When should your child start potty learning? Pressure from family members, daycare or other parents is never the right way to approach decisions about starting potty, or any other parenting decision. Parenting decisions are unique to each family. The readiness method of potty learning (preschool age potty) is the most prevalent in North America but is not right for everyone. People look at behavioral lists of readiness to see when the child is ready but these lists online are sponsored by the Pull-Ups company which was created not to teach potty but to keep your child in diapers longer ($$). There is more to consider with the age of potty learning than just the child’s meeting a list of behavioral qualifications. Here are some very good practical and respectful reasons some families I work with decide to start potty earlier:
Agency! Does your child squirm from diaper changes? Babies and tots over 12 months need to feel useful and in control of their circumstances and surroundings. Proponents of the readiness method that worry teaching potty early will be psychological damaging may be conflating the age of potty learning with harsh methods of potty learning. In fact, potty can be done “early” with much less of the coercion, reward and punishment that people eventually wind up enacting on their “stubborn / aversive” potty learning preschoolers. MDs and potty authors will say “Don’t work on potty if your child is in a willful, “No” stage.” Unfortunately that can last from 15 months to 6 years. What if potty learning was started before that stage, during a receptive, connecting stage? If we are really concerned with child development and age appropriateness in toddlerhood, I believe we should consider how appropriate doing diaper changes to our children is, chasing them and holding them down rather than allowing them to develop a sense of agency by sitting on the potty. Your baby hates diaper changes? Some kids will protest diaper changes AND potty learning but would you rather fight that fight or put your creative parent energy toward a lifelong skill?
(P.S. A great way to begin potty learning and gain a sense of agency is the Montessori method of potty learning where all diaper changes happen in the bathroom and the baby stands against you as soon as he can stand and you ask him to help with the diaper change by lifting a leg, handing a wipe etc!)
Baby Takes the Diaper Off: Your child just does not like wearing a diaper. They are plastic, uncomfortable, make movement more difficult, they are hot and sweaty, naked feels free. Go with what your child is saying. Great, be naked at home and learn to use the potty.
Recurrent Diaper Rash. You can try a bunch of creams, cut out certain foods but the only way to fully get rid of diaper rash for good is to get rid of diapers. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same result is the definition of insanity. Try something different. End the diapers. Some worry that early potty is forcing and disrespectful, but I believe allowing recurrent diaper rash to go on is also not respectful. Not ready to take on potty? Do as much naked time as possible. It is a great precursor to potty learning and a great way to fix or lessen rash.
She Plays with Her Poop: Lots of children do this and so it is totally normal but It is gross and not hygienic for the entire family! Maybe they want your attention (you really do that cool freak out thing when she smears poop on the floor!) or maybe poop is just fascinating. Another way to see and explore excrement is to put it in the potty and talk about it. Another way to get parental attention is to sit in the bathroom together and read books and sing songs on the potty. It may be time to start potty learning.
Frequent Urinary tract infections? These are sometimes related to bacteria overgrowth in the diaper environment. Diapers worn too long, are coated in plastic, and extra warm because of that and not breathable.
You can’t afford diapers anymore. The average age of completion of potty learning is 3 years and 2 months of age. The average length of time it takes in the US to potty train with the readiness method is one year from beginning to skillful. The average disposable diaper using family spends $3200 total on diapers before the toddler has learned potty. Cloth diapering families spend $1750 or less, but often less because cloth diapered children can feel when they are wet and are more likely to complete potty learning earlier. There is nothing disrespectful or coercive about teaching your child a new skill that will save your family money.
It is hygienic. We don’t say “my child will learn how to wash her hands when she is ready.” or “My child won’t have a bath until she decides for herself to get clean.” We want our skin to stay fairly clean for health reasons. We teach this skill and provide opportunities until it is learned. Teaching hygiene is a parental responsibility related to protecting our children’s health and setting them up for success in our culture. We have excellent diaper disposal and plumbing in the western world but in places where hygiene is more of a challenge, diapers need to be done with as soon as possible because it is harder to bathe the baby after sitting in poop, and diaper disposal is hard to come by and against WHO code guidelines. In fact even in the U.S. it is technically illegal to dispose of diapers in landfills because of water contamination. (We are supposed to put the poop in the toilet and bag the diapers up in the bag they came in). The World Health Organization encourages families with less access to health care and trash disposal to get children out of diapers as soon as possible.
It feels right to you. I work with families who do earlier start potty, later preschool potty, and elimination communication. Though I love and advocate for earlier potty, I do not feel that it is the right decision for every family. I don’t really have feelings of judgment because I feel that for the most part parents are doing what is best for their own family and most children do just fine with later potty! A parent that does not have the time to help focus on teaching potty skills, had doubts about early start potty, is overwhelmed with a new baby or job or is scared or disinterested should probably wait until something changes.
You are ready. You, the parent. Readiness as a method of potty learning began slowly in the 60’s with Dr. Brazelton who was influenced heavily by Freud. Before then, most children were done with potty learning in the US by 14 months. 80% of the world is done with potty learning by 18 months. Toileting was never considered something a child had to be ready for. However, it does require some effort to teach these skills and young children are sensitive beings that pick up on everything you feel. Are you chomping at the bit to get it done or nervous it won’t go well? Or can you go into potty learning with an open heart, patience and a desire to make potty about connection and quality time? They call me the potty coach but really it’s … are you ready to start potty and be a potty coach?
Why do I consider the parent being ready as respectful to the child? I sincerely believe that children thrive with implementing change (gentle sleep changes, setting boundaries) when the parent feels ready, able, confident, secure and especially clear. The child will pick up on this and inherit a sense of safety and ease about the project. But wait – didn’t that one doctor say earlier potty learning and elimination communication was dangerous? Yes, just one doc did and it has been all over the news and has made him a lot of money. Here is what I have to say about that.
So WHEN? Some people do elimination communication beginning at birth. That’s awesome. Any time is hygienic and safe as long as you do it gently. I love starting between 10 and 18 months. I call it the “Age of Communication” where they can sign the “potty/toilet” sign, use a word or otherwise tell us so that we can help them get to the potty fast. They can also crawl or walk onto the potty!
Check out My DIY Online Potty Savvy Program as well as private consulting packages are HERE. There is something to support everyone from 10 months to potty challenges at 4 years.
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