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All four of our children were using the toilet with pretty good consistency by 18 months. How did we do it? Why did we do it? Read on to find out how!
We truly believed that our children were capable humans. We do not think they have to be helped in all things. However, using the toilet is the first major social structure that they will encounter. If you start at an early age, it is a normal part of their life. Doing it early allows you to avoid reward based training, fights, melt downs, drama, and humiliation for the child.
Using the toilet is a normal part of our culture, and children (and babies) can use it earlier than most people believe today. Diaper-Free Before 3 was a great read for me. It describes the reasons that some parents choose to wait to potty train. We did not believe that we needed to wait until the child showed interest. If it was a normal part of their day early on, it would just be normal. There were no tantrums, and no meltdowns. Sure, it took plenty of patience on our end because they were so little, but since they were using the toilet successfully by 18 months, that meant we were out of diapers by 18 months. So instead of using diapers, and continuing to treat our toddler like a baby for 18 more months, they were as independent as possible with their bodily functions.
Some people may read that and think that we forced them to do something that may have emotionally harmed them. That is just false. You cannot force someone to pee or poop. Instead, it was gentle and patient. We normalized the toilet so early in their life that it was easy for them to understand its use. And as far as the emotional damage goes: at two and three years old when they would see other children their age in diapers, they thought those children were still babies. They could perceive the difference. They also understood their bodies.
Here's what we did:
1. We chose to see our children as complete humans. We did not treat them as less than because they were smaller than we were. We chose to respect them and their bodies. I know that some people think that there is respect in allowing the child to wait to use the toilet themselves. But on this point, I disagree. We believe that it is more respectful for a child to learn to use the toilet than to sit in their own pee and poop longer than is necessary. Watching a three year old with a full diaper walk around unaware of whats sagging behind them is disrespectful to the child. Not helping them understand their bodily function is disrespectful to the child. Treating a toddler like a baby and using diapers because it is convenient for you is not respecting the child. It is not seeing them as an equal.
Having body autonomy is achieved more easily when they know their body's cues. They start understanding what their bodies are saying and can then do what their body is telling them to do. I believe we helped them have more autonomy earlier in this area of their life. They did not have to depend on us to change them, or clean them for as long as many children do these days.
2. We started early. We did not do elimination communication (although I did try that for a little bit with Wheezer). It was just too much for me to handle with two toddler boys also running around and by that point using cloth diapers was what our family was used to. Instead, when they started walking we would have a small toilet in the bathroom and we would place them on it when they awoke in the morning, before and after nap time and then again before bath time in the evenings. It started out very casually. Because they were so little, it was easy for them to adjust to the toilet being a normal part of their days. Sometimes they would pee and we would clap, or be happy with them, but most of the time it was just to get them used to the idea of the toilet.
3. Cloth diapers. There are many things that I think our ancestors got right. Cloth diapering was one of them. Cloth diapers have come a long way since our ancestors were using them though! No more pins accidentally pricking the babies! These are the diapers that we preferred. They worked great. The babies knew much more quickly when they were wet and they would fuss or make more noise so we knew we needed to change them.
I think this also helped us be much more aware of their bodies and their cues. We chose cloth diapers partly so they would not have to sit in their own pee and poop for a longer period of time. Because we knew when they were wet much more easily, we changed them more frequently.
ALSO, when they started eating a good amount of food (usually after a year) and they had larger amounts of poop, it gave us even more incentive to help them learn to use the toilet. We did not have the luxury of just wrapping up the diaper and throwing it away. One last thing that cloth diapers gave us--less money spent on diapers!!
4. The final push. When I felt that they were comfortable with sitting on the toilet during different times of the day, and they were walking well, we changed from cloth diapers to underwear. This final push to help them learn to use the toilet lasted a little while. During the first few days, we stayed home, usually around the kitchen area (to make it easier to clean up any accidents) and they were naked. We played, read, painted, and ate. We did anything I could think of to keep them in that area. There are going to be inevitable accidents during these few days, but instead of seeing them as setbacks, I tried to see them as one step closer to being fully independent with the toilet. After that they usually understood when they needed to pee and I would take them to the toilet frequently. (Although, with each child at one point I would be on the phone with my best friend worrying about whether or not it would ever happen. Usually, that was right before they finally got it for good!) We used toilet training underwear that had extra absorbency while they were around the house. This helped contain some of the pee, but still allowed them to feel even more wet than cloth diapers. Then we ventured out.
5. In public we still used cloth diapers. It made sense to us not to use traditional pull ups. Our child was already used to being wet when they went pee with cloth diapers so we did not want the wetness to be absorbed so they couldn't feel it easily. (Not to mention not adding any more diapers to the landfills!) If we did not want to risk extra pee in shopping carts for example, we would use cloth diapers. This would help them still feel if they were wet, but caught everything just in case. We used cloth diapers in public only for shopping trips, church etc. Otherwise, we would just pack extra underwear and pants. No big deal.
6. How long did it take? The amount of time it took each child to use the toilet varied, but really only slightly. Our first and third were peeing and pooping in the toilet by 17 months. They both "regressed" when the next baby was born (at 18 months for both of them) for about a week. This was usually because we were fixated on a new baby and so remembering to take them to the toilet was not a high priority. Mimi, our fourth was peeing on the toilet with complete consistency at about 15 months, and pooping with consistency at 18 months. Our second was peeing with consistency at 18 months, while pooping took until he was 20 months.
7. Night time. I do not consider "night time training" to be a real thing. We kept them in a cloth diaper (or sometimes disposable if they peed a lot) at night during potty training and until they were dry during the night for about a week straight. We wouldn't give them drinks after dinner, unless they were up later than usual, and that seemed to help them stay dry too. They would have occasional accidents at night, but we just chose to not get angry with them. They were sleeping, after all! Sleeping through the night without peeing also varied from child to child and honestly I do not remember how long it took except that our second was dry through the night as soon as he was using the toilet. With the others, it varied and we just went with their own flow. We used a waterproof mattress cover since they were all sleeping on a twin mattress on the floor by this time.
8. Wiping themselves. The girls started wiping themselves between two and three years old. For all four kids, wiping after pooping took longer. That was partly because we did not want them to miss anything...and wanted to avoid the mess. So, between four and five we let go of any last control in that area and just chose to not worry about any extra mess. (They do take baths and showers after all!)
A couple more things:
I have read (in Maria Montessori's books) about specific periods of time that things are easier for children to learn. She calls them sensitive periods. Toilet training's first sensitive period is between 12 and 18 months. Then it stops, which may be why it is harder for many families trying to teach their child to use the toilet between two and three. The next sensitive period for toilet training is around age three, according to Maria. We totally believe this to be true. We don't think our children are some toilet geniuses. Each child can do this.
But, that isn't to say that all children aren't on their own time frame. Some children may in fact take a little longer. Or maybe their sensitive period starts at 18 months and lasts to 24 months. Listen to your child. Don't force the issue. They will learn to use the toilet. Be patient. Be peaceful about it. You are helping them understand their bodies and that takes time. You are already doing a great job! You'll do great with this too!
Have any additional questions? Is there something I missed and should have covered? Comment below to let me know!