The Potty Training Manifesto

Several years ago I shared a post titled “The Cloth Diapering Manifesto” outlining my knowledge on cloth diapering.  It got a lot of parents thinking about cloth diapering, and I was happy to spread my love of cloth.  Now that I have successfully potty trained two kids by the age of 2, I thought I’d share my insight on this topic.  I’m no expert, but perhaps my experience will help some families.

The average age for potty training in America is 3 years old, but all around the world parents potty train their kids at much younger ages. And, for the better part of human history I can pretty much guarantee that little ones were trained around the same time they were walking. This post is for families who want to train their kids by the age of 2; I don’t have advice for families that want to wait longer than that. I have no judgement against families that choose to wait, but potty training earlier is a choice that has worked for our family.

I often hear parents say that their kids aren’t ready for potty training, but I believe its the other way around.  Potty training takes work and planning, and if parents aren’t ready there’s no way the kid will be successful.  My husband noticed that potty training gave our kids an amazing confidence boost.  It would have been unfair deny them that sense of accomplishment, so we’re already introducing the idea to our 1 year old Vivian.

Several people have asked me for potty training advice, so I thought I’d share it here.

1. USE CLOTH DIAPERS: I make this my #1 step because its so important if you want to train a kid by the age of 2. Babies in cloth diapers feel wet when they pee, so it is easy for them to make the connection between feeling the urge to go and actually going.

Disposable diapers are very good at absorbing liquid, and kids in disposables never have the chance to feel uncomfortable.  By the time a kid is 2, she is becoming more aware of her surroundings.  And, she has very clear likes and dislikes.  Sitting in a wet diaper becomes uncomfortable, so its the perfect time to transition away from diapers.

Shameless plug: try out my line of adorable and affordable cloth diapers, Terra Baby:

2. Treat using the bathroom like a normal part of life: When I first thought about potty training Evie four years ago I asked my wise grandmother for advice.  She raised 7 kids, a couple dozen grandchildren, and 7 great-grandchildren, so I figured she’d know a thing or two about potty training.

Her advice: Don’t make a big deal out of it.  Going potty and poop is a natural thing we all do, so just make it part of the daily routine.  No need to stress or fuss and worry.  It is normal.  Once I let her advice sink in, it made perfect sense.

3. Let potty-training kids go naked: When we start easing into potty training, the first thing to go are pants.  People often ask me about the resulting messes, but in my opinion cleaning poopy pants is waaaay worse than scooping poop off the floor. Of course there will be accidents, but its really not a big deal.

Its unfair and unrealistic to expect a 2 year old to know how to remove pants, especially when the urge to pee is looming.  Going pantless frees the little one from wrangling with pants and undies.  Its a quicker way to build confidence in this new skill!

4. Set a routine: When we’re potty training, certain activities always trigger a stop at the toilet:

Leaving the house

Returning to the house

Before a meal

After a meal

Before a bath

Whenever they want something

The last one is perhaps the most effective.  Kid wants to watch a movie? Go potty first. Kid wants a snack? Go potty first. Kid wants to blow bubbles/color/play with toys/make cookies/etc? GO POTTY FIRST.  Its a sneaky incentive.

5. Don’t offer bribes: I know many people swear by the M&M method (“Go potty and you’ll get an M&M!”), but I couldn’t disagree with it more.  It might be effective in helping older kids potty train, but I think its entirely unnecessary for kids under the age of 2.

As point #2 above makes clear, going to the bathroom is a normal part of life.  Kids don’t get a treat for breathing air or drinking water or going to bed at night, so they don’t deserve a treat for going potty in a toilet.

6. Don’t stress: I often hear parents say they don’t want to start potty training because its too much stress for their kids.  In our experience potty training is only stressful if the parents make it so. There will be accidents; clean them up.  There will be resistance from an exhausted toddler; manage it kindly. There will be some extra laundry; do it. The second a parent stresses about it is the moment a toddler stresses about it.  So stay cool.

7. Don’t use Pull-Ups: Let’s be honest: Pull-Ups are diapers.  They serve the same purpose as diapers. They look and feel like diapers. They are a crutch, and, in my opinion, they were invented to keep families addicted to the disposable diaper industry.

8. Use Real Words: Potty training is a great time to start using real words with your kid.  I never say “Time to tinkle in the potty.” or “Do you have to go pee-pee from your wee-wee?”.  Keep it simple. Toilet/Potty/Poo/Butt will suffice.

Potty training is also a natural time for kids to be curious about their anatomy, so start saying vagina and penis and don’t freak out about those words.

9. Be a Model: Leave the door open when you use the bathroom, and let your little ones watch if they feel so inclined.  I’m not suggesting you put on a big show, but if you’re not shy about it they won’t be either.  As I said, going to the bathroom is a normal, natural part of life so don’t be embarrassed!

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3 Comments for this entry

  1. Becky says:

    We are in the midst of potty training and we are using the same methods. No accidents today! Any tips for getting kids comfortable with doing #2 in the toilet? We have yet to get that one down.

    • Maureen says:

      My kids always appreciated at least a modicum of privacy when doing #2. So, leave the door open but walk out of the bathroom. Also, little books to read while sitting on the toilet seemed to be a good way to keep them seated.

      Good luck!!

  2. Clicked through your link on the Cheers fb page. Great article! My son is just starting to ask about the potty although he usually asks right AFTER he goes. 🙂 He just turned 20 months this week. (We do cloth too). Yep, I wasn’t ready to do the planning but I think it’s about time!

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