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The Pros and Cons of Early Potty Training

Mar19

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Hi Amy!

I’ve written in the past, you solved the problem I was having with stinky cloth diapers, when you pointed out the obvious of “don’t soak them in hot water”. Ever since we’ve been happily cloth diapering and appropriately braggy about it to anyone who shows the tiniest bit of interest, because let’s face it, it’s awesome. It actually turned out to be for the best that I wanted to do it from the beginning, because my munchkin (now a couple days shy of 17 months) has probably the world’s most sensitive bottom. He seems to have some digestive issues that make it so he almost never has um, solid poops.

And despite our unreasonably deep love for cloth diapers, we’ve kind of had it with the blowouts. They happen several times a week now, at best, and we really want to think about potty training our son! For the record, I’ve checked, and rechecked the fit & absorbency and elasticity of the cloth diapers, and they all check out fine. They hold wet fine, and the once or twice a month that he does have a solid “deposit” they hold that great! But that really is rare. Without going into graphic detail, let’s just say we’re all sick of this nonsense, and I really think it would help some of my son’s other issues (wicked, terrible diaper rash that’s more like an acid burn). So my husband suggested we start the process of potty training, even though he’s kind of young. And a boy.

So! How do you do this? How does one teach someone how to use the potty? I bought a toddler potty, and am working with him on how to sit on it without requiring stepping IN it first (seemed like a good place to start). I bought some board books, that he’s happily chewing chunks out of as I type this. He tells me when he needs a diaper change, by hollering at me and patting his crotch. He sometimes has dry diapers for an hour or two. He can run (in fact, that’s his only speed). I need to work on pulling his pants up & down with him, I think. Um, that’s all that the random checklists I read online suggested. I’ve read stuff online, but nothing really explains it in a “Potty Training for Dummies” type way.

All my friends have girls, and only one of my nephews is potty trained, but it took FOREVER. And then there’s the horror stories people love to tell. It’s like the toddler version of labor horror stories people like to tell you when you’re 8 months pregnant, after they’ve marveled at how huge you are. Or the 4 million pins on Pinterest with mommy-bloggers telling you if you follow 3 simple steps, you can have your Baby Einstein potty trained in an hour! Or something…

I need your help! Please tell me it’s A) possible to do this thing relatively painlessly (and mess-lessly), and B) a few days short of 17 months isn’t too early (and I guess, if it is, what’s the earliest reasonable timeframe to start? Everything I’ve read said basically don’t even consider it before 2, which… I cannot accept, I just can’t.). And also, maybe what steps worked for you & your boys? Does the toddler potty stay in the bathroom? Or should it be arm’s reach from the space he spends the most amount of his time (ie: the opposite side of the house from the nearest bathroom.) When do you start teaching wiping? When do you teach sitting vs standing? How long does he stay in diapers? What kind of training pants do you recommend for this, if any?

Thanks!!!
Potty Terrified

I get a handful of “early potting training” questions every year (“early,” to me, meaning before 2/2.5) and I don’t think I’ve ever really answered one, because:

1) I didn’t potty train my kids that early, so what do I know, and

2) Many of them seem more like parental humblebrags than actual requests for advice. (“We’re potty training our 12 month old and everyone is being weird about it because they are JEALOUS. Please write a column about how awesome we are.”)

Your question does NOT, thankfully, fall into the #2 reason, so I guess maybe it’s time for me to take a stab at talking about early potty training.

I have to be blunt. 17 months old is too young. Particularly for a boy. While there’s a lot of conflicting information out there about the “right” age to potty train, the most common age range I’ve come across is 18 months to three years. 18 months is the minimum age a child could be considered physically and emotionally ready to potty train, and yes, these early trainers tend to be girls. Boys typically lag by at least a few months.

I remember bringing out the potty seat when my boys were about 18/19 months, “just to see, just in case,” and introducing the picture books and inviting them to sit. I’m not really sure why, other than my own overeagerness to move on past the diapering stage. Results were laughable and absolutely conclusive: My kids were. Not. Ready. Yet. They had the curiosity and ability to mimic — and were quite good at asking for diaper changes, but they throughly and completely lacked the physical control or ability to listen to their bodies’ signals before the fact. It wasn’t a horror story or anything, it was just…too early. It was not going to happen, and I was just driving myself (and them) crazy. I at least recognized that and wisely tabled the issue until they were older. (Yes, until the 2.5/3 range. I’m sorry! I’m now officially one of those people telling you depressing things.)

And I would be remiss here if I didn’t suggest you at least Google “potty training too early” to read some rather passionate — if possibly a tad alarmist — arguments against potty training before three. (Three!) And even more warning against starting before two. Recurrent UTIs, bladder infections, chronic constipation, anxiety over accidents, regressions at school, etc. Statistically these issues seem more common in children who trained early vs. those who trained later.

Now, I certainly didn’t wait until three and I don’t believe I inflicted any horrific, chronic conditions on my kids, but I have to agree with the warnings a little. Asking a very small child with a very small body to hold in urine and BMs before he or she is truly capable of it can have some negative physical consequences, so it’s best to be honest with yourself about your child’s level of readiness…and be mindful that you are taking him to the potty VERY VERY OFTEN and not demanding he hold it in for any length of time. At this age, you will definitely need to train yourself, rather than putting too much pressure on him to control his bodily functions completely.

(There’s still a big aspect of parental training at 2.5/3, since toddlers rarely want to have their day interrupted by potty breaks, so about half of them get initiated by me to ensure that he’s not holding anything in. I don’t think my kids achieved true 100% independence until 3.5/4.) (WIPING YOUR OWN BUTT. IS VERY HARD APPARENTLY.)

And finally, my last caveat and advice you didn’t ask for: Have you made any attempts to figure out the source of his digestive issues? Because chronically loose, explosive and burningly acidic poops does not sound like a good time. I’m assuming he doesn’t have any “red flag” symptoms like weight gain issues, distended belly, bloody stools, but chronic diarrhea in toddlers can be tied to their diet (juice and fruit sugars, excessive fluid intake and a diet too low in fat, for example). Some parents react to loose bowels by reducing their kid’s fiber intake, but that can actually have the opposite effect and exacerbate the problem. Something to consider, if you haven’t tried eliminating certain foods and increasing others yet.

But it can also just be an immature digestive tract. Which leads us back to the wisdom of trying to potty train a toddler with an already immature digestive tract. Think about the last time you had diarrhea. Was getting to the toilet on time an easy or stress-free task? Were you fully capable of controlling everything that was happening down there? I know blow-outs are gross but trust me, sudden and runny toddler poops aren’t any more delightful in underwear or training pants, right in the middle of the grocery store that doesn’t have a public restroom. (BEEN. THERE.)

But okay. Let’s say you’re still convinced that potty training is your solution. (I would check with your pediatrician and make sure he/she is on-board and doesn’t think his pooping habits should be checked/addressed in other ways first, like with a visit to a GI specialist or nutritionist/dietician.) The reason you’ve read everything on the Internet but still aren’t sure how to make potty training successful and easy and quick, is that…well. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it really isn’t. It depends on the kid and things “clicking” at the right intersection of physical readiness and emotional willingness. (Or in our case, my children’s physical readiness and my ability to outlast their epic emotional stubbornness about it.)

Since I remain doubtful that just-shy-of-17-months is going to be demonstrating all the signs of true readiness, I would recommend you mange your expectations and accept that it might be a slow process (since I don’t think I could recommend boot-camping him that young, especially with no prior exposure or discussion of the potty and what it’s for, etc.). More of a long-term goal to get him trained sooner rather than later, but probably not RIGHT NOW, THIS MONTH.

1) Read him the books and maybe buy him the Elmo’s Potty Time DVD, if he responds to Elmo. (Ike worships him, so that video was AWESOME.)

2) Have him watch you and your husband use the bathroom, and go through the motions with a doll or stuffed animal.

3) Take him to the store and show him the big kid underwear (which will probably all be size 2T/3T, so you might need to hit the Internet for properly sized underwear in a design/character of his choosing), and talk about eventually saying goodbye to diapers.

4) Start by having him sit on the potty once a day, before bed when he’ll welcome the chance to stall bedtime. Sitting is usually the best way to start; boys can learn to stand later. Some kids like the little separate potty seats, while others will want the seat adapter on the big toilet with a little footstool. The right potty for your child is the one your child is willing to sit on. 

5) Have him practice pulling his own pants up and down (PJs and sweats are best for this.) Pull-ups will probably drive you batty when it comes to the blow-outs (they have the same sub-par waistband as most disposable diapers), but they might be good for him to practice with. We never used any cloth training pants (beyond repurposing my wool soakers) so I don’t have any specific recommendations on that front. (We trained naked or in underwear, and used cloth diapers for bed and pre-breakthrough outings.)

If at any point he freaks out, runs away, cries or yells “NO” about the potty, DROP IT. Do not force him. I mean it. You will only create problems for yourself later.

But! If he seems genuinely interested and willing to sit on the potty, you can have him sit more often. Set a timer on your phone with his favorite song. If you can hold off a couple months until the weather gets nicer, let him run around naked. Something about playing outside naked and seeing a big, sudden arch of pee seems to be a crucial “AH-HA!” moment for a lot of little boys. If he has a success and goes, praise him and give him a sticker or other reward. If he seems content to sit and do nothing, that’s also normal. It takes awhile for them to even grasp what they’re being asked to do, especially if the physical control part isn’t quite there yet.

Once you see a string of successes — or maybe a sign that he’s willing to initiate going to the potty on his own — move on to the bootcamp approach: Cold turkey, no diapers, hole up at home and just get him going to the potty over and over. (We usually instituted a give/take reward system at this point: One star/token for every success. Five stars/tokens earned you a prize. Accidents cost you a star/token, but that’s okay! You’ll get it back next time, I know you can.) Again, I think that would be too aggressive to do right off the bat at this young age, but it’s something to consider after you’re confident you’ve laid positive groundwork, AND after he has the words and communication skills for potty-related business.

Oh, and this is true no matter what age you start training: If you feel like you’re going to lose your mind over the 15th pee puddle of the day — the one that came less than five seconds after you had him on the potty, God! — make sure you have someone who can take over and give you a break. You do not want to yell or shame or punish. You just need to know and respect your own limits, because on no planet in the universe is cleaning pee or poop off multiple non-baby-butt surfaces remotely pleasant.

Good luck! I hope his pooping habits improve as he gets older, on or off the potty, because I totally hear you on being fed up with that. And also, please feel free to write back and gleefully inform me and my big fat negative mouth when he successfully trains in 72 hours. I can take it, promise.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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42 Responses to “The Pros and Cons of Early Potty Training”

  1. Mary Mar 19 at 2:27 pm Reply Reply

    Maybe you’ve already addressed the abnormal poop issue w/ your pediatrician, but I’m just throwing this out there b/c it sounds A LOT like what we went through w/ our son. Shortly after we switched him from formula/breastmilk to cow’s milk (at 12 mos), he stopped having solid poops. They would be runny, blow-out, too frequent, and essentially carried all the characteristics of diarrhea. Our sitter would claim he was sick and send him home, and his bottom would get SO red, even in cloth. We kept taking him to the ped, but they couldn’t find anything wrong with him, even after doing a stool test. I finally took him to a pediatric gastroenterologist, who ran a bunch of tests, couldn’t find anything, but suggested we take him off of cow’s milk for drinking. She said it’s very common for young children’s digestive tracts to be under developed and unable to process the large proteins found in milk. He wasn’t allergic, but his gut couldn’t break them down and that was causing the diarrhea. Yogurt, cheese, & ice cream all go through processes that break the proteins down smaller and didn’t bother him, only straight cow’s milk. Most kids outgrow it by 2, so we switched him to almond milk (coconut milk works too, but he was too young for soy) until he was 2, and then reintroduced cow’s milk. The diarrhea stopped, and the rashes & blowouts along with it.

  2. Potty Terrified Mar 19 at 2:29 pm Reply Reply

    Hi Amy!  I’m the question-asker!!  I’m SUPER glad you answered my question, and here are my answers to most of your questions!  YES, we’re working with his Pediatrician, and a GI specialist, and have and appointment next month (soonest they could do, ew) for a pediatric dietitian.  We’ve done food allergy testing, which were all negative (not surprising since the “reaction” is toward the end of the route, so to speak), and did some testing for Celiac’s disease, and some other things.  He’s considered “sensitive” to dairy, soy, and citrus at this point.  So basically the GI specialist was like “don’t give him those things, see my nutritionist for more info, and if that doesn’t help, let’s do some super-invasive testing!”  Since I’m hoping at ALL COSTS to avoid putting him through that, largely because my husband has very, VERY similar issues and has already done all that awful testing and had inconclusive results, I was hoping to make my son more comfortable by potty training early.  

    At first, we all thought it was just a slightly-behind-schedule-developing digestive system, and yes, it did lead to a SLIGHTLY reduced weight gain, but also, it’s so dang hard to tell if it’s “lack of weight gain” or “finally mobile and WEE THAT’S SO EXCITING SO I SHALL NEVER SIT STILL!”  But his Pede was concerned enough to refer us to the GI specialist.  

    So yes, we’ve made changes to his diet, he gets about 1-2 oz of juice watered down with like 8 oz of water once a day, MAX, if he’s having a good day, which usually is like once or twice a week.  He’s on goat’s milk for fat/protein.  And he eats more peanut butter than an entire elementary school, I think, because SOY IS IN EVERYTHING.  OMG.  Seriously.  It’s insane.   He can actually tolerate itty-bitty doses of all his “triggers” sometimes, so I just try to keep us in the real world here.  He can have a couple of the frozen french toast sticks, as long as he has nothing else with milk or soy in it for 2 days afterward.  And I do make him his own biscuits or pancakes with his milk when I make them for us on weekends.  I’m beyond hoping he’ll outgrow this for a plethora of reasons, largely, I cannot imagine a life without real cheese or ice cream, or a good burger (if he chooses to not be vegan, which he kind of is now anyway by necessity).  He can eat stuff like eggs, but he usually won’t.  He COULD eat meat for protein- chicken, turkey, pork, (not beef, since the dairy = a protein sensitivity probably), but he won’t.  HE WON’T EVEN EAT BACON.  But I always offer him those things, in hopes he’ll one day realize this stuff is good.  He doesn’t appear to have any texture issues or anything, it just seems to be a preference thing right now, and honestly, even the doc wasn’t concerned about him not wanting to eat meat.  He’s the only kid I’ve ever heard of who willingly chooses baby spinach leaves over a chicken nugget.  For all I know, he’s a “born this way” vegetarian.  

    Anyway, so I hope that helps answer some of your concerns/questions.  I rewrote my email about 4387 times, because I HAD included all that at one point, but it was too talky, and I figured if I rambled about all that, you wouldn’t answer it.  :)   

    Thanks again for the insight!  Knowing how darn stubborn I am, I might give it a shot in a couple weeks anyway, just to confirm that he’s not ready.  Because in general, I totally agree, and would not be even considering this until he’s at least 2-2.5.  I don’t want to pressure him into anything he’s not ready for, and if he’s not, I promise, I won’t push it.  But if he IS, and it helps him be more comfortable, then it’s worth a shot, IMO.  I hadn’t considered some of the effects of early potty training, so I’m glad you pointed them out.  And I’ve taken them to heart, and will keep them in mind.  

    Thank you!!!  

    • Kate Mar 19 at 6:48 pm Reply Reply

      “Loose stools” are an issue that my kids have struggled with as well (we didn’t get my son’s digestive issue resolved until he was three and he went Gluten and Dairy free), and like your son their issues are likely from their dad. Fwiw for both of my kids it took a while once we made the correct dietary changes for their digestive tracts to completely heal so you may have made the necessary changes and just not know it yet. 

      In the meantime I highly recommend probiotics (they come in powder form for babies and I mix it in my daughter’s oatmeal) and bananas; lots of bananas. 

      • K Mar 21 at 3:30 pm Reply Reply

        Hey OP PT! Forgive me for adding to the mountain of assvice you MUST get around these issues, but I just wanted to mention that a friend of mine had great success with the GAPS diet for resolving her son’s major digestive issues. It’s a pretty hardcore thing but apparently it really did the trick for them, so I thought I’d throw it out there. Sorry about all the blowouts, and I hope you and your team of experts can help your son’s tummy troubles! 

      • Emily Huston Mar 28 at 6:18 am Reply Reply

        Passing “Loose stools” was an issue with my son too and therefore kept him on went Gluten and Dairy free meal. I didn’t find out the reason behind the cause but followed the prescription suggested by my pediatrician.  I do suggest everyone with such issue with probiotics meals. 

    • Christy Mar 19 at 11:16 pm Reply Reply

      Hey!! No advice about potty training but for what it’s worth, my son(now three) was allergic to dairy and had much the same problems that you describe (though he had really poor weight gain). One thing I learned working with the allergist and dietician is that it is REALLY common for kids with cows milk protein sensitivities to also trigger to goats milk – I guess the proteins are really similar. It may be worth stopping the goats milk stuff and trying something else? For Sam we used a combination of rice milk (because it was fortified with the vitamins) and coconut milk (fat). 

      Obviously you know your kid – just putting it out there in case it’s helpful!

      And also – just for some encouragement – Sam was diagnosed with the dairy allergy around nine months and just last week has finished a milk challenge demonstrating that he’s outgrown it! He had yogurt for the very first time yesterday with no issues and was SO proud. So even if your son does have a no dairy sensitivity it might not be forever.

    • tasterspoon Mar 20 at 4:56 am Reply Reply

      I don’t know if this will be welcome, but it hasn’t been said yet: disposable diapers are not a sin. I believe in cloth, I use cloth myself, for the most part I do not find cloth to be a hassle, I recommend cloth. BUT, my first child had crazy, perpetual diaper rash (no real allergies) and it was a frustrating battle – finding cloth diaper friendly creams that actually helped, air her out appropriately, strip/sterilize the diapers when it seemed like a yeast infection, convince my husband that the cloth was not the cause of her suffering… But a day or two in paper with plenty of Desitin would clear her right up. Not to mention the grossness of diarrhea is a little less gross when you can just pop it in the trash. Cut yourself some slack, is all I’m saying.

      • Anne Mar 21 at 12:51 pm Reply Reply

        This was going to be my comment exactly. At around 15 months, we ditched the cloth for Seventh Generation paper and ALWAYS had her in Extra Strength Desitin and she rarely had another rash again. Cloth diapers were great for a long time for us, until they weren’t. We never looked back. Now she’s 2.5 and is potty trained, except at night when she wears a pull-up. I can’t imagine trying to potty train a 17 month old.

        Parenting is going to be a rough 18+ year struggle if you can’t just throw up your hands and say, “You know what? This just isn’t working.”

        • Sam M. Mar 21 at 8:59 pm Reply Reply

          On the opposite end, we use a combination of cloth and disposable diapers and my daughter (who has poops so amazing and large her daycare provider said proudly it is her “superpower”) only has blowout issues with the disposables! I really thought it would be the other way around. Of course, if your son has blowouts with both cloth and disposable, it might be worth it to switch to the disposables so you can use heavy duty diaper creams with those and not worry about having to strip the diapers all the time.

    • Jackie Mar 21 at 11:21 am Reply Reply

      We had exactly the same problem – as soon as I stopped nursing at 14 months, the diarrhea started. It was awful. At that point we already knew that he had severe food allergies (eggs, dairy, seeds, oats, nuts, and shellfish) but everything changed once I stopped nursing and switched to coconut milk.  Fast forward through multiple trips to allergy and GI specialists, and it turned out that he randomly developed a low level allergy to wheat.  Not celiac, not anaphalaxis level like his other allergies – just a GI thing. Even the tiniest bit would cause severe stomach upset for the guy. So my advice is to look closely at your allergy report, keep a food diary, and try to completely eliminate his triggers. It does suck – we have completely changed our lives around these allergies. But I didn’t even realize how much it was affecting his life until we changed his diet, and now I know that there is nothing better than an insanely happy little boy (who just potty trained at 2y 4m, no problem!). 

  3. Paige Mar 19 at 2:30 pm Reply Reply

    You haven’t done another potty training question before? Really? I could have sworn I responded to one… recently. This year sometime, anyway. Or was that not you? I really have no idea, and I’m too lazy to go look it up.

    I just wanted to tell the OP that the child’s interest in potty training is nearly as important as being physically ready. My daughter was ready to potty train at 19 months – she could hold it for 3+ hours, woke up dry consistently in the mornings and at nap, was able to tell us that she needed a clean diaper, etc. All those “signs” that “they” tell you to look for.

    I bought a potty, let her play with it, and the next morning when she woke up dry, set her on it. She was happy to sit there with me… until the pee came. Apparently peeing on the potty was really gross. She said, “ew ew ew ew” the *entire* time she peed. It was darling and hilarious and I laughed. I still have no idea whether it was because I laughed at her or because she thought peeing on the potty was disgusting, but she refused to sit on the potty for the next 4 months.

    She did eventually train pretty early – 23 months – but we had to wait until she was willing. We put one potty in the bathroom and one potty outside, since we spent a lot of time in the backyard and the bathroom was pretty far away. We stripped her down to a t-shirt. She had two accidents, both during water play, both easily rinsed off the patio, and that was it. Done. Not exactly on MY schedule, but when she wanted it, it worked.

  4. Hi, I'm Natalie. Mar 19 at 2:36 pm Reply Reply

    Nothing to add, but… thanks for all the reminders! I have a 20-month-old at home (second child, I forgot everything) and it’d good to know that I’m not crazy for not trying training yet!

  5. Melanie Mar 19 at 2:42 pm Reply Reply

    I totally thought my sweet angel genius daughter was ready to train at 18 months. She was very excited about the potty and showed all the signs on the checklist. We brought out the potty earlier when she first showed interest so she was familiar with the idea and had gone a few times. We tried boot camp for a couple days and it was a disaster! She was mentally ready in that she wanted to do it but physically she just didn’t understand. 
    We went back to diapers and still continued to put her on the potty before bath, if she was dry when we changed her or when she asked. Now at about 25 months we decided to try boot camp again and it has been a great success! The first couple of days were hard and here two weeks later we are just really getting the “tell mommy when you have to go” part but we can leave the house and she goes on the big potties and everything.
    Anyway I’m not writing this to be braggy (except brag hooray!!). I just wanted to say don’t be afraid to call it and go back to diapers for a while if you do start now. He will get it eventually and the more fun it is and less stressful the easier it will be for everyone. Now that she’s in underwear my daughter is happy to remind me about 1100 times a day that she is “big!” And it’s all so worth it!
    Also, the kindle fire (or any other tablet/phone/whatever) has been a savior for us getting her to sit  long enough to poop. 
    Good luck! And as always, great advice Amalah!

  6. Pange Mar 19 at 3:16 pm Reply Reply

    we used the “oh crap potty training” (http://www.jamieglowacki.com/) book and it was great and helpful and she is very pro training early but recommends between 20 and 30 months. any earlier than that and you’re really just doing elimination communication which is a different animal (but maybe worthwhile in your case? at least for the poo, if you can tell when it’s coming). good luck!

    • Buttercup Mar 20 at 12:30 pm Reply Reply

      We also used Oh Crap Potty Training, and were really happy with her philosophy! I’d definitely recommend taking a look at it as she does discuss early training! Also, there’s a facebook group with lots of questions/answers from other parents.

      • B Mar 22 at 10:29 pm Reply Reply

        We also used Oh Crap potty training at 22 months.  It was a breeze for our daughter.  I like her philosophy.

        • groovymumma Mar 31 at 6:55 am Reply Reply

          Another vote here for Oh Crap potty training. Didn’t knowabout it for my son, but had a lot of success using it with my daughter. Also, my son had “toddler’s diarrhea”  which was caused by too much fructose in his diet. He couldn’t potty train properly until we cut back on the amount of high fructose fruit in his diet.

  7. Angela Mar 19 at 3:34 pm Reply Reply

    When I started potty training my oldest I got some really great advice regarding how to gauge whether a child is ready. Try going diaperless for 3 days. If by the end of the 3rd day the child is not at least 75%successful on the potty then he is not ready.

    With my oldest we tried him at 26 months and he was pretty much exactly 75% successful. It took several more weeks to get to 100% but it was clear that he got it and was ready. We tried my youngest at 2.5 but he just wasn’t there yet. I SHOULD have just thrown in the towel after the 3 days had passed but I figured that if we just kept at it that things would get better. They didn’t.

    So go ahead and try your son around 18 months (realizing that success is extremely unlikely) but if after 3 days he’s not staying dry at least 3/4 of the time then he’s just not ready. Continuing to push it will only make everyone miserable.

    • Caroline Mar 21 at 2:08 pm Reply Reply

      Hi! I agree with Angela. These tales of spending months and years trying to toilet train kids seems insane to me. I’ve done it twice and the best advice I ever had was ”give it 1 week, if he’s not 75-80% accident free by then, stop trying for 4-6 weeks, then give it another bash”. I know so many people who will say it’s going well and then in the next breath, that it’s ”only” been a few months. MONTHS!! Also, I don’t use potties at all. You go in the toilet (with appropriate seat inner obviously), the end!
      Saying all this, 17 months seems very young to me. Surely a simpler solution would be (since you are obviously working on the upset tummy) to simply use disposables?

  8. tsm Mar 19 at 3:39 pm Reply Reply

    We indoor potty trained our son starting at 16/17 months. BUT, it wasn’t really potty “training” until about 18ish–we just put the potty out there and had him get used to the idea of sitting on it.  Then we did the “every 20 minutes” routine for about two weeks, then transitioned slowly to him being more independent with it.  

    Pros:  Now that he’s hit the intense “no” stage (just shy of two) pottying is just a habit and not something to fight over.  We saved a lot of money on diapers.  He’s happier.

    Cons:  He’s been going commando for about six months. The child will not wear underwear.  He’s of course still not night trained, but dislikes going in the diaper, so will summon us to take him to the potty during the night.  He couldn’t pull his own pants up/down until this month-ish (21 months). 

    Caveats, disclaimers:  Kid was 1) incredibly verbal and 2) bothered by wetting himself/pooping in his diaper unusually early.  

  9. tsm Mar 19 at 3:42 pm Reply Reply

    as far as it being “too early” across the board, I only got the idea to train him that early because we were living in France, where all the babies seem to train around 18 months for creche.  So, given as the French don’t seem to have any collective GI issues as adults, I’m guessing its a cultural difference rather than a “this is how children are” one.  

  10. DontBlameTheKids Mar 19 at 4:10 pm Reply Reply

    I have no idea if it is too early for your child. But I will say that 17 months was too early for ME. Not my child. ME. Tiny butts and tiny bladders mean big hassles and never being more than 10 minutes away from a toilet at all times, and even then you have to bring a toilet seat with you (because of the tiny bottoms). 

    But that’s just my opinion. Even when my child turned 2 I wasn’t really sold on potty training. I waited until she was 2.5, and still found the whole thing terribly annoying. But at least at that age she had better bladder control.

    • tasterspoon Mar 20 at 4:41 am Reply Reply

      Yes. This.

      My son (18 m) will gesture that he wants to sit on the potty (he is totally NOT verbal). I will, with GREAT reluctance (because it seems too soon and I don’t want to stretch out the potty training road unduly), take off his pants and sit him on it and he will sit there until he’s ‘done’ (nothing ever comes out) and get him dressed again. Minutes later he will poop in his diaper. He clearly is making some connection, but I have little patience for going through the motions with no payoff whatsoever. Does anyone know: can I ignore his requests without totally undermining the potty process later?

      (Other notes that may or may not bear on the question: We did EC way early on, but abandoned it at about 6 months because he stopped going when given the opportunity – like he froze under the spotlight. I’ve tried the approach of catching him mid-poop and plopping him on the potty to finish there, but that seems to stop the process, only to resume shortly thereafter once he’s re-pantsed. He dislikes being wet but doesn’t give any advanced warning. We cloth diaper, but primarily use BG (suede/microfiber) rather than cotton so I don’t think he feels particularly soggy, I think he just recognizes that he’s had a whiz…after the fact. His sister trained at about 2.5 without major event and I found the process annoying enough. In short I really am convinced it’s too soon – but don’t want to train him to ignore his body either.)

      • Kat Mar 22 at 1:04 am Reply Reply

        My son (turns 2 next month) does this too. He is really interested in the idea of the potty, probably thanks to seeing a slightly older boy that his nanny watches use the potty. But he is absolutely not ready. He has asked me several times, and there for a while I stopped everything and let him sit on the potty, thinking that even though I considered him not ready maybe he knew something I didn’t. He even went pee once! And then it kind of became a fun game of getting undressed and sitting but not much else, and I started to think that though he usually went right after in his diaper there actually wasn’t much of a connection.
        After talking to a friend of mine (who, like Amy has trained 3 boys now), I think I am going to wait until this summer and let him run around naked with a travel potty outside. Then he can sit to his heart’s content, and if he goes GREAT and if not, then…okay. Back in diapers when we go back inside. Not particularly helpful, but I don’t think we are going to teach them anything other than “yep, the potty is cool, but you aren’t quite ready yet”

  11. Susan:) Mar 19 at 8:15 pm Reply Reply

    I don’t think it’s too early. But I wouldn’t expect to get him trained all at once. I trained my nieces early but I really started when they were infants. I held them over the toilet to go as infants. As soon as they could sit up, they began sitting on a child seat on the toilet. They still wore diapers, but I did the early toilet thing so that they always knew that that is what toilets were for, and it wasn’t some new scary transition. It was a very gradual process to transition from diapers and sometimes toilet to full time toilet. Observe the times he normally goes potty and try to get him on the toilet then. For instance, upon waking or 15-20 min after eating. Just add it in the day, no big deal. My nieces didn’t fully get out of diapers until a bit after age 2, but we did use a lot less diapers in the meantime, and I feel that my method made it easier for them, since they were already used to the toilet. I myself was scared of toilets when I was little because ours always used to overflow! So I potty trained late because of that. I guess that why I made it my mission to get my nieces used to and unafraid of toilets from the start!

  12. Alli Mar 20 at 10:09 am Reply Reply

    My daughter is 21 months and we, sadly, ditched the cloth diapers at about 18 months for this reason. We never had explosive poops, but they got MUCH less solid (to which my ped is unconcerned and we didn’t make any diet changes we could think of). We loved the cloth diapers when the poops were of the generally-shake-out variety, but my husband is not on board with heavy rinsing. 

    We’re doing some potty sitting, but she doesn’t really care. 

    So not much help, but I just wanted to share another data point for a poop change around that age. 

  13. MR Mar 20 at 12:14 pm Reply Reply

    I had this same problem with my first daughter and tried potty training her at 18 months for the same reason. Let’s just say, long story short, she was ACTUALLY potty trained around 2.5. It was not a fun time. But, we were also able to fix the issue she was having with the acid burn and diarrhea. I found out about NAET treatments, which are accupressure (they tap lightly down your back), and tried it with great success. In her case, one treatement for Vitamin C and she never got the acid burn again. Another for milk and she stopped with the blowouts. I fully admit the process sounds extremely weird, but it is actually the same concept as accupuncture (energy blockages are the cause of all problems, and accupuncture and accupressure can clear the blockages). But, whereas accupuncture can require repeat treatments, NAET doesn’t. Pretty much one and done for most things. It might be worth looking into. Could help your husband too.

  14. Sarah Mar 20 at 2:52 pm Reply Reply

    I recently potty trained my daughter who was just shy of 20 months. I wanted to wait because we are having baby #2 soon, but my lovely toddler was throwing huge tantrums every time I changed her diaper, including kicking, which me and my pregnant belly didn’t appreciate. I did the method where I let her run naked in an enclosed (tile) part of the house, and when she peed I put her on the potty and told her that she needs to pee on the potty, not on the floor. It took about 3 days to get the point where she could tell she had to go and could make it to the potty on her own and a few more days to be more consistent at it. Now I initiate most of the potty sessions because she can apparently hold it forever, and that doesn’t lead to good outcomes. It’s been about a month since I trained her, and she still has about one accident a day, usually when she is really tired or throwing a fit and loses control. We still use a diaper at night. 

    It definitely wasn’t painless. The potty training week was honestly awful, and there are still things to clean up and worries about her having an accident in inconvenient places. And sometimes I wish she still wore diapers because it is easier (except for the tantrums that came with them).

  15. Jessica Mar 20 at 4:19 pm Reply Reply

    One option to consider, depending on the timing of his poops and how much advance warning you get, is to just work on pooping on the potty and hold off on the pee until later. We did this with our son before two years of age- he had a really obvious “pooping face” and we just swooped him up and put him on the potty when we saw it. He caught on quickly and was pooping on the potty 100% of the time for at least 8-9 months before we got anywhere with the pee. He couldn’t figure out how to hold the pee until he was older. For those months we were still in diapers, but they were poop-free diapers. So, if he turns out to be too young to be accident-free pee-wise, it doesn’t mean your efforts are doomed.

    Now my daughter was the opposite and refused to poop on the potty for six months after she was trained for pee, and we tried the same approach with total failure. So, you never know but it seems worth a shot.

    • Hannah Mar 21 at 4:27 pm Reply Reply

      Yes, I was going to suggest this. I look after children in my home & I currently have a little girl here who has been poop-trained with 99% success since she was about 19 months old. She’s now 28 months old, still poops on the potty no problem, but pee is just not something she can manage. She’s got no ability to hold it yet, and so we aren’t pushing it – but the terrible diaper rashes & yeast infections she used to get are gone.

      Just something to consider. In my experience, 17 months is really young – lots of kids are excited about going on the potty at this age, and quite willing to go through the motions, but they just don’t have the body control yet. OTOH, my own 3rd child trained himself over Christmas break at 22 months old just so he could be a big kid like his brothers (they both trained at 36 months). Every kid is different and they can always surprise you! Good luck.

  16. Olivia Mar 20 at 5:25 pm Reply Reply

    I’ve been potty training with my 22 month old for about a week and a half and I’m surprised at how well it’s going. I fully expected to wait until he was 2.5 or later because his sister trained after three, but he was showing so much interest I decided to try. He’s been going naked at home and by day two he she started making it at least some of the time or running to the potty once the pee started flowing. I have cleaned a lot of pee in the last week and a couple of poops off the floor (solid thankfully), but we didn’t have any messes yesterday. I’m not at a poont where I’m willing to go without a pull up in public or at night, but I think we’ll be there soon.

    I do have a boy potty training question, though. What do you in a public restroom? At home he sits and because he’s not wearing pants he’s able to spread his legs wide enough to get his penis pointed down, but with pants around his ankles that is difficult. Do I need to take his pants off or do I pick him up and aim him at the bowl? 

    • Karen Mar 21 at 6:56 pm Reply Reply

      Um, I’m so glad I am not the only one with this question. I want nothing to do with boy peeing.

  17. Maree Mar 21 at 12:54 am Reply Reply

    Hi, I can’t comment on the digestive stuff but I did want to comment to say/offer that the age of toilet training is very, very cultural from what I can see. Where I live the common thing seems to be to train somewhere around 18 months, 2-2.5 is the socially acceptable upper limit and after that you get a fair bit of pressure. Just saying that there doesn’t seem to be a horrible epidemic of children/people with problems caused by ‘early’ training. I just can’t agree with the above that 17mo is too young. Also anecdotally I have heard a lot of mothers say that their children didn’t train until they ditched the ‘pull ups’ and other aids – kids just treat them like diapers.

    My personal experience of 3 kids is 1 son who trained at 3 (gasp!, horror! evidence of terrible neglect and bad mothering!), 1 son at 14 months, 1 daughter at 18 months. All of them trained within about 2 weeks of starting with the 14mo by far the fastest. It may be relevant that care by mom is the norm here (no daycare) so there are no breaks.

  18. Fatima Mar 21 at 8:33 am Reply Reply

    We introduced my 20 month old son to the potty a month or 2 ago but aren’t formally training him yet. However, I’ve noticed that he will willingly let me know when he needs to poop and will sometimes agree to sit in the potty and poop (since I offer the potty if he does announce that he’s about to poop) but he won’t necessarily do the same when he wants to pee. So if poop is your problem I would def start training him to poop on the potty first (as a previous poster mentioned too) and worry about peeing later.

  19. Leslie Mar 21 at 5:19 pm Reply Reply

    Just wanted to throw out one more medical option to consider regarding loose stools.  My son had a similar issue at around 28 months: chronic, loose stools for about 6 weeks straight.  Blowouts galore.  I tried everything related to diet that others have mentioned (restrict dairy! restrict juice! add fiber! probiotic! yada yada yada) with no change.  Finally after several months and multiple incidents of being sent home from Mother’s Day Out for loose stools, I went back to the pediatrician in desperation.  It was then that she did an Xray and found that he had a simple bowel obstruction.  Basically one solid mass of poo stuck in his system that only allowed the loose stuff to get around it and out of his body.  After a round of magnesium citrate (the “juice” you drink before a colonoscopy) and a couple days of higher doses of Miralax, the obstruction passed and he was back to normal.  We did continue a very small dose of Miralax for several months because the pediatrician said without it there is a high rate of another obstruction. 

  20. Andrea Mar 26 at 5:40 pm Reply Reply

    Has the OP looked into Elimination Communication (EC)?  It’s a little crunchy granola and requires the parents to do all of the work to pick up the cues until the child gets the idea. 

  21. Ailidh Mar 26 at 6:50 pm Reply Reply

    My oldest son was daytime potty trained by 17 months. Never has had an accident.
    My second son was out of dipes in daytime by 19 months. He’s had a few accidents, but no more than most kids.
    With early training, it’s on you to take them. It’s not their ‘accident’ it’s your lack of attention, almost always. If you feel up to that level of responsiveness, or up to changing clothes regularly, by all means, potty train early. It was fairly smooth for us both times.

  22. Books Mar 28 at 2:03 pm Reply Reply

    We had some issues that required surgical intervention with pediatric urology right around two. We started potty training maybe about 27 months with medium success. I brought it up to the pediatric urologist at a 6 month follow up and one of the points he made was whether or not my son had made the gross motor milestone of being able to walk up stairs in a coordinated alternating pattern (he hadn’t yet). Apparently, the same nerve coordination that governs that motor skill governs the control of voiding functions (can’t remember if just bladder, or both). So it may just total bunk from this doctor, but something to look into in gauging readiness to potty train.

  23. Yda Apr 01 at 3:25 pm Reply Reply

    My daughter will be 14 months next weekend. A few weeks ago she started to use the word “papa”. At the beginning the did not know what she meant but after a few days we realized she was using it before pooped, every time.
    Sometimes she does it even 10 minutes ahead. She says “papa” because we have been calling it “poop” since day one, I assumed. 
    My question would be, if she lets me know that she needs to poop, should I start potty training her even she is young??
    Thanks

  24. Amanda Apr 08 at 12:04 pm Reply Reply

    This could have been written by me 3 months ago. Good to hear I wasn’t alone in having a very smart, stubborn kid who seemed to have no interest in the potty. HOWEVER, the best advice I received was the opposite of ‘boot camp’, believe me, I tried that with all the steps and nuances observed. Absolutely ZERO success. What finally worked for us was BACKING OFF COMPLETELY until she showed an interest, and then charting with small prizes(bribes) like stickers and fruit snacks. I was ready for a rest by then anyway lol, and it let her regain control of the potty situation and the power struggle was removed. And then, as the above advice suggests, a string of successes proved to her how uncomfortable the whole diapering thing really was, and she bought into it completely with very few accidents! PHEW. So anyway, that’s our story. But I think the important thing to remember is that children are different! We feel the need for A PLAN as the mommy, let’s just get this DONE already. I’ve fallen into that trap so many times with my first – and heard so many success stories about the ‘boot camp’. But they are not ready until they’re ready, and sometimes no amount of ‘boot camp’ will get the job done. Good luck!

    • Amanda Apr 08 at 12:06 pm Reply Reply

      SO SORRY WRONG THREAD!!

  25. shelby Jun 06 at 8:02 pm Reply Reply

    I havent read all the comments but have you heard of ELIMINATION COMMUNICATION? We do it with my 8 month old and it is really just about learning their cues for pee and poop. We “catch” about 5 pees a day and 2 poops a week. I have no experience with the “pressures” of potty training, but EC is a great alternative to actual potty training. 

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