So...I'm been "potty-training" my 17-month old this past week. I put potty-training in quotes, because that is a very loose term for what we are doing. Really, she has just been learning about the potty, what it's for and how to use it. And, lest you think I push my kids to early independence, she is still nursing and cosleeping and I've never had a kid wean before age 3 (but rest assured, they've all been weaned by age 4). But, when it comes to potty-training, I do like to do things on the earlier side of "normal."
With my oldest, I didn't start potty-training until the "normal" time of about 2.75 years. It never even occurred to me to start younger. Most of the moms I knew in playgroup started potty-training sometime between age 2.5 and 3. Some found it easy. Others really, really struggled. There were the few kids who outright refused to use the potty or refused to poop in the potty. Actually, poop-refusal seemed to be pretty common among later potty trainers. Yes, they all did eventually potty-train, but for some it was easier than others and some dragged it out really late.
With my 2nd, I started at about 23.5 months. We did have some resistance and issues (same as with my oldest), but it was a bit easier, and since we were using cloth diapers full-time, it was great not having to wash so many diapers. She was out of diapers full time (during the day) by around 25 months.
With my 3rd, I started at 21.5 months and he was by far the easiest. Not sure if that is because he is a boy (and has a bigger bladder), but he has had the fewest accidents and learned the quickest and earliest without any potty issues. He was completely out of diapers by 23 months and rarely had accidents. `
With my 4th, I just started a week ago, right at 17 months. And, I still expect her to be in diapers for quite some time...and that's okay. I'm not pushing to get her out of diapers now...just to get her used to the potty and occasionally peeing or pooping in it. Just so she gets used to the concept and over time, I expect her to gradually use it more and more.
What about Potty Readiness?
When my second was a baby, I stumbled upon the idea of elimination communication. Actually, I had heard about it earlier, but just sorta blew it off. Anyway, if you're not familiar with it, elimination communication is basically a technique that "trains' the parent to recognize the baby's elimination cues and hold them over the potty or someplace to have them eliminate in, rather than in a diaper. It is basically what they do in third world counties and what they did a real long time ago when you had to hand-wash diapers because there is nothing like the motivation of hand-washing diapers to encourage potty-training.
Anyway, learning about elimination communication (although I never really did it) got me re-thinking the concept of "potty-readiness" and waiting until age 2.5. And, then I started thinking about puppies and kittens and bunnies and horses.. I don't think my 1-year old is a genius, but I'm pretty sure she's at least as smart as a rabbit, and rabbits can pretty easily be litter box trained. In fact, if you spend any time observing animals, you will learn that most of them naturally eliminate in a certain spot...in a certain corner of the yard, in a litter box, or even just in one corner of their stall (horses). Control of those bodily functions seems to be pretty basic, even to animals.
And, if you observe babies and young toddlers, you will see something similar. Most actually do have an awareness of their elimination. For the last several months, my 1-year would come to me right after pooping and start whining. She knew she had gone and she wanted to be changed. Many toddlers will go hide under tables or go in corners or squat down to poop. Most parents get pretty adept at recognizing "the pooping face". You know *that face*. I know you know what I'm talking about. Peeing is a bit harder, but if you are really observant you can see signs of that too. You can see a short momentary pause in their play, a brief stare off into space, sometimes a quiet grunt.
So, I sorta think that the whole concept of potty readiness was made up by diaper companies to sell more diapers. Especially, since back in my grandmother's days, early potty training was the norm. It's really only the convenience of disposable diapers and washing machine/ dryers (for those who use cloth) that make late potty training possible.
Why One-Year Olds?
I like to start potty-training sometimes between 1 and 2 years of age for a few reasons.
One-year olds are really into imitation. If you give her shoes, she'll put them on and start walking. If you give her a bowl and spoon, she'll start mixing. If you give her a hairbrush, she'll brush her hair. If you give her a cell phone, she'll "talk" on it. If you give her a crayon, she'll "write" with it. If you give her a fork, she'll eat with it. So, I like to take advantage of that natural inclination and run with it.
One-year olds are not as willful. Two-year olds and three-year olds can be stubborn. Some potty train easily, but some refuse just because they can. So, really the real reason that I like to potty-train early is to get the idea of using the potty firmly entrenched in their brain and normal routine before the willful two-year old stage. I just feel it makes things easier...at least for me. Because I'm not a fan of power struggles and don't have the fortitude to deal with them, so I try to just avoid them as much as possible.
Diapers are gross. Kinda anyway, I just think it's a bit more hygienic to use the potty, Even if just occasionally, that's one less wet or poopy diaper sitting on their skin.
We use cloth: I'm not worried about taking cloth diapers on and off to put them on the potty or wasting diapers, Plus, less diapers to wash and having to wash less frequently (even if we are still using diapers) is always a bonus.
First..I start by just getting them used to sitting on the potty. I encourage sitting on it (bare bummed) at every diaper change.
Next...I get then to pee in it. I start by sticking them on the potty as soon as they wake up in the morning or after a nap. They almost always go in the potty then. Everyone has to pee when they first wake up...toddlers too. So first thing in the morning is a great time to put them on the potty.
After that..I put them on the potty semi regularly or not...depending on our schedule and what is going on. I don't sweat it. They still wear diapers, but I periodically check their diaper throughout the day and if it's dry and has been for the last hour or so....I stick them on the potty.
To help them pee...I strip them down naked, stick the potty in the bathtub and have them sit on the potty with warm water running over their legs. It's the old sleepover trick...or why you always have to pee as soon as you start washing the dishes.
If I see them pooping, I stick them on.
Repeat...day after day after day. It may take several weeks or even months, but eventually they start to use the potty more and more and the diaper less. Since I keep them in diapers or absorbent underwear this whole time, the entire process is pretty low stress and not really any more work than just changing diapers. If we are busy and on the go, I don't worry about it and just catch that first morning pee. If we're home more, I stick them on the potty more. The whole point of training early is to just get them used to the potty and the concept and the idea of using it before they get willful and refuse to use it. I try not to stress over it or worry over it. We celebrate the successes and ignore the "failures". I suppose my long-term goal would be to have her out of diapers (during the day) by age 2.
This is just what I do. I'm not saying it's the right way or the best way. And who knows, maybe we'll have to pay for therapy later on? Although I do think that when it comes to potty issues, it's the method that cause trauma, not the age. Harsh methods, punishments, shaming...that's all bad no matter what age it is done. I think starting early or waiting until later is fine, as long as it is done gently. Whatever works for you. This is just what I've found works for us...starting early and taking the long road. I could not do the "stay home for a week, intensive potty-training thing" For me, it works better to start early and take it slow and gradual. But, if waiting until later works for you....that's great. Because ultimately, they do all eventually figure it out.
What about the research? A quick Internet search shows some mixed articles on early versus late potty training. Actually, most of the articles against early potty training come from one particular doctor, and when he talks about early, he is talking about before age THREE. Three! Which seems pretty late to me. His theory is that problems occur when children chronically hold their pee and poop. The problem is that even diapered babies hold their poop....at least mine do...they never poop when in public. They always do it at home. And, other articles talk about how children who train later (after 32 months) are more likely to have bladder problems. So, pick who you believe. Personally, I'm more inclined to go with the "old-fashioned' way which is earlier training, since that makes the most logical sense to me. But, you choose what makes sense to you. I'm writing this just to share we we do, just in case it might help someone..and because everyone likes to read about pee and poop...right?