Are You Ready to Potty?
“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  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.