Potty Learning With A Toddler

This post is part of a Toddler Carnival over at PhD in Parenting Blog.

I have 3 children that have graduated from diapers, and we all made it out alive after the potty learning phase.  I often hear many parents say how much they dread potty ‘training’, and many parents seem to put it off for way longer than necessary for reasons of: they think their toddler isn’t ready, they don’t want to fight with their toddler, they think their toddler doesn’t know what a potty is, they have another baby on the way, they moved, boys are harder so they wait longer, girls are easier so they wait longer, and many other reasons!

I have a different belief about pottying, and I am a strong believer that the differences between boys and girls is just a myth.  However, I do believe that personality plays a part in the entire experience and learning curve.

Our Pottying History:

I bought my first pair of Fuzzi Bunz cloth diapers when my oldest was 2 years old and I believe that is what started my interest in my children’s ‘voiding’ behaviours, and my addiction to cloth diapers.  By the time my middle son was 9 months old I had a huge collection of cloth diapers, knew what Elimination Communication was and also had my own online cloth diapering/natural parenting business.  Although my oldest was ‘trained’ according to mainstream approaches, my youngest two boys were graduates of EC’ing- or Elimination Communication.  You can read more about this technique on my post here.

However, in this post I will address how you can ‘survive’ this time in your toddler’s development and provide you with some tips on how both of you can come out of this with a smile on your faces.  Now, even though I practiced EC’ing with my two youngest, I know that it is not for everyone, however, there are principles of EC’ing that can be applied to your approach to potty training your toddler.

1.  Change your own thinking about this time as potty learning as opposed to potty training.  Children are born knowing when they need to void, however as they get older and accustomed to using their diapers this learning may take longer, for they have been ‘trained’ to go inside a diaper for their entire life.  Just as you both learned at birth on how to breastfeed, learning to use the potty is similar.

2.  Maintain a calm, non-coercive approach to potty learning.  This approach is consistent with the approach to parenting that this blog is all about, so it applies to potty learning as well.  Whenever you give your child a reward (sticker, treat, happy dance) for going on the potty this distracts them from the ‘learning’ part of it by giving them an extrinsic reward.  Instead of your child learning to use the potty based on their own internal needs, they will learn to do it for external gratification (the reward you provide), and to please you.  What do you think happens if your toddler is having a day where they don’t want to please you?  If they have been mainly using the potty to please YOU then it’s not about THEM anymore, and you may see them regress from any progress you have been making.

3.  It’s all about communication with your toddler.  This time of potty learning is enhanced when you learn to communicate about it with your toddler.  Learning together may mean reading books, modelling use of the potty, acting out with dolls and toys about pottying.  It doesn’t stop there…oh no!  Talk with your toddler about the pee and poop that comes out of their bodies and where it belongs.  If your toddler is pooping in a diaper (hopefully its cloth), you can plop that poop into the toilet with your toddler in tow to help them learn of where it goes.  If a toddler sees you putting their dirty diapers in the garbage, they will think that is where it belongs, and frown upon any attempts at trying to get them to sit on the porcelain monster in the bathroom!

4.  Start off on a small potty near or beside the big potty, with short visits or play times on the potty.  Even if the child is wearing his/her clothes have it out and being a part of the house.  You can offer short visits to the potty where they will sit with you where you can quietly sit together and read, play or doing something together.  If you notice your child using the potty – at the moment acknowledge it by saying “you are peeing!”, making the sign if you use sign language and making the ‘pssss’ sound.  They can start associating this communication to their action.  This way you bring their attention to what their body is doing at that exact moment.  Be mindful if they don’t want to make potty visits, to not coerce your child or bribe them to try a potty visit.  Instead, offer more potty visits throughout the day…eventually they may agree!Poty Games

5.  Create a basket of toys/books or trays with activities that are just for potty time.  These are things you do together only during the times you bring your toddler to the potty.  Aside from books, our favourites have been: magnetic boards, puzzles, coloured pom poms and a toilet paper roll, counting beads, and musical instruments.

6.  If the idea of EC’ing interests you, consider giving your toddler some diaper-free play time, but only if you can be calm about it, and not follow him/her around for fear of them ruining the carpet  You will want to make sure it is an area where you don’t mind having to clean up a mess if they do have a potty “miss”.  This is an opportunity for you to communicate with your toddler when they do void.  If they do pee or poop – try not to panic and resort to cleaning up right away! Again, you will explain “you’re peeing”! and have them notice it, then just clean it up without a fuss (even if its poop!).  If you can clean it up with toilet paper and put it in the potty that will help with their learning as well.  You could also have a small pot, diaper or wet pad nearby so you can scoot it under their bum or have them squat over it – even in the middle of their voiding.  This diaper-free time will heighten both of your awareness of when your toddler may need to use the potty.

No matter the age of your toddler, remain positive, enthusiastic and supportive as they learn to use the potty.  Be mindful that the longer you wait, the more difficult it may be for your toddler to learn, for they will be “un”learning having to use their diaper.  So jump in with your toddler and start learning together! It is a wonderful journey to share together!


  1. says

    I couldn’t agree more. Great post. I especially liked this: ” Instead of your child learning to use the potty based on their own internal needs, they will learn to do it for external gratification (the reward you provide), and to please you. What do you think happens if your toddler is having a day where they don’t want to please you? “


  1. […] My youngest – Skittles really enjoys doing ‘school’ work.  He sees us learning at the table and doing ‘workboxes’ and wants his own.  We started this year off with Tot Trays that you can read more about over at 1+1+1+1.  I purchased these trays last year and we use them constant in our homeschool for all sorts of projects and crafts.  You can even see them being used for potty time in this post here. […]

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