waters) and then take a step or two back, especially when big things are happening in their minds, bodies, or lives. Toddlers who have new siblings often show signs of “regression” when a new baby arrives on the scene. They want to act like and be babies, and struggle with their new role, and feeling proud, capable, and “grown up,” versus being a baby and having things done for them. It’s an internal struggle. It will usually pass quickly if adults can stay calm and accepting. Simply restate what you hear your daughter saying, back to her. “You aren’t ready to use the potty right now. You want to use your diaper. That’s OK.” Reassure her (and yourself), “When you are ready, you will use your potty.” Don’t enter into a struggle with her over using the potty, and go easy on the mentions of “Big girls use the potty.” You don’t want her to feel like she’s failing or disappointing you in some way. Reassure her, “I love my baby (her name) and I love my big girl (her name). I will always love you.” I promise you, this will work itself out in time. She will learn to use the potty, and it’s not worth the struggle and pain to keep pushing her in a direction she’s clear she’s not ready for. (See my comment to Janet Lansbury that includes an excerpt from a recent article in the Wall Street Journal about a little boy who was refusing to use the potty, and Hilliary’s comment about her experience with her daughter.) Hang in there, it’s going to be OK for both of you!

Andrea November 29, 2011

Great article, thank you. I will bookmark it for when my son is older.
In the meantime, I would also love to hear your thoughts on infant potty training, or elimination communication, as mentioned by Cristina above. Thanks again!

Lisa November 29, 2011

Hi Andrea,

In my post above, the line before the last contains a link to a discussion on elimination communication which is hosted on Janet Lansbury’s community forum. You just have to click on the link to take you there. It’s free of charge and there is no need to register to read the discussion, but you will be asked to register if you’d like to contribute. I have made two contributions to the discussion as Regarding Baby. Essentially, while I appreciate that elimination communication is respectful in that it encourages parents to closely observe and be in tune with a baby’s subtle communications, I don’t believe it shares much else with the RIE philosophy of toilet learning, which is based on waiting until the baby shows signs of readiness in all three areas of development that I talk about (physical, cognitive, and emotional), and the ability to participate fully, and freely in the process. To me, the piece that is so important is “accepting and celebrating what a baby can do” (Magda Gerber), without hurrying them, or pushing them to do what they are not yet ready for. It’s possible a very young baby does have awareness of her need to eliminate, and even possible that she can communicate that need (although I haven’t observed this, it doesn’t mean that this awareness doesn’t exist), but does that mean we should then hold her over a potty, and “train” her to eliminate there? I compare it to eating- we know babies feel hunger, and are perfectly capable of communicating hunger, but we don’t sit a baby at a table, and offer a steak dinner- the baby is simply not ready for that experience, or food in that form for many, many months. I think it best, for so many reasons (and this is just my opinion and experience), to just wait for the baby to be ready to participate in the toilet learning process fully before introducing the potty. In the mean time, parents can relax and enjoy observing their baby at play, and when it comes to diaper changing, if done in the way Magda Gerber advocated, the baby is absolutely included and honored in that process, as well as encouraged to participate in the ways she can, while learning about and maintaining awareness of her body and body functions.

Megan November 29, 2011

I disagree with the premise that you should wait for your child to be ready. Waiting for children to be ready for toilet training (something they have no prior experience with) is like waiting for them to try new foods, or to be ready to go to preschool, again, things they have no prior experience with and are not inclined to try voluntarily.

I do agree that loving and nurturing are essential but firmly guiding your child to reach his or her natural growth milestones is one of the most important jobs of any parent. Waiting for a child to have the maturity to deliberately engage in the skills necessary to reach those milestones is a tall order and am afraid a little too optimistic.

Lisa November 29, 2011

Well Megan,

You and I may have to agree to disagree…. I’d love to invite you to a RIE parent/infant class so you can see for yourself what I am talking about. If you read closely, you will find that that I am in no way suggesting a “hands off, wait until they’re ready, and it will happen by magic ” kind of approach.(Well, I am suggesting waiting until they’re ready, but there’s no magic.) The learning takes place in the context of a respectful relationship developed between parent (or caregiver) and baby. I outline at least seven ways a parent can support and encourage what the child is showing she is ready for and working on. All children, everywhere, develop and mature in a predictable sequence- all that is different is the timing. I advocate for parents and caregivers to observe closely, to see what the baby is working on mastering, and then to provide the kind of support that will allow the baby to be as active as possible in the process, which also helps keep in tact the baby’s self motivation to continue to strive towards mastering new skills and tasks, even if they’ve had no prior experience with them.

Megan November 29, 2011

Hi Lisa, nice to meet you!
We seem to come from firm but diverging point of views on parenting. I am mostly a behavioralist, who believes that learning is initially done vicariously either through mimicking or from having adults model behaviors, at least until the cognitive development of the child catches up with the abundance of stimuli. I do agree with you on the need for close engagement of parents and caregivers with the children in their care and do advocate for incidental teaching (taking cues directly from the children’s interests) whenever possible, but I guess, you’re right, we have to agree to disagree on this one. I wrote my Master’s thesis on toilet training the behavioral way after extensive research on the topic, and as much as I like your site, I cannot meet you in the middle on this one 🙂

Lucy Moore July 19, 2012

It’s funny how these two styles of parenting struggle to find a common ground. I am an OT who had 12 years experience working with children with mod to severe intellectual disability and toileting never came of its own accord and therefore behavioral approaches gave these familes a starting place and a way for their children to have some success with toileting. My 2 children (1 boy and 1 girl ) have taught themselves toileting poo and wee at 21 months, all I did was give them the opportunity to be nappy free for extensive periods and have a potty near by. I tried EC with my boy and loved it, although couldn’t stick with it during an interstate move.
My experience was behavioral approaches to all areas of parenting prior to kids and this just did not work for my daughter, leading me to find Positive parenting approaches. Every child is different and we just have to go with wrks for child and parent. Thanks for this article Lisa.

Lisa July 19, 2012

Hi Lucy,

I just want to offer that I’ve worked with children on the autism spectrum throughout the years, and I was instrumental in helping one child learn to use the potty without using behavioral methods, or rewards other than positive encouragement. I really believe ALL learning takes place in the context of relationship, and the same developmental principles apply to children, no matter their learning style or disability – their timing may just be different, is all.

Katinka Smith November 29, 2011

As an ECer I most definitely have to disagree on what you write about EC. And i guess it comes from you not having first hand experience with it, because it is not something that you can judge or really comment on professionally until you have really done it with a baby.

I EC’d my first child from 5 months. From THAT experience then YES I did have to help him to relearn his body’s cues, because he had 5 months of me ignoring them and thus him learning that he also had to ignore them and toilet on himself. So yes, in that respect I did have to ‘teach’ him to recognise those signals and help him out a lot. What you write about EC is relevant to ECing an older baby (although it only took a few days and he was then listenning to his body once again and signalling for a potty – It wasn’t about me teaching him what to do, but rather me teaching him that I would now listen to him and help him eliminate away from his body when he so desired).

Then I EC’d my 2nd baby from 5 days old. She did not have to learn anything. She was born with the knowledge of when she needed to eliminate and a desire to not do it on herself. All I had to do was respond to her need. Just like i respond to her need to breastfeed and her need for sleep. Comparing responding to her need and desire to eliminate away from her body with me feeding her steak in response to her need to eat is absolutely ridiculous. She cannot breastfeed herself. She needs me to provide my breast and position her for her feed. She cannot eliminate away from her body by herself. She needs me to remove her nappy. After that point then she can eliminate wherever really. Sometimes I just hold her over her nappy – especially at a park or something. Othertimes over a toilet – rarely though as we both prefer it if I can cuddle her close to me and she likes having her bottom to rest on something, sometimes into the grass in the backyard but most often into her EC potty. Which sits snugly in my lap and I cuddle her close against my body. I am not expecting her to remove her own nappy, make her way to the loo and do it all by herself. If I did then you could definitely compare it to feeding her steak.

When she cries out to eliminate I respond to her in a RIE way in my opinion. To ignore her would be very un-RIE I would have thought. I’m not an expert in RIE so perhaps I have it wrong, but I want my baby to know that I will respond to her needs and not ignore her. I say ‘Nina, would you like to use your potty? Mummy will help you to undress and remove your nappy (cue RIE changing nappy talking stuff)’ I then position her onto her potty and usually she eliminates straight away into it – not because I have taught her to, but because she has been holding it and needs to go. I then talk to her and explain what I am doing the whole time that we redress etc. Sometimes I take her off the potty too soon and she definitely lets me know that she is not done. If I am unable to help her out when she needs it (in the car for example) then I acknowledge her and her need and let her know that I can change her nappy if I am too late to help her. I also acknowledge and explain why I can’t meet her need right away for breastfeeding, sleep etc when that happens.

What has blown me away the most about Ecing a brand new baby is her absolute desire to not eliminate on herself, her knowledge of when she needs to go and most importantly, that stuff doesn’t just fall out! It’s a very conscious thing for a baby to eliminate, she pushes it out. She also does not eliminate during sleep or feeding. She’ll take a break during a feed to eliminate, sure, but not while feeding. It is typical for babies eliminate upon waking. If I am nearby when she wakes and offer her the potty then she will wee into the potty and be dry from her sleep. Even when only a few days old if I offered her the potty upon waking from a 2hr sleep, then her nappy would be dry as she would not have eliminated during her sleep. Now that she is nearly 6 months old, this can mean being totally dry for 7 or so hours – which still astounds me.

I find that there are two main misconceptions that I come up against with regard to EC. The first is that it is toilet training. It simply is not. It is responding to her need to eliminate and her desire to not do it on herself. My son who is now 2 has been EC’d since 5mo. He is not toilet trained and while he does know what to do etc he often doesn’t want to. AT the moment I have put him back into nappies because he has absolutely no interest in using the toilet/potty etc right now. He knows it is there if he wants it. I’m sure he’ll soon decide that he would like to be dry and comfortable and ask for it again.

The other misconception is that I am teaching Nina to respond to her body’s cues to eliminate. As I have said above this is also not true, she already did all of that stuff. Instead, she taught ME to listen to HER and respond accordingly.

Lisa November 29, 2011


Thank you for sharing your experience. I have done a fair amount of reading about EC, and I am currently consulting with a family who has chosen to practice EC. Your experience with your daughter sounds amazing, and the level of communication you have achieved sounds wonderful. Again, sensitive observation and responsiveness on the part of the adult who is caring for a baby is very much in tune with Magda Gerber’s teachings.

I support families in doing what works best for them and their children, but I do believe in sharing my opinions (based on my education and experience) when I am asked to. I still have questions about EC, in terms of how respectful it is to babies and their parents, and also in terms of how “doable” it is for many (if not most) of the families in our society and culture. I’ve never known a baby who seemed uncomfortable or unhappy to sit in a wet diaper or even a diaper with a bowel movement, unless they had a rash, and were in pain. I have known (typically developing) children who have enjoyed finger painting with their poop. How can you know a baby wants to eliminate away from her body, if she can’t tell you? This seems to me a very adult idea, that it’s somehow more desirable to eliminate away from your body. Urine and bowel movements are of the body, so why would a baby have any idea that it’s preferable to urinate or defecate away from their bodies? Also in terms of RIE teachings, the relationship between adult and baby is seen as a two way street (mutually adaptive), and takes into consideration both the needs and desires of adults and babies, so EC brings up questions for me about this issue. If a parent has to stop what she’s doing immediately to respond to baby’s need to eliminate, I wonder how the adult ever manages to take a breath, especially in the very early days, when baby requires such long hours of intense attention and care?

Megan November 29, 2011

Just an FYI – I write from a Montessori approach and things are not always aligned between our two philosophies, but I wanted to share my experience and knowledge. I agreed with much of what you said, particularly about creating a supportive environment for toilet learning (and that pull ups are confusing). I also do not advocate bribery or harshness. However…
Children are physically able to control their bowels as soon as they are walking – the myelinization of their nerve endings allows them to control those body parts, and because myelinization moves from center to extremity and head to toe, by the time a child is able to control his legs well enough to walk he is also able to control his sphincters. For most children that is around 12 months – so waiting another two years to start toileting seems excessive. Since children love to explore the new things their bodies are capable of, it is absolutely appropriate to offer a toilet once a child begins to walk, and have them present to see how adults go.
Keeping a child in diapers just trains them to ignore the messages their bodies send them, and the longer you do that the harder it can be for them to let go of their diapers.
All Montessori programs that I know of require a child in the 3-6 class to be potty trained, and that is not at all developmentally inappropriate (with the knowledge that they’ve had 2 years to learn what to do). When you look at children around the world, most of them are out of diapers by age 2. That used to be the case in the U.S. before disposables, but now diapering is so much easier than helping a child learn that parents wait longer and longer before attempting to potty train. They tend to start at 2.5 (which research shows is just about the worst age to start) and put their children in diapers/pull ups whenever they go out, instead of really committing to helping their child learn this new skill.
My toddler class students (18mo-3yo) wear thick training underwear at school and we encourage them to use the bathroom. We never force them to sit on the toilet, but we do help them change clothes in the bathroom if they soil themselves. Then we encourage them to try to make it to the bathroom next time. No recriminations, no guilt trips, no bribes, just honest encouragement and understanding that new skills take some time to master… but the “signs of readiness” occur far later than the child’s actual physical readiness, and younger toddlers don’t express resentment about letting go of diapers the way older children do. I also find that parents are much less stressed out about “getting results” if they don’t wait so long to start, so they aren’t passing along their own anxiety about toileting to their child.
So that little book is another perspective. Thanks!

Lisa November 29, 2011


Thanks for sharing your perspective. It’s quite possible babies are able to control their bowels as soon as they are walking, but again, the question becomes- are they emotionally and cognitively ready to cooperate with the adult’s desire that they master the use of the potty? Disposable diapers or not, I believe it best to wait until the baby or toddler indicates readiness and desire to begin using the toilet. Earlier is not necessarily better- ever. In 25 years of caring for babies and toddlers, and working closely with an uncountable number of families to assist in the toilet learning process, I’ve come to the conclusion that when it comes to matters of babies and their own bodies – movement, gross motor milestones, what to eat and how much (assuming healthy food is offered for consumption), when to begin “practicing” using the potty, it is best to wait, trust, and allow the baby to take the lead. It is just not up to adults to decide “Now it is time for you to practice sitting,” “Now it is time for you to start using the potty,” “Now it is time for you to eat this amount of food because I have deemed it the right amount for you.” Ideally, adults create the environment which allows, supports, and even encourages the child to move in the direction we want them to take, (and in which they are moving anyway), but then, it’s all up to the baby. I believe our babies and toddlers are up to the task!

Megan December 1, 2011

As many EC-ers know, children who have had the opportunity to see a way other than sitting in their own waste often prefer it – as evidenced by crying after they’ve soiled their diapers. Granted, not all children mind – but many do. It’s better to offer the potty when they are physically capable of using it, and in my opinion, more respectful, than waiting for them to ask, because it gives them another option. After all, they need us to show them their choices, and help them follow through with what they choose! How do they know whether or not they want to use a toilet if they don’t know they have the option? I absolutely agree with everything else you said in your reply.
I feel like you maybe got the wrong impression from my first comment – nothing that I practice or advocate forces children to do anything. If they’re going to pee in their pants then they’re going to pee in their pants, whether they’re wearing a diaper or not, and going into the bathroom to change clothes is no different, functionally, than going to a changing table to change a diaper. There’s no pressure, no anger, and no resentment when a child soils their clothing. And, as someone else commented, wearing underwear instead of a diaper greatly increases their freedom of movement. No Montessorian will ever advocate forcing children to do things – the whole method is based on observation of the child and removing obstacles so they can follow their own “inner teacher”.

Tiffany Allen December 1, 2011

Megan- I really like what you said here. Often I feel like people hear EC and early potty training and hear forced, aggressive and ridged training. My perspective is similar to what you say in the sense that I’m providing options for my son to take or not to take. Either way, the process is initiated and directed, but not parent forced.

Sarah Gould January 16, 2014

I would like to respectfully respond to the statement that children are able to control their sphincter muscles when they are able to walk. Research shows that with mylenization the nerves linked with the sphincter muscles do not typically become my become mylenated until the age of two. So, really for many children it is very difficult to control those muscles as their brain does not “speak” quickly enough with them. Food for thought, look at Dr. Alice Honig’s writing around this piece, I find it very helpful.

Hillary November 29, 2011

Wow a topic as contentious as ever!
Lisa, Thank you. I am with you on ‘go with the flow’. My little girl was being forced into toilet training at her day care setting. It left me feeling angry and alienated especially when I was told that we couldn’t stop and shouldn’t stop because it would be regressive despite the tears and anxiety she was experiencing.
I changed day care settings. 3 months of respite with new supportive carers, continuing to allow her in when I pee and offering her toilet opportunities and she is now tinkling away on the toilet with grins and giggles and having fun with it often wanting to go again even when she’s just been and then anouncing…’wee wee’s all finished’. I am so glad I stuck by my maternal instincts.
Lisa as ever you speak such common sense to me.

Yes physically and neuroligically babies may be ready for toilet training at 1 year…and girls and boys may be physiologically and neurologically able to produce babies at 13 years! There is often an emotional and mental element required above and beyond physical and neurological capabilities for many things we do in life! I know I’m using an extreme example here, but I prefer the holistic approach and wanted to add my voice of support here for Lisa’s wisdom, sensitivity and common sense approach.

Lisa November 29, 2011


Thank you for your kind comments, and support. I love the example you use to illustrate your point, and I wish you could have seen the grin on my face upon reading about your daughter’s renewed delight in using the potty. I am so glad for both of you that you listened to what your maternal instinct and what your daughter was telling you she needed. It’s frustrating to me that there are still childcare centers where they don’t understand the absolute importance of respecting a child’s pace when it comes to potty learning. My hope is that someday it will be different…

janetlansbury November 29, 2011

I’d be curious to know if Megan #1 (no pun intended) contacted any pediatricians while doing her research. The best and busiest (like mine, Jay Gordon) will tell you about the many, many 2-6 year olds they treat for serious constipation issues because their parents have (sometimes ever so subtly) urged them to use the toilet before they were ready. Serious, meaning they go for weeks without having a bowel movement no matter how much prune juice, etc., they are given and this often becomes a chronic issue. I know children like this. One is a relative who dealt with constipation for years and ended up only able to have a BM if she was given a diaper. This went on until she was six years old. A process that could have happened naturally and effortlessly (like it did with my 3 children) was the cause of major stress and feelings of failure. Pushing the toilet issue is way too risky in my book.

Thanks again for voicing your opinion, Lisa!

Lisa November 29, 2011


Thanks so much for chiming in here! I’ve also known several children who have had very severe issues with constipation (going weeks without BMS), and it’s heartrending and horrible for all involved. When I was a very new toddler teacher, before I’d ever had RIE training, there was a little boy I cared for who would go for days without moving his bowels, and had to have enemas in order to move them, and even then he’d scream in pain. He had been “potty trained” at one year of age. As you point out, It can be so much harder to try to “undo” than to wait, trust, and let nature, maturation, and the baby’s drive for self mastery take its course.

It’s very interesting that there was an article in the WSJ yesterday talking about a “new” way some researchers and therapists are helping parents to stop their child’s “bad behavior” and encourage good behavior. Interestingly, this “therapy” focuses on changing parent behavior and coaching parents to be less reactive and intrusive in their parenting. It’s called “parent management training” by the way. I shared the article on my facebook page and this is the quote I pulled out because it just happened to address the issue at hand:

” Sometimes, a small change in tone is enough. A family recently showed up at the Yale clinic, desperate for their son to be potty trained. The parents had showed him how to do it, and they had talked about why he should do it. They set up a chart to reward him with points or ice cream. The boy had used the toilet twice in six months but otherwise refused.

The parents needed to get rid of their tone of desperation, Dr. Kazdin says. Instead of begging, they were instructed to say, “You don’t have to go to the toilet. When you’re bigger, you’ll get it.”

The next day, the child began to use the toilet regularly, Dr. Kazdin recalls, and the parents were stunned. “There’s no magic there,” he says. In this case, the child already knew how to use the toilet. There was just something in the way the parents were setting up the situation that led him to refuse. The child was rebelling.”

anna ~ random handprints November 29, 2011

So glad I read this – very interesting conversation. I have basically gotten lucky with training my kids – the oldest trained as soon as she started pre-school and saw the other kids using the toilet, and then my younger just follwed her big sister’s lead.

I have a two-year-old who still needs to make the transition from diapers, and I’m hoping it “just happens” like it did for his odler siblings. If not, I’ll be back to take more careful notes!

Lisa November 29, 2011

Hi Anna!
You make a great point about both the benefits of waiting, and the benefits of having older siblings and/or other children to “model.” The thing is, when parents and caregivers are relaxed about the whole thing, it does seem almost like it “just happens.” There’s not all the focus, and worry, and angst, and planning, and cajoling, and what not that goes with trying to “get’ a child to do something. It has been my (very unofficial) observation that many times second born children seem to have an easier time with potty training, and I’ve sometimes wondered if that’s not just due to having an older sibling to model for them, but also because parents tend to be more relaxed, more busy, and more tired by the time a second child arrives, and so there is just not as much energy to put into “making it happen” at a certain time, and so it seems to happen almost on its own!

Mr. Mom November 29, 2011

Interestingly, I was really freaked out about the potty training thing before my child was born. But now that we’re in it/approaching it, I’m feeling very confident. Lots of sage advice here that reinforces and expands my thinking.

Elanne Kresser November 30, 2011

I’ve felt conflicted about EC. When I first came across it I had already been exposed to RIE and I kind of wrote it off. I witnessed my friends do EC with their daughter who became constipated because I think she sensed too much stress on their part about getting her to the toilet. I did a lot of childcare and encouraged parents to wait for their childs readiness and kind of poo poo’ed (: EC.

Now I have a baby and while I was pregnant I read an EC book called, I think, Diaper Free. It was a great book and it made me feel more comfortable with the idea of EC because it explained things along the lines that Megan above described it. It started to seem to me like it could be compatible with RIE as it involved sensitive observation along with communication. I decided that I would wait until my baby was born and if it felt right and like I could approach it without any added stress I would give it a try.

Once she was born I decided that I wasn’t up for it right away. There was just way too much other stuff for me to pay attention to (like her nightly 3 hour colic induced cry sessions!) I did however tell her when I noticed her peeing or pooping with the idea that this would help her develop/maintain awareness of these functions. I also watched closely for her signals that she had to go. She spends a fair amount of time without a diaper on and lying on a wool pad on the floor and occasionally when I sense she is going to pee I hold my arms out and ask if I can pick her up to hold her over a bowl. Then I wait for the same indicators she shows any other time I ask to pick her up. Really she has only pooped and peed in a bowl a few times. There are many other times when she has a diaper on and is clearly involved in something that seems important like exploring her fingers, watching shadows on the wall, kicking her legs vigorously so that even if I think she has to go I don’t want to interrupt her play at the moment so I wait and change her diaper when she’s done.

Lately however she loves loves loves having her diaper off because she is so much more free to move. She holds her toes and loves to roll from side to side. She doesn’t really do this with her diaper on (I use cloth). For the first time since she was born she has started to cry when I put her diaper on, and it seems connected to the loss of freedom of movement she feels. So my question is, is it more respectful to keep diapering her most of the time when she clearly enjoys being without it more? Or would it be better to give more attention to EC and help her towards being diaper free more of the time so that she has greater freedom of movement?

I haven’t come to a clear answer yet, so we’re still going along as we have been from the start – my letting her know I notice her pees and poops, changing her as soon as seems right for both of us, occasionally holding her to pee or poop and mostly in diapers. I’d love to hear your and other people’s thoughts.

Tiffany Allen December 1, 2011

Hi Lisa- I just found this site and I wanted to say “Hi” and briefly throw in my two cents. As far as toilet training, you say some things that I like and agree with, but there are some really benefits to early potty training and challenges of “waiting” that I feel are being dismissed. So, as to not hijack, your conversation, I will address that to my own blog soon

The things that I feel most necessary to convey is that there are as may ways to be an effective parent as there are parent/child dyads. Those of you with more than one child probably have noticed that what worked for the first child didn’t necessarily work for the second. I love a debate as much as the next person, but parenting topics are tricky. People, often due to experiences, feel judged for the decisions that they make as a parent and respond by defending the choice to people who choose to be different. Being a parent is hard enough without added shame and judgment.

At the end of the day all children end up weened, sleeping in their own bed and using the toilet. People are not always going to agree with your decisions on how you achieve those task as parents, but what matters is that you have been the most thoughtful, compassionate parent that you can be. Attachment relationships are all about disruption and repair. Potty training, even in the best circumstances, will like involve some disruption.

Some context for who I am and why I feel qualified to comment: I’m in the final stages of completing my doctoral degree in clinical psychology with a specialization in Infant/preschool mental health. My work focuses on the neurobiological and attachment perspectives. More importantly, I am the mom of a toddler who was fully potty trained by 24 months. We never forced him to use it and it was always baby directed. He communicated use when he wanted and needed to use the bathroom through sign language before he could use his words.

Lisa December 1, 2011

Hi Tiffany,

Thanks for adding your perspective. I agree that there are many ways to be an effective parent, and the last thing I intend to do is to judge, blame or induce guilt. I get it, Parenting is hard, all children are unique, and in the end they achieve milestones, one way or another. The thing is, babies don’t come with a manual, and parental instinct doesn’t always lead to the best parenting decisions or practice. Most of us tend to repeat the patterns of behavior with our children that we learned growing up.I offer parents a way to parent in harmony with their children’s natural development and strengths. My goal is to offer parents support, encouragement, and education, and share one way that works for many, and usually leads to more ease and enjoyment , and a strong positive relationship between parent and child. I t encourage and support people in parenting their children with respect, and I aim to give accurate information about child development, and offer advice in a compassionate way. I also don’t write these “advice” posts without being specifically asked by a parent (or several) for guidance. There is so much information and advice available out there on the web, and frankly, a lot of it is just bad, and wrong, and not at all in line with any understanding about child development, or “best practice.” I see both parents and children suffer because of well- meaning advice, and because they don’t know who to believe or where to turn.This blog is a labor of love, and is here for anyone who might want or need what I offer. For those who don’t, or for whom it doesn’t resonate, it’s fine if they choose to move on- no offense taken. I do encourage and appreciate people sharing their point of view, and I do encourage respectful discussion, but I will stand by my beliefs, my advice, and my practice. Of course you are welcome, and qualified to comment! And it’s wonderful in my book that your boy was using the potty at an early age, especially since it was his idea to do so! That’s the main thrust of my advice, for parents to let their baby take the lead on this particular issue!

Tiffany Allen December 1, 2011

Geesh, I fear in my attempt to express balance, I came across as just as judgmental as the point I was trying to make. I have been reviewing your site and I do truly agree with most of that you say.

One thing in your statement that I feel different about is your observation of parent instincts. It is my belief that most parents have good parenting instincts that get muddled with all the mixed messages given to parents. As a society we spend a lot of time suppressing our evolutionary instincts in favor of the latest and greatest trends in parenting and social pressure from our friends, family and media influence. It takes a lot of a mom to hold tight to her instincts particularly if they aren’t popular with her family and community.

lisa sunbury December 2, 2011

Hi Megan,
RIE and Montessori philosophies share a profound respect for the young child, and both consider the child to be capable of self directed learning. The two dovetail very nicely. What’s interesting to me, is that Maria Montessori did her work with, and focused on children three years old and up, and Magda Gerber’s fascination, work, and focus was on infants and toddlers. She was to first to focus solely on this age group, and to suggest a way of seeing and caring for them based on respect for them as capable individuals. Today, I personally know of at least three Montessori schools in the United States that offer care for infants and toddlers, and use RIE guidelines to inform their practice with babies. I agree with you that children need to know what their choices and options are, and that’s why I suggest parents have a potty chair available, read books about toilet learning with their child, and allow their child to watch them use the toilet. By the time they are about 18 months old, most children absolutely know and understand that “big people” don’t pee in diapers, and use a toilet. They are usually quite clear that they have the option to do so as well. When the child is ready, all the adult needs to do is offer, or sometimes, when children have older siblings, or are in childcare and see others going to the potty, they’ll even ask to do it too. As for children not liking to be in soiled diapers, it’s much more uncomfortable for a child when they wet their clothes, and I’ve seen children get very upset and embarassed when they wet or soil clothes in a way they never do when they are in diapers. I think this is because they clearly “get” the message that they are expected to use the potty and they feel shame if they can’t do as expected. This to me is a big problem with adult initiated potty “training”and also to EC. No matter how non- judgmental the adult’s tone and manner is, children are sensitive enough and aware enough to pick up on the message “My Mommy (or teacher) wants me to use the potty.” They get the message, and then when they can’t or don’t comply there are tears. Why, why, why, should any child have to experience that?

Megan December 2, 2011

Montessori herself actually did begin research on infants and toddlers in coordination with Dr Sylvana Quattrochi Montanaro, but was unable to see the work to its completion due to her death. Dr. Montanaro was able to finish it, and AMI (Association Montessori Internationale – founded by Dr. Montessori herself) training has been available since the 1980’s for prenatal to age 3, as well as 3-6 and 6-12. I don’t know of any AMI schools that don’t aim to follow Montessori practices for all age levels – I’m guessing the schools you know of are certified by a different organization.
I’m curious about your stance on cloth diapers, since they are no different for a wet child than clothes are when it comes to comfort.
I would like to state for the record that I have never seen a child cry about not complying with an adult’s expectation of using the toilet. I’ve seen a child cry about being wet (and stop as soon as he is dry), and I’ve seen children cry when adults are pushy or harsh about toileting. I had a child in my class once who was spanked at home for soiling her clothes (which I didn’t find out about until after she moved up from my program) – and she was the only student I’ve ever had who didn’t learn to use the toilet.
I was glad to see you specify that a potty chair should be available even to younger children, because I got the impression that you didn’t recommend even offering one until age 2.
Thanks for letting me share my Montessori information on your RIE page 🙂

JanetLansbury December 2, 2011

Lisa, thank you for expressing these ideas so brilliantly and clearly. There is absolutely no reason to push or even coax toilet learning and doing so is a slippery slope. Children will amaze us with our abilities if we can be patient and trusting. Trust is the one parenting approach that works with *every* child.

W April 18, 2012

I do a modified form of EC with my 8-month-old. When he does eliminate in his potty chair, I do say “You peed!” (or pooped) and sound pretty excited about it, because let’s face it, I am excited when that happens.

BUT – when he does not eliminate – I look in the potty, see that it’s empty, and tell him, “You did not pee. That is okay.” or “That is just fine.” Sometimes I add “You don’t have to.” This lets him know (and reminds myself) that there is no pressure.

He soils his diapers a lot too, and neither of us has an issue with it. My purpose in ECing is mainly to get him used to the rhythm of using the potty frequently, so it’s not this huge new thing when he’s older.

I actually remember being toilet trained, and from the kid’s perspective it was “suddenly I’m being asked to do something I’ve never done before (using the potty), and suddenly what I’m used to doing (going in diapers) is not good enough anymore.” Granted, my parents used bribes and such. But that experience is why I want to start giving my son potty experiences early, so using the potty is never “weird” to him.

Lisa April 18, 2012


Thanks for your comment, and for sharing your experience. My observation has been that when parents wait for children to be ready and show interest, children learn to use the toilet without feeling weird or shamed. It is just a natural part of their development, and is no different from achieving any other milestone. Children always learn and always grow, and we don’t have to do much to ensure this except to trust them, and follow their lead.

Natalia December 3, 2011

This is a great and very interesting read. To share my personal experience, I decided to take it very slowly with my daughter out of respect for her own natural development. Who was I or anyone to say when she was ready?

At 18mths bought a potty and just had it out and she would just use it as something to sit in. After a while because most of the time she wanted to be naked she’d often pee on the floor, we’d clean it up and then show her the potty saying without a diaper, if she can remember, this was where to pee. By 26 mths she seemed to get it so WE (not my daughter) decided to make the switch and say goodbye to daytime diapers, but if she asked for one we would put one on. I looked at it as a very mature understanding on her part of how she was feeling – that perhaps that day she just couldn’t deal with the responsibility of toddler life and wanted to feel like a baby again so there would be no accidents. Who knows, but to be honest it gave for a very peaceful household without shame and she only asked a handful of times and and there were few accidents.

Personally, and I am NOT any expert just a parent, but on the note about “regression” of toddlers behaving again like babies, I feel responding to those needs is vital and I don’t think it can be necessarily pinpointed to potty training. Maybe its a way of them processing their vulnerable feelings of life as a toddler. My daughter is just about to turn 3 and throughout the last year every now and again she has done that, “mummy feed me like a baby” “mummy I want baby food”, “mummy hold me like a baby” and I have done all without any repercussion of her actually becoming a baby again. One day I actually went and bought her apple sauce in a baby food jar after she had asked for it she just beamed the biggest smile.

My daughter also just started preschool in September (another HUGE life changing and challenging stages for any toddler/kid) and because her communication is now at a new level she actually told me last week, “mummy being big makes me sad sometimes, but when I was a baby I was happy”. Knocked my socks off, but maybe I made the right decision to what some people might describe as “pandering” to her needs to want to be a baby again for a simple 20 mins. It was never an inconvenience.

Who knows if the dots connect, but I do have a very reasonable kid on my hands now. There are tandrums when she is very tired and hungry but most of the time she is very easy going. Maybe I’m just lucky?

Lisa December 3, 2011

Dear Natalia,
It has been my observation that when babies and toddlers are listened to, and their feelings are respected and accepted in the way you describe, we are likely to be amazed when they in turn show us how much they understand, can communicate, and can participate in relationship with us, and also be initiators and active participants in their own learning.Thank you for sharing your experience with us. It’s such a beautiful example of partnering, guiding, and supporting your girl’s growth, while totally honoring her process and feelings, and trusting her. I appreciate that you underscore the importance and normalcy of “regression” or struggle, throughout the transition from infancy to toddlerhood (and beyond)! It’s all part of growing and learning. How lucky your little girl is to have you to gently encourage her growing abilities, while also understanding and accepting that sometimes she misses being a baby, and wants or needs to briefly revisit her younger days.

Natalia December 9, 2011

Thank you for your kind words. We all try to do the best we can, its not all perfect but here’s hoping we can help smooth out the bumps.

Valerie December 3, 2011

When I first read this post I really wanted to write and now that I revisit it and see the interesting conversation happening I am happy to share.
I have done EC with my son since he was a few days old. I just left him diaper free as much as possible (great for freedom of movement!) and I watched him carefully for signals that he was about to go. When he did go I made a sound – Psss… It was amazing – as soon as he could smile he would smile when he peed and I made that sound – like a little light was going on. I would tell him “you are peeing.” Soon he was able to “hold it” until the next diaper check and was often dry when I went to change him. So we started sitting him on the potty as soon as he could comfortably sit and he would eliminate there.
It makes sense to me that like every new experience a newborn is having, elimination is something they are aware of and communicating about and I wanted to assist him by caring for his needs based on that communication. There have been times that he woke up dry and restless in the mornings and once he sat on the potty he would relax, pee and be able to go back to sleep! There have been stretches of time when he would whimper every time he was about to pee, pee in the potty with assistance, then relax and be able to explore comfortably again. At this point, he is often too busy to pee in the potty, but absolutely prefers to poop in the potty and lets me know through facial expressions and gestures, when he needs to go. My experiences of our connection, our cooperation and his excitement about being heard and understood make me completely confident that EC was the way to go. For us it is not about training him early, but about fostering his awareness of his elimination needs and offering the potty as a place to go. When we are home, he wears training pants (often refusing diapers and choosing undies) and while he pees in his pants quite a bit I agree with earlier posts that it really isn’t that different from cloth diapers. And he gets lots of practice pushing down and pulling up his pants while changing, which he, now 15months old, enjoys.
Considering there are places all over the world that do not use diapers, that communication with our babies is so important, and the environmental implications of the use of disposables, it seems completely appropriate to assist our children with toileting, like we do everything else, until they can do for themselves.

kimberly December 3, 2011

I have found a web site which provides an understandable and translated (spanish) pdf to share with parents…

Lisa December 4, 2011

Thanks Kimberly! What a great resource to share with parents! I have a question. I took a look, and the pdf is in English. Is there also a version available in Spanish?

Honest Mum December 6, 2011

Thanks for this great advice. My little boy is 23 months and although he speaks well and informs us he needs the loo, once the potty is brought to him, he refuses to sit on it. Hoping things will improve with time. Would love to get him into pants rather than nappies!

L. January 25, 2012

Hello Lisa,
I am writing because I have spent the last two years waiting for my daughter to be “ready” to potty-train.

We brought out the potty chair at 18 months, just to create interest. She never really liked the chair, but would periodically sit on the big potty. We tried giving stickers and M&Ms, a reward chart, and going back and forth between underwear and diapers (when she said she wasn’t ready). She never cared about being in a wet diaper. Eventually, when wearing underwear, if she had an accident, she wouldn’t even tell me because she didn’t mind. When we had a second child 10 months ago, I never dreamed I would be changing two sets of diapers!

As we approach her fourth birthday in a couple of months, I am happy to say that she now wears underwear all day long and has very few accidents. Though she doesn’t ever alert me that she needs to use the potty, I take her to the bathroom periodically and she will sit there and go pee. However, she absolutely refuses to have a bowel movement. She waits until she has a pull-up on at her nap time or at bed time and then goes. She has no problem sitting or sleeping in a soiled pull-up and as a result, has developed quite awful rashes at times. I think I should mention that I am a full-time working mom, so part of the week she is taken care of by a babysitter and other days she attends pre-school. Thankfully, her pre-school did not require her to be toilet-trained.

Both my husband and I are at our wits end to have her trained. He tends to speak somewhat harshly sometimes in his insistence that she “poop on the potty” and she resorts to tears every time. I am more patient with her and I don’t yell at her about it ever. She tells her daddy that I LIKE changing her diaper. (Believe me, I don’t!) However, at this point, I am wondering if she would ever just be ready on her own. I keep hearing the saying that no child goes to kindergarten in diapers. At this point, I am not sure!

I would definitely appreciate knowing your thoughts. Everything I read about toilet training seems to address this issue with toddlers younger than mine. I guess I am wondering if I should continue to patiently wait, if I should direct my husband to discontinue his comments, if you have any suggestions to try, etc. Thanks in advance!

Lisa February 6, 2012

I know it seems like it’s been forever, but toilet learning takes the time it takes, and each child has their own timetable. While your little girl is a bit on the later side in accomplishing this task, she is still well within what is considered “normal” limits. You mentioned that you just added a new member to your family about 10 months ago- this may be a contributing factor in your girl’s reluctance to fully give up the diaper and use the potty. Even older siblings (age four or five and younger) who are well on the way to potty mastery sometimes have a period of brief regression when a new baby joins the family. Think of it from your big girl’s point of view… why would she want to give up the diaper when she can count on the fact that diaper changing time means focused one on one attention from you?

Since I don’t know your little girl and your family, and all the details of your situation personally, I like to err on the side of caution when giving advice, and as always, I urge you to check with your pediatrician if you have any concern at all that your daughter has a developmental delay or an underlying physical problem that could factor into the equation.

My intuition, based on what you’ve shared with me, is that your girl is fine, and when she decides that she is ready to toilet learn it will happen relatively quickly and easily. So, I would encourage you to continue to wait patiently. There are some clues in what you’ve written that perhaps your daughter senses some impatience (at least from your husband), and that toilet learning has become a bit of a power struggle.

For instance, you note both you and your husband are at your “wits end” to have her trained, and that your husband sometimes “speaks harshly” and demands “she poop on the potty.” You mentioned that you’ve tried everything and that early on you offered M & M candies as a reward. Even though it may feel to you like you are doing your level best to be patient, I think your little girl may be getting the message that you are feeling quite impatient, and even that she is failing.

Once you’ve ruled out any underlying physical difficulty, I’d advise dropping the matter completely, and really just waiting patiently.This means no rewards, no comments, no demands to put the poop in the potty, nothing. I’d encourage your husband to talk very briefly with your daughter to apologize for any recent harshness and pressure, and to let her know he trusts she will learn to put her poop in the potty when she is ready. And then let that be the end of it…. You may be surprised to find that when you “let go” and don’t put any energy at all towards “making” potty learning happen, it will! Wishing you the best of luck…

Melissa June 4, 2012

I followed a link from Janet Lansbury’s blog, and am so pleased to have found another resource. I enjoyed this article very much as it is an issue we are dealing with right now. My daughter is 25 months and showed a great deal of interest in our toilet routine along with some other readiness cues, so we bought her a potty of her own. She has used it a few times, but has recently lost interest in using it.

I’ve been determined from the start for potty training to be done at my daughter’s pace, but as with other developmental milestones I find myself getting anxious whether I’m doing it “right”. It’s also an issue that many have an opinion on, and after having a get together with extended family saying “oh, she should be potty trained” I start to doubt myself. Posts like this help me take a breath and remember that the “right” way is the way that works for us.

Lisa June 4, 2012


Thank you for your comment! You made my day. I’m so glad this post was helpful to you. I want to encourage you to keep listening to and trusting your daughter- you can’t ever go wrong that way!

Caela August 23, 2012

What a great article. Thank you. Would love to hear your thoughts on whether to set a timer and offer to take them every hour once they’re in the process of learning. It seems like everyone I know does this and, to me, it just seems slightly disrespectful. We only tried underwear for 2 days with my 2 1/2 year old (he wasn’t ready and we’ll try again later). We set a timer for every hour and said, “Let’s go sit on the potty!” to which he would say, “No!” But the argument on the other side is, “Well, they need a reminder to listen to their body.” What do you think?

Lisa August 23, 2012


I highly discourage the use of a timer and taking a child to the toilet and asking them to sit on it every hour. This strikes me as more than a little disrespectful, and the opposite of trusting a child to listen to his own body. How are children supposed to listen to their own bodies with so much interference from the outside? It also sets the scene for power struggles, if a child says no, and the parent insists they “just try anyway.” It’s fine to casually offer the potty at natural times, like before bathing, or when changing a diaper, or getting dressed or undressed, but mostly, all a parent needs to do is create the environment that will allow for the child’s success and ease, and then follow the child’s lead. In general, patient waiting will lead to success when the child is ready. And when they are ready, it happens quickly.

Christi August 23, 2012

I believe everything you said, I do, but somehow in practice it gets all messed up. Why does it have to be so stressful?? Maybe it is having 3 kids in diapers. I can’t help getting agitated when he pees on the floor, and the baby is screaming, and my daughter is drinking bleach, and right at the moment my mother-in-law drops by! LOL I am really worried that I have given him a complex at this point that will take years of therapy to undo…:(

Lisa August 23, 2012


It sounds like you’ve got your hands full. Go easy on yourself! You most likely haven’t given your son a complex- little children are flexible and resilient, and sense when we’re doing our best. It might really help you to explore some of Magda Gerber’s ideas about how to create a home environment that will allow your children freedom to play independently, while providing you with some peace of mind and making things a little easier with three children in diapers. Are you familiar with Janet Lansbury’s blog? Wishing you the very best!

Chet June 2, 2013

Hi Lisa.

I am wondering if you have any advice for helping children go diaper-free at night. My 5-year-old has been consistently dry during the day for the past year. More or less dry for the past two years. A couple of months ago, he really wanted to stop wearing diapers at night, so we supported him in that. A friend recommended restricting fluids before bed and waking him up in the night to take him to the toilet. I did that every night (he goes to bed around 8pm and I would wake him around 10:30pm). We had a lot of wet sheets and a lot of mid-night wake-ups for me– sometimes more than 2 in a single night (in addition to the time that I work him up). Eventually, after 4 weeks or so, I sat with my son and told him that I wasn’t getting the sleep that I needed and I didn’t think that he was able to wake himself up at night when he needed to pee. He decided to wear diapers, but now my husband is worried that he is too old to wear diapers at night. Do you have any advice for me?

I also have a 3-year-old who decided to stop wearing diapers a couple of months before his 3rd birthday and I don’t think he has had a single accident since (I am exaggerating, but he is definitely a more conscientious kid than his brother). He does not want to wear a diaper at night anymore. How can I help him in this process (as I am pretty sure I did it wrong with my oldest)?

Thank you so much for your help!

Ali November 16, 2013

Dear Lisa, thanks for your interesting article. My son is now 2 and a half and he was very keen to read the book “toilet learning” for a short while and even sit on his potty but he seems to have lost all interest now. I tried to use pull ups thinking they’d be easier to use, but he kept on shouting “just a normal nappy” so we have gone back to usual nappies which I find very tricky to put on if he is not lying down. He is also not at all bothered by wet or dirty nappies on the whole. I am really happy to go with your approach of no pressure and wait for him to be ready, but am slightly concerned about him not being motivated to use the toilet if it’s really comfortable for him to wear nappies, is this something that is likely to happen when he gets a bit older if we just keep offering the potty to him in a relaxed fashion? thanks again, you are doing good work I really support the approach you’re taking and am so glad there’s a peaceful respectful way to do this! Best wishes Ali

Maria February 27, 2016

Hi, my name is Isabel and I tried to start potty training my 2 year old daughter because she showed a lot of the signs mentioned above, mainly she didn’t want to have a wet dipper anymore, she was able to go for long periods of times with a dry diaper and she always let me know when she had pee or poo (but she calls both with the same name).
Everything was going perfect until the second day she actually poo on the potty. She saw the poo and got really scared. Since then she hasn’t wanted to seat in the potty or the toilet, but the worst is that she is not comfortable with diapers anymore either. As soon as she goes she wants a new diaper and she usually start saying piii piii, gets uncomfortable, even cries a little, and try to hold it. And each time she says no more pii, no more pii!!
Do you have any recommendations?

Joanna May 4, 2016


So we’ve done our best to follow our daughter on this, with the introduction of a brother 9months ago it’s been stop and start. But what we’ve found is when she started holding her pee for hours on end, she also started holding her poo. We probably went a bit lax on the fiber and water and now she’s afraid to poo. Holding it like its her job, which of course confirms her fears about it, because if you poo after 5 days of not pooping, it really really hurts!!

She’s three now. This holding all started about five-six months ago… She knows she can have underwear with princesses and butterflies if she starts pee and poo in the potty but she’s stopped being interested.

Frankly the potty vs diapers isn’t what I’m worried about anymore!! Is our only option laxatives?

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