Tips for early potty training
Consider the big picture.
In the late 1950s, more than 90 percent of children in the U.S. were potty trained by 18 months. Kids today typically stay in diapers until around their third birthday, largely due to the use of disposable diapers. When cloth was king, the constant washing motivated parents to finish potty training ASAP. Attitudes have also changed: Many pediatricians now believe that kids shouldn’t start training until they are emotionally ready, somewhere between ages 2 and 3.
In parts of Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe, parents potty train much sooner than that. One study of Vietnamese mothers found that all babies used the potty by 9 months and were fully trained by age 2, using a method known as elimination communication (EC), or diaperless toilet training. While it isn’t likely to become the norm in this country, a growing number of eco-conscious parents are giving it a try.
Understand the technique.
It’s based on the idea that babies naturally signal when they need to go. Once you’ve figured out your child’s cues, you can position him over a potty and make a sound (like a whistle or a hiss) that he’ll eventually respond to by peeing or pooping on demand. You’ll need to physically support him because he won’t be strong enough to sit upright by himself yet. In China, where EC has been the preferred potty-training method for centuries, parents may dress their kid in split-crotch pants to simplify the process and let him go commando underneath. Moms adopting the method in the U.S. tend to sit facing the toilet as they hold their naked toddler in front of them.
Go with the flow.
Elimination communication works better for moms who can make adjustments on the fly. Stateside, parents often modify the technique to suit their lifestyle—for example, by using diapers when they’re away from home and finding a potty may be difficult. One strategy is to hold your
child over the potty whenever you’re about to put on a fresh diaper to see if she has to go more. You can also try right after she wakes up from a nap or finishes eating. If she has to go, she’ll go, and if not, don’t worry about it. The upside: You’ll use fewer diapers while reinforcing the connection between the potty and the need to go.
Pay attention to signs.
While all kids send signals that nature is calling—typically grunting and turning red while getting ready to poop and squirming or crotch-grabbing for pee—it may take a while to figure out your child’s specific cues and to establish a consistent response that he understands. Thankfully, a toddler’s cues tend to be easier to read than a baby’s. You can get in the habit of asking your child, “Do you need to go potty?” and make a pfff noise as he goes.
Don’t be surprised if family, friends, and your pediatrician question this potty-training approach. They may think that you are pressuring your child to perform. But EC proponents actually advise parents to just ignore accidents and stay positive. You’ll also increase your odds of success if you join a support group—such as the one at diaperfreebaby.org—and keep the focus on getting in sync with your toddler. Sources: Christine Gross-loh, author of The Diaper-free Baby; Andrea Olson, author of Go Diaper Free.