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Early Potty Training

I’m looking ahead a couple of months to potty training my second baby, and I wanted to share this piece I wrote for a friend on the experience of doing early potty training with my first child.

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When I brought home my first baby, I pictured potty training as this distant, feared event that would happen way in the future, like when my daughter was between 2 and 3 years old. My sister had scared me with stories of her 3-yr old daughter’s potty strike. The idea that training could happen before that never even occurred to me before a friend of mine mentioned that she had begun training her daughter at 7 months. I was shocked and, frankly, I thought it must be some kind of weird hippie thing. But when she said her now 15-mth old daughter had stopped pooping in her diaper a month after they started training and now communicated when she needed to go, I was intrigued. Also appealing—the money saved from diapers and wipes and the decrease in landfill waste. But I still didn’t think it was for me; it sounded too time-consuming and I am NOT a patient person.

What changed my mind was observing how my daughter’s elimination behavior changed over the next several months. At nine months old, she was waking up dry in the morning and after naps. She was regularly having bowel movements after breakfast and/or lunch. She was also becoming extremely fussy and impatient during diaper changes. Temperament-wise, she was generally just very sweet and receptive to anything new we tried. All of these circumstances made me decide to try to train her “early.” I decided to wait another couple months, however, because we had a couple big trips planned and I didn’t want an added stressor. In the meantime, I read Diaper-Free Before Three, by Jill Lekovic, and found I agreed with most of what she said. I became even more determined, even excited, to get started as soon as possible.

I’d like to point out that although I thought I was training her early—and I guess I am in relation to most Americans—as I learned from my readings, it’s still quite a late start compared to the rest of the world. America has the oldest average potty training age in the whole world! I think it’s because we perpetuate the myth of “readiness” (even though many children develop voluntary control of their bowels and bladder in the first year of life) so we can take advantage of the convenience of diapers as long as possible. It’s just unfair though—unfair to the kid, to the parent, and to the environment (and I’m not even a tree-hugger).

11 months old

At eleven months old, Paige was solidly standing and walking fairly well. I bought her the Baby Bjorn potty chair, recommended in Dr. Lekovic’s book as the best. I did try setting her up on the actual toilet at first, but she was scared. I know a lot of people think little potties are gross (I used to be one of them) because you have to dump them out and wipe them out with a disinfectant in between uses, but the Baby Bjorn has a great design and minimizes the “ick” factor. And more importantly, it was comfortable for her. She liked sitting on the potty chair—at times, it almost seemed like it was a reading armchair for her.

I sat her on the potty for the first time after breakfast, and she peed and pooped almost immediately. I clapped and cheered and said “pee-pee” and “poo-poo” and “potty” to try to help her associate the words with the actions. I was very encouraged by her response. I also put her on the potty after her nap that day, and she peed. The next day, I had less success, but I told myself that the purpose at this point is just to familiarize her with the potty, get her comfortable on it, and start making it part of her daily routine. We continued on—whenever I saw her making her “I’m doing my business” face, I’d scoop her up and literally race for the potty. If necessary, I’d interrupt a meal to take her, then finish feeding her afterward. Sometimes I caught her just before, sometimes in the middle of the act—whereupon she’d finish on the potty, and sometimes she’d already be done. It didn’t matter, though. The point was just having her associate the act with the place.

We spent the next several weeks making “potty time” part of the daily routine. I took her when she woke up in the morning and after naps and also after she ate. That was pretty much it—I wasn’t worried about catching every pee at this point. She still wore diapers any time she wasn’t on the potty. The key at this early stage is to make it a positive experience. I put a box of books and a couple toys in the bathroom that were just for potty time, and it really helped settle her down when she might have otherwise jumped off the potty and took off down the hall.

12 months old

By her first birthday, she stopped pooping in her diaper. Just like that. She decided it was much more comfortable to do it on her potty. She always had her bowel movements after eating a snack or a meal, so as long as one of us took her, she would go. Since then, the only #2 accidents have been when she was sick or when someone failed to take her to the potty—maybe 4 or 5 poopy diapers in all.

13 months old

At the beginning of her thirteenth month, we took a vacation to Florida. I wanted to be able to keep up with the training, so I bought a travel potty, the Potette Plus, which I highly recommend. It’s extremely portable and sturdy, and can convert to either a potty chair or a toddler toilet seat (we’ve used it as both and it’s great). She continued to poop in this travel potty throughout the visit, but usually peed in her diaper since we were on such a crazy schedule and didn’t take her to the bathroom routinely. When we returned from vacation, she didn’t seem to have lost any ground in training, however, which is consistent with what I’ve read.

About mid-way through the month, we decided to get a little more regular (no pun intended) about taking her to the bathroom and a little more serious about the training. Bathroom visits could also last longer because she was more tolerant about sitting since she was accustomed to it. Sometimes she would sit on the potty as long as 10-15 minutes before her sphincter muscles relaxed enough for her to go. We read books and sang songs or played silly games. In many ways, potty training has helped us tremendously in terms of the amount she’s read to—it’s probably quadrupled the time.

14 months old

When she was 14 months old, we spent two weeks visiting my parents in North Dakota. They were both very supportive of her potty training and would take her to the bathroom sometimes. Neither was very keen, however, on using her potty chair because they didn’t want to have to dump it and clean it out. They had a toddler toilet seat insert that they used with Paige’s older cousins, so one day my mom set my daughter up on the big toilet. She peed almost immediately and seemed delighted by the sound of the pee hitting the water. For the next few days, she would alternate between wanting to do her business on the toilet vs. the potty chair. Sometimes she preferred the potty chair because it allowed her to brace her feet for a bowel movement. But one day, I set her on her potty chair and she jumped off it immediately and started to climb up on the toilet. That was when I knew her preference had changed and clean-up would be even faster—just flush!

15 months old

At 15 months, we stopped diapers cold-turkey, with the exception of overnight, just in case. She would wake up dry in the morning 98% of the time, but it was added insurance. We put her in Gerber’s cotton training pants in the 18-month size—the smallest available. If we left the house, we put a waterproof cover (either the Potty Scotty brand or the Dappi brand) on over it. I’d read in multiple sources that disposable pull-ups delay potty training because they are too absorbent and similar to diapers.

The cotton training pants allowed her to really learn the difference between wetness and dryness and it was when we made this crucial switch that she started to make a lot of progress. In a week’s time, she went from wetting 8 pairs of pants in a day to just 1 or 2 pairs of pants. She began to say “pee pee” and “poo poo” regularly while she was doing the deed. If she wet her pants while she was playing, she would come running, clutch at her pants, and say “pee pee”—an indicator mentioned in one text that potty “graduation” is near. Half-way through the month, she began to point to the bathroom and chatter urgently if she needed to go during a meal. Even at the babysitter’s house, she would communicate when she had to go by clutching at her pants. She also definitely began to “hold it”—when we would go shopping, she would wait until we got home and sat her on the toilet before she would release. If necessary, she would use a public restroom—I carried the Potette Plus in my bag and set it up on the toilet.

I also decided to let her go bare-bottomed for a few hours at a time while at home. All the books I’d read recommended it and we had a lot of tile, so I decided to go for it. It was useful in teaching her to control her elimination muscles; if she began to pee on the tile, she would look down at it, and I would say, “No—pee pee goes in the potty” and she would stop going on the tile and hold the rest of the urine until I had conveyed her to the toilet.

A notable success this month was this exchange: we were getting ready to leave the house and it’d been a while since she’d gone, so I took her in to pee. She refused to sit down and pee, so I was very frustrated, because I knew she’d pee in the car. She could tell something was bugging me and patted my face. I looked up and said, “Pee pee?” She said, “Pee pee!” then went over to her little potty chair, sat down by herself, and peed immediately. The light bulb was on! We kept her potty chair in the bathroom even after she regularly began to use the toilet for this exact reason—so she could relieve herself without assistance. Teaching her to be more autonomous in the process was definitely a big part of this month’s training. Since we made the switch to training pants, we didn’t have to lay her down on the floor to change her diaper like a baby—instead, she would sit on a lap and help to pull on her pants, or she would stand while we pulled them up.

Laurie Boucke defines total potty independence as “when baby stays dry day and night on a regular basis.” By that definition, we’re almost there. At month’s end, she is telling us when she needs to go or holding it until a potty visit. I hope for even fewer accidents over the next weeks and months.

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Conclusion

I am so very glad I did this. You can take a look at my list of pros and cons below, but seriously, it’s just so much better for both parent and child that I honestly can’t imagine waiting another YEAR or two to do this. Best of all, my relationship with my daughter has strengthened immeasurably through this experience because we’ve had to learn to communicate so much more closely. We’ve also spent a lot of time together reading books, singing songs, and playing games that, frankly, probably wouldn’t have happened otherwise. I get busy around the house and sometimes I wouldn’t pay her the attention she deserved. Potty training changed that.

If I had to do it all again—which I do, because I’m having another baby—I would start putting the child on the potty chair a little bit sooner; my daughter was very patient in the beginning, but she had also just learned to walk, so sometimes she was too antsy to sit for more than a minute, and it takes time for the necessary muscles to relax. I think, for her, it would have been better to start around the nine-month mark when she could sit down and stand up again with ease, but still not walk. I’m hoping that since we started fairly enough, she won’t regress when my next baby is born.

I will also be easier on myself; as a perfectionist, I mentally beat myself up in the beginning if she didn’t go in her potty. Now I realize that potty training is a process, not an event, and it takes time for kids to unlearn something we have taught them (to go whenever they feel like it).

As far as pros and cons in my experience with potty training early:

Pros

Bonding time between parent and child

Money saved

Environmental burden lessened

Child independence

No manipulation or bribery

No battle of wills

Cons

Time intensive

Outings require more forethought

Less convenient than diapers

More patience required

Need cooperation of spouse/babysitters/caregivers

The books I’ve read and referenced throughout are:

Diaper-Free Before Three by Jill Lekovic: This one was my favorite because it seemed most in tune with today’s modern American parent. It recognizes the value of diapers the first several months but advocates getting the child on a potty chair when he/she can sit stably. I think I liked it best because it matched my thought process most closely.

Early Start Potty Training by Linda Sonna: I also like this text because it does a good job addressing potty training at many different ages, from very young to older toddlers. Good research and stats as well.

Infant Potty Training by Laurie Boucke: This is really the book that started the whole early/infant potty training movement in America. It’s fairly long and is exquisitely researched from a cross-cultural standpoint. You get to read about potty training in Africa, Australia, Asia, etc. This text’s approach, however, was too extreme for me personally—it advocates potty training from birth, or at the very least, in the first few months of life. As in holding a bowl under your newborn so he/she can eliminate. Too much for me, but I do see the value in it, and the book certainly debunks the mainstream American idea of readiness. Babies are born ready. It’s the parents that teach them to sit in their own waste.

2 Responses to “Early Potty Training”

  1. Hey Liz just checking out your blog. I have been thinking about starting Tailey but was wondering wear did you get your training pants, I have only seen panties and they are too big. Thanks Kristen

  2. Gerber makes training pants in an 18-mth size that have a thick middle layer sewn in to catch small accidents–that’s what I used until Paige was about 2 yrs old. They are available from Amazon. I would recommend a waterproof cover for when you go out, though.

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