Are You Ready to Potty?

“Boop? Boop?”

“Yup, BabyC. Mama’s pooping.”

BabyC watched me on the potty. Then she pointed to her diaper. She wanted to go, too. I helped her wiggle out of her shorts and unsnap her cloth diaper. She sat down on the potty and did a little butt scoot to get comfortable.

We sat in silence for two seconds. Then BabyC hopped up to check the contents of her potty. Nope, nothing yet. She sat back down.

I sang a little made-up potty song to the tune of Frere Jacques (my go-to for made up songs):

Poop, poop, poop, poop

Pee, pee, pee, pee

Poop, poop, poop! Poop, poop, poop!

Pee-ee, pee-ee, pee pee! Pee-ee, pee-ee, pee pee!

Poop. Poop. Poop. Poop. Poop. Poop.

(In an alternate version, I substitute “psss, psss” and fart noises (how on earth do you write those?) for pee and poop, respectively. It’s OK to be impressed with me right now.)

BabyC continued to hop up and down to check her progress on the potty, then to grab a magazine, then to trade it out for a better one. The hardest thing about learning to use the potty is the sitting still part.

She did poop eventually. “All done, BabyC?” I asked. (I had finished looooong ago.)

“Naa,” she said, nonchalantly.

And so we sat, for 20 more minutes, singing and reading. BabyC was right – she wasn’t done. She needed more time, and kudos to her for knowing it. Three poops later, she finally announced, “All done!”

It was epic, I tell you. What made it most impressive was that this was BabyC’s first time on the potty in a couple of months.

BabyC’s interest in the potty started in May, when we went on vacation with friends who have a little boy 6 months older than BabyC. He was learning to use the potty at the time, so we spent a lot of time hanging out in the bathroom with him. BabyC was clearly impressed with her friend’s toilet competency. Inspired by him, she peed in the toilet several times on that trip.

When we got home, she continued to ask to be held on the toilet. After a couple of days of holding her while she balanced on a full-size toilet, I went out and bought her a potty chair. She was into it – using the potty several times per day for peeing and occasional poops. We got into a little routine of going at particular times of the day, but I didn’t feel like we were anywhere near ditching diapers.

To be honest, when we first started experimenting with the potty, I had really mixed feelings about it. Even though BabyC was interested and able to eliminate on the potty, she was most interested in examining the poop and pee that she produced. I didn’t want to make a big deal of it, and I knew it was natural for her to be curious. Still, it was hard for me to not react when she pooped, then turned around and stuck her toe in it. Or peed and then picked up the potty and dumped it on the floor. I’m sure that the stress I felt as I tried to explain basic principles of hygiene to my then 18-month-old riled BabyC as well. It came as no surprise when one day she suddenly had zero interest on the potty. (And this disinterest also coincided with another trip, so that may have had something to do with it.)

I was a little relieved, and I also knew that we’d both be more ready next time she showed interest. (It’s funny how everyone talks about a child’s signs of readiness for potty learning. How about Mama’s? I’m not sure I was ready…) I decided that we’d use the break to work on our hand-washing protocol. Once that was in place, I felt like I could handle the toilet antics with less angst.

We got BabyC a cool little stepstool for the sink and one of these faucet extenders so that she could reach the water. BabyC and I got into the habit of washing our hands together after I changed her diapers. She loved “rub-rub” and often wanted to wash her hands several times in a row. When BabyC returned from her potty hiatus with her epic “boop” session, we were ready for hand washing, too.

I haven’t changed a poopy diaper in two weeks, and BabyC pees on the potty a couple of times per day. Still, I don’t think I’m changing any fewer wet diapers, and I don’t think we’re ready to ditch them. Maybe I should be more gung-ho about potty training, but I honestly would rather change a diaper then clean up accidents and change clothes all day if she isn’t really ready yet. I’m not interested in rushing the process.

As for potty hygiene, we’re still working on that. BabyC is obsessed with toilet paper. She’s really excited about wiping herself, but then she also wants to smell the toilet paper and even occasionally run it over her hair. Oy. I’m still working on keeping my voice neutral as I ask her to put the toilet paper in the potty.

Husband is actually proving to be the better potty companion for BabyC. He is happy to hang out in the bathroom with her and seems to have more patience with the process. He also uses their time together to introduce BabyC to the fun of adjectives.

Next time she poops, BabyC announces, “BIG boop!


Coincidently, when I sat down at my computer this morning, I found a Pubmed alert for a paper [1] entitled, “Readiness Signs Used to Define the Proper Moment to Start Toilet Training: A Review of the Literature.” (Funny, because the paper is actually a few months old.) In their review, the authors search the literature for studies on signs of readiness for potty learning. They identify a full 21 signs and then place them onto the span of normal child development, only to conclude that readiness to start working on the potty could occur anytime between 1 and 36 months, depending on which and how many signs you were looking for. This paper agreed with others that I’ve read over the last few months – I just haven’t gotten organized enough to put together a research-based post on potty learning. Basically, the research offers very little help when it comes to determining the best time to learn potty skills. There’s no strong evidence that starting on the early side or waiting until later will do harm.

The authors of this most recent paper conclude:

“In the past 60 years, the Western world saw an evolution towards a later TT (toilet training) start, which causes economical, environmental, social, and health problems. Nowadays, there is no consensus about when to start TT. Currently, most authors agree that it is best to wait until the child shows signs of toilet readiness before starting TT. Yet, there is no consensus nor evidence-based research on which or how many readiness signs to use for judging on a child’s readiness for TT. Twenty-one readiness signs were suggested in the literature of the past 60 years. Depending on the readiness sign, the moment to start TT can vary a lot.”

I think this may be one of those parenting decisions where science doesn’t offer much in the way of guidance, and our best bet is to follow our kids’ leads and our own intuition about what they’re ready for.

Much more helpful than any science I’ve read on this topic is Lisa Sunbury’s post, Toilet Learning Made Easy. Rereading this made me feel a lot more relaxed about the whole process, and when it comes to potty time, relaxation is key.

Experienced parents, please share your potty stories! When did you know it was time to make the leap out of diapers and into underwear? Did you take it slow or did you jump on the chance to get out of diapers ASAP? And when do kids finally comprehend that poop is not to be played with?!


1. Kaerts, N., et al., Readiness signs used to define the proper moment to start toilet training: a review of the literature. Neurourol Urodyn, 2012. 31(4): p. 437-40.

36 thoughts on “Are You Ready to Potty?

  1. I am at the same stage with my 22 month old now. She was really into it a couple months ago but it’s died off. She goes when it’s convenient for her but says no many times too! She sure enjoys looking at mommy and daddy’s poop…she always says “see” and “big”. Ha ha!! Great blog!


  2. We’re also working on it (he’s 25 months), and he has the sitting down (and reading) part down, but doesn’t go. He likes to sit and read. It’s okay to do it on the potty without pants or diaper. I’ve just read a series of articles by an Israeli pediatrician (who admits she is going against the prevailing wisdom) that believes that potty training should start early and that it’s more about parents readiness than child: if you’re ready, are consistent, have empathy and show firmness, you will teach your toddler to do it. She believes in putting them in underwear from the start, so they feel what happens, and not saying “it’s okay” when there’s an accident – she recommends saying “oh, too bad, but next time you’ll get to do it in the potty”, thus expressing disappointment, telling the toddler this shouldn’t happen, but not being angry, and belief that they can do this. I’m not sure I buy into it, but we’re setting aside labor day weekend to try the no-diaper thing. I too am not happy about cleaning accident, but we have a reason to want to get him out of diapers, at least for poop: he does not like changing diapers, and has gotten very good about doing his poop when not watched (easier as he gets more independent) and hiding it… and he has very sensitive skin and gets a very red bottom if we don’t catch it early enough. So I think we are going to try and push on the toilet training (not coerce, but aggressively promote), because it hurts him, and I am not willing to have him suffer through repeated exercises of this.


    • The diaper rash issue definitely sounds like a factor to consider. You might also consider that solving that wouldn’t require getting fully potty trained if her resists that at this stage. BabyC seems to quite enjoy pooping on the potty and has done all of her poops there for the last few weeks, but she definitely doesn’t have the pee part down. Like so many things, this just seems so child-dependent. Some take well to a more aggressive and fast approach and some need to go slower. I wish I had more advice, but I’ve told you all of my limited experience so far!


  3. I actually like a lot of what oh. crap. Potty Training ( says. I do think both my boys (yes! boys!) showed a lot of readiness around 18 months, and I simply wasn’t ready to follow up. I finally did TT at 30mo with my first, and it was pretty smooth. At 24.5mo, I honestly think I waited overly long with my second. I think we’re going to have a few behavior issues that he and I will have to negotiate along with the “twos”. He has most of the “readiness” signs, I just have to take the plunge of SLOOOOWING down and going at his pace for a couple weeks (read: no traipsing about the area, going here and there!)


  4. Having muddled through this three time now, and with one to go, I totally agree that it’s more about mum’s (and dad’s) readiness than the child’s. I”m sure each of my kids could have been trained earlier had I not been pregnant / looking after a newborn / waiting until Summer. I’m sure that a child’s readiness comes in waves, and I’ve missed a wave or two in the past because of my own lack of readiness. This has meant that they’ve each been nearing their third birthday when fully trained. That can be hard on a pride level when surrounded by 18 month olds in undies, but I’ve learnt to swallow that pride and go with what works for us. My other theory is that if you wait until they’re really ready then it will be way less stressful and all over within a week or two, rather than dragging on for months. And once you start in undies, resolve to get out the mops and disinfectant and stay in them full time during the day for a solid week or so before deciding you’re all not ready and to try again later. Hard when you duck out to the shops and come back to find that daddy has put a nappy on baby because he faltered after one measly little accident. Aaargh!

    I’ve also noticed that there is a big difference between toilet timing and toilet training. Lots of the younger children I’ve seen in undies seem to be able to stay dry because their mums are super-aware of their habits and know when to pop them on a potty. This is especially the case with poos. In my case, each child has gone through a stage where they’ve been dry for weeks, but only because I’ve been so paranoid of wet undies that I’ve stuck them on the potty every half hour. They’ve known how to wee on command, but this is very different from knowing when they need to go and letting me know themselves. So a week or so into things I assume we’re done and stop all the reminders, and lo and behold… Wet undies! That’s when the real training starts.

    As for night training, that’s a whole other story, and one I would love to hear the literature on. Some kids do this simultaneously with day training, and others (like mine) take years longer. It’s one thing to train a conscious child to do something, and another all together to train unconscious one!!!


    • Thanks for your comment – so much interesting stuff here! Toilet readiness comes in waves – yes, I’ve seen that! And parents need to be ready, too – yup seen that too! I have to think that so much of how this goes for our kids depends on our attitudes. If I’m fretting about pee on the floor or poop on her foot, then she’s not going to want to work on potty more – it just isn’t fun. We send so many messages to our kids just through tension in our bodies and our voices, and I’m quite sure they pick up on it more than we realize! And I can definitely see the difference between toilet timing and total toilet independence. BabyC seems really tuned into her poops but doesn’t seem to mind peeing in her diaper at all, and even with frequent reminders, I think she just can’t be bothered to go sit and pee on the potty many times per day.


  5. I still get frustrated when Elliott throws her food on the floor. I’m definitely not ready for potty training. Thanks for the funny (and (as always) informative) post!


  6. I don’t need to think about this yet with my little one (who is almost 4 mos.). But I learned a lesson watching my aunt go through TT with her first son. She decided that he would tell her when he was ready and wouldn’t force the issue on him until then. Lo, his fourth birthday passed without him ever saying, “Mother, I am interested in using the toilet now.” Soon, school was looming and he was still completely untrained. Panicking, my aunt and uncle tried to rush him through the process, which was all the more difficult since the boy had spent four whole years never even having to think about toilets or his evacuation urges. They got it done, but it was a real battle. Needless to say, she started TT much earlier with her younger sons. Sometimes kids will show clear signs they’re ready to do something, but sometimes they also need a little nudge from mom and dad.


    • Interesting… I can’t imagine going that long without even thinking about toilets! They are an object of fascination for BabyC. It seems inevitable that if you let your baby hang out with you in the bathroom, she’s going to want to know what is going on and to talk about what happens in her diaper. We also use cloth diapers, so she’s been watching me flush her poops down the toilet for a while. It’s like anything else – modeling goes a long way! Another thing that has been on BabyC’s mind lately is babies. Our friends have a newborn, and she talks about his poop all the time. We talk about how he poops in her diaper – a lot – and how she poops in her potty most of the time. She seems quite proud to differentiate herself from the baby right now! I swear, every other conversation in our house has to do with poop these days:)


  7. Usually by around eighteen months your child will start noticing that they have just pooped or peed, often by telling you they’ve pooped or helpfully removing the nappy themselves :-) Noticing AFTER the event is the first sign that the brain is connecting to what the sphincter is doing. Then gradually (often around 2 or 2 1/2yrs but sometimes much later) they will start to recognise the urge with a very short warning time, which is of course when you have a few accidents to mop up. I think that’s why summer is a good time to try, less clothing to get off, and less to wash when they don’t get there in time. I think the most important thing to remember is that ‘readiness’ happens at very different times for each child. I often give the example of my twin nephews, one spent a day trying (at two years) and rarely wore a nappy again (day or night); the other twin took much longer to stop wearing nappies during the day and was still occasionally bedwetting at four. If you sit them on the potty often enough you will have some successes, but this can be stressful for mother and toddler and the child is not truly potty trained until the brain is recognising the urge with a long enough lead time to get to the potty.


  8. I don’t think Mabel is ready. We can tell when she’s pooping and ask her if she wants to use the potty, but the answer is always no.

    The only time she seems really enthused to use the potty is at bed time- as a delay tactic to prolong her get ready for bed routine.

    She starts preschool next month, and doesn’t have to be potty trained. However, I’m hoping that seeing all the other kids using the potty will be some positive peer pressure to encourage her to start potty-training in earnest.

    Here is an article I read a few months ago by a pediatric urologist- making the case for not potty training early.


    • I saw this article, too, and I found his argument very convincing at first. But when BabyC started telling us that she wanted to try the potty, it just seemed wrong to not let her give it a shot. I agree with him that we should be careful not to expect too much too soon, but I don’t agree with the blanket recommendation that all children should wait until 3 to start learning to use the potty. I think it makes the most sense to follow our kids cues and to help them learn to use the toilet at a pace they’re comfortable with, as you are with Mabel.

      BabyC has been holding her poop since her first birthday. She pretty much never goes outside of our home unless we’re really traveling. She chooses a quiet time and place at home. I don’t know if I should be concerned about this, but I’m not sure what I could do to change it. I have always been careful not to use any negative words about her poops. I wonder if kids who start holding young are more likely to train earlier because they appear to be ready but then run into constipation problems later not necessarily because they are potty trained but because they are holding? That would also explain Dr. Hodges’ clinical observations. I did look up his paper, and it doesn’t provide evidence that early training is linked to constipation. It is a case series of 30 patients with bed-wetting for whom laxative therapy solved their problems.

      The main message, I think, is to take care not to attach any shame or other negative connotations with eliminating and accidents and to take on the responsibility of helping our kids with toilet timing for the next few years. Holding can’t be good, but I’m not convinced that putting a kid in underwear causes holding.


  9. We are a long way away from potty training but I eagerly read about others experiences because we want to potty train our guy as early as possible.


  10. Great post! I know the article’s vague, but I think I’ll check it out. My LO’s about to turn one and I want to be ready! Man, I miss having full access to PubMed! The university I currently work for doesn’t have institutional access like my grad school did…


    • Eh, this article wasn’t all that useful in a practical sense. For one, it listed all these signs of readiness found in the literature but didn’t assess any results from using those signs. Just because Dr. Spock (he was one of the sources cited) said xx was a sign of readiness doesn’t mean that is any guarantee for your kid. I’ll let you know if I find more guidance in the scientific literature, though. And I agree – Pubmed access is key! I’m lucky enough to get it through my little teaching appointment:)


  11. We used the three-day method and believe it or not it worked. Our daughter was about 27 months old when we did it and she hadn’t really show a lot of interest in the potty prior to the training. She sat on it every night before her bath but rarely ever went. I read a blog post online outlining the 3-day method, you can buy the book if you’d rather have a detailed approach. Basically we spent the first day in the hallway outside the bathroom with her naked from the waist down. We let her have watered down orange juice at breakfast but other than that she only drinks water and milk so to try to keep her extremely hydrated where she’d have to pee a lot more frequently than normal I gave her a cup of apple juice and tried to encourage her to drink as much of it as she could. I lined the floors with towels and we had stacks of games, books, etc. As soon as she’d start peeing I’d grab her as fast as I could and carry her to the potty. If she peed at all in the potty she got a reward, in our case it was M&M’s. At this age I could tell when she was trying to poop so when she was showing signs we’d do the same routine, I’d grab her and as fast as possible, carry her to the potty and she’d go. She had 3 or 4 accidents the first day and if I hadn’t read in the blog post how frustrating the first day was I would have been pretty hopeless that it was actually going to work. But low and behold by the end of the day she was saying, “I have to go potty” and she’d run to the bathroom. The second day we again stayed in the hallway and she didn’t have a single accident, she told me when she needed to go and we’d go. Third day, same thing. We didn’t use diapers at naptime or at night, just went completely cold turkey. She will wet the bed occasionally at night but has been pretty much accident free in the daytime ever since, even at daycare. I’m sure it depends very heavily on the kid and the timing but this method worked great for us and I’d highly recommend it.


    • Hi Holly! Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m not in a hurry to get BabyC trained fast, but you never know, so I’ll remember your story. I think the general recommendations of staying close to the potty and paying attention to your kid’s cues are probably key when you make the switch out of diapers, whatever the age or strategy!


  12. My son started showing interest at 2 years old. I was pregnant with our daughter at the time and not interested in retraining if he regressed after she was born. We let him sit on the little potty when he wanted but didn’t push. We tried actively training at 2.5 years. He would go when made to sit for a while but wouldn’t poop on the potty at all. Finally a few months before his third birthday I stopped using the little potty. It was hard for him to sit right and get everything in there. He thrived on the big potty. We made a treat jar and gave him an M&M for each pee and three per poop. He never had issues with night wetting. He was waking up dry long before he finally got going to the potty down. After a couple weeks we switched to underwear and never went back. It took him longer to be ready but he got it very quickly.


  13. We started training our son at 25 months. Prior to that, we let him sit on the potty a couple times a day and he would either do nothing or pee. When I finally decided to make the leap into really training (we battled horrible diaper rashes), I just took away the diaper (and the rug in the playroom) and started putting him on the potty at 30 min intervals until we established a better timeline. I found that once I trusted him enough, he was ready and willing. He still has accidents 2 months later, but they are few and far between. I think the key was that I needed to be ready to make the commitment and I needed to put faith in him (as hard as it was when there was no proof that he was able to do it!).


  14. When my kids started being able to pee several times and poop into e toilet bowl (I got them that insert thingy that goes on top our toilet seat to make it child-friendly and they used a step-up stool to climb up), I swapped e diapers for training pants. Have you tried those?

    They’re like underwear but slightly thicker such that if they do have an accident in them, it’s a little bit more contained. They’ll still feel wet and uncomfortable (which will then prompt (teach?) them to get to the toilet earlier next time. At the same time, the mess that needs to be cleaned up is minimal.

    Just sharing. :)


  15. I think toilet training sounds a bit proper for what occurred at our whare (house). I have a 4 year wild and after mucking around w doing wees /poos inconsistently on the toilet (never a fan of potty) she just announced that she wanted undies at around 22-24m and from that point on had a few little accidents (one or two every 5 days?) And hasn’t looked back. She had already been dry at night for some time… My 15 m old has just started asking to go on the toilet … I’m got going to try the passive-follow-the-child route again cos it was just fine w my oldest. My youngest is also obsessed with the paper! She loves pulling it off for me and even moves to try and help me wipe… these kids are so keen! I don’t thinknwe have done anything “right” to contribute to this easy process – I think it’s just a bit of luck and keeping the whole process pressured :)


  16. Well. I am only 20 and definitely not a mother lol also not too familiar with the subject. Really, all I know is that for little boys, it’s helpful to put a Cheerio in the potty and tell him to aim at that. Plus that turns it into a game for them. How about treating them almost like a pet? Lol. Everytime they go in the potty, reward them with something like praising or a peice of candy. I’m not too sure, I just want to learn more so I can be the best parent I can be one day lol.


  17. Good for you LO. We are buying a potty this weekend for my DD (15mos) early yes I know but her sister was using is occasionally at 18 months so I want her to familiar with it. Plus she tends to let us know when she has dirtied her diapers.


  18. We potty-trained one child at 2 and the other at 3 (both girls) with the same method and, honestly, it worked about the same with both despite their different ages. We went cold-turkey off of diapers and they both figured it out in about the same amount of time (end of week 1, 50-60% and end of week 2, 90-100%). Week one was staying at home all day, taking potty breaks every 15-30 minutes. Week two was more asking/reminding and then taking them every hour or so.

    Before we (the parents) were ready, both of our girls wanted to sit on the potty and would do the deed occasionally, but it was mostly play. Our second daughter was more into potty play because she was observing her older sister on the potty. I personally don’t care for potties and “play”. I would rather they get down to business on the potty and play/imitate something else!


  19. I really enjoy your blog even though it has been many years since I had a small one and may e almost as many before grandchildren . Cloth diapers or training pants, used with our first, definitely gave immediate feedback and accelerated the process.


  20. My 25 month old had a horrible rash (about 2 mo ago) so we let go diaper-less for the day & she basically picked up potty training on her own! It was amazing :) It was an awesome 4-5 weeks of no diapers & a very happy (& proud of herself) toddler. Then, her new little sister arrived & we regressed big time! I’ve gotten to the point of just putting her back in diapers every day & I’m going to give it a break for a while… :( I was constantly having to rush her to the potty & was cleaning up accidents all day long! She is completely capable of recognizing the “signs” & she is PHYSICALLY able to go, but now we’ve entered a new phase of being MENTALLY unwilling. It’s frustrating, but I think it’s better to wait than to force her & turn it into a constant “battle of the wills” – I hope BabyC keeps up the good work for you!


  21. Pingback: Toilet Training, Part Two: There’s a Potty in My Purse | My Two Hats

  22. Honestly i did not read any studies on when to start potty training. Where i live they used to start potty training when the baby as 9 months old and patiently wait as long as it takes for the baby to learn the process. I have two children. My baby girl was born in August so i started potty training her as soon as the weather got better after her first year, so she was 19-20 months old. It was all finished in less than one month (I was plain lucky). My son is 16 months old now and I started potty training him soon after at 14 months. It took just three weeks but he takes his naps and sleeps at night without diaper now. We have managed to sign for each of the events but he is sometimes impatient and prefers to go potty right in the middle of the living room (he does not speak yet unlike my daughter who said daddy, mommy at her first birthday). I don’t know i wanted to start the process as soon as possible, i am careful and it is all clean and everything but i don’t like the fact they poo in their pants after their first birthday. The food they eat is quite varied at this age and it just does not seem right to let them poo in the diaper, so close to their delicate skin. Even though they never had diaper rash or anything i just don’t like it. I prefer to wash them 14 times a day, wash my floors as many times rather than risking any infection from having pee or poop close there. Especially for a girl but it is the same worry for the boy for sure.


  23. Pingback: Potty Progress Report | Science of Mom

  24. Pingback: Potty Training the Sensitive Child: 7 Lessons Learned | Science of Mom

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