Potty training hacks: what worked for you?

Since we’re on the subject of poop (aren’t we always?), and my daughter is contemplating thinking about fixin’ to someday use the potty, I thought it’d be a good time to discuss potty training hacks. I am no expert in this department. Only now do I see we made all the rookie mistakes with my son (getting keyed-up about the whole process, being inconsistent in our methods, overthinking). Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but potty training boys seems to differ in several ways to potty training girls.

I came across the temptingly-titled article "How to Potty Train in Two Days," which is full of reasonable, no-nonsense advice from a mother of three. Two points I agree with: lose the Pull Ups, and distribute potties throughout the house.

I DO know that not every process works for every kid (or parent). Some kids sail right through, others seem to be born with issues and fears and hesitation about anything resembling a potty. As with much of parenting, often all we can do is to give them the tools and the expectations, and then follow their leads.

Help me out here: what worked for you?

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  1. Allen Knutson says

    I sent a letter to parenthacks some time ago about our experience potty training our six-week-old. Here’s what I wrote.
    I read the NYTimes article a few months ago about “infant potty training” or “elimination communication (EC)” and thought it sounded pretty impractical. That article gave the impression that to try it out, you needed a diaperless baby, and we definitely weren’t looking for that level of adventure.

    Over the holidays, I had time to read websites on the matter.
    Most of them have very little practical advice, just “It’s not only for hippies!” and “Your house needn’t end up soaked in urine!”
    but not really a step-by-step treatise. This one,
    was the best I found, and specifically recommended starting babies in the first few weeks. At which point I wondered what I was waiting for.

    We’ve been doing it for two weeks now (from 6 weeks to 8 weeks old) and have been astonished how easy it is. Presuming that not all
    of the ease is due to my baby’s genius, here’s a step-by-step primer. As you’ll see, none of it presumes that your baby is diaperless or that you have ESP. Some ability to hold up the head is important.

    Stage 1. This only involves new practices when you’re changing your baby anyway. Once he’s clean and still diaperless, hold him
    over the bathroom sink, his back on your chest, your hands cupped
    under his knees. Count to 60. If you get any #1 or #2, make a code noise (we’ve been using “psspsspss”; probably you don’t want to train him to hear “Good boy!!” and instantly poop), and wait an additional 20.

    For our boy, this worked the very first time, at around 40 seconds.
    Since then, the wait time has been anywhere from 5-50, much more
    often at 5. It worked another 7 times that same day, for something like a 75% success rate.

    Stage 2. Whenever she fusses inexplicably, or wakes you in the middle of the night (if you’re co-sleeping — probably it’ll be too slow from another room), try the procedure above just on speculation. Or if you just think “Hm, it’s been about 20 minutes since the last pee”.

    That’s where we are at present. We make it through most nights 9 PM –
    6 AM without a diaper change, and maybe 3-4 changes a day. (We’re
    using cloth diapers at home, and it’s therefore unambiguous if we miss a pee.)

    Stage 3… go enough days in a row without missing a pee or poop that the bother of removing/replacing the diaper becomes more onerous than the fear of pee or poop on the furniture? We’re not there yet, by a long shot, so our boy stays diapered at all other times.

    It’s incredibly satisfying when our boy wakes up after sleeping 3-4
    hours, has a clean diaper, and when held up to the sink he pees and
    poops after about 5 seconds. Then a feeding, then back to sleep!

    Also, it’s been great having something else to try when “The baby’s fussing… he can’t be hungry… what could he want???” Maybe he just needs to pee.

    Some realizations:
    — The idea that babies have no bowel control is complete… poo.
    Which should be obvious to anyone who’s watched a baby strain for
    a bowel movement; there is plainly effort involved.
    — The fact that our boy got it on the first try suggests that it’s
    instinctive. (Or that he’s a genius.) Also, when he’s got nuttin, he whimpers with frustration over being unable to produce! Whereas when he’s back on the changing table after a double success, he’s all grins. Insofar as he’s got no control over almost anything else, I’m really glad to be giving him this opportunity to achieve.
    — It’s much easier cleaning a baby butt that has pooed from the
    position above, rather than into a diaper.

    Mainly I’m sending this along to parent hacks to emphasize a few things that nobody told us about Elimination Communication:

    (1) Don’t confuse EC with having a diaperless baby — the latter makes
    it sound nearly impossible, instead of nearly trivial
    (2) It can be tried out on a very limited basis (“She’s fussing for no reason I can determine — let’s hold her over the sink for 60 seconds, just this once, and see whether she pees”).
    (3) If your baby is anything like ours, he may make it really easy.
    Not much to add after another month, except that we’ve moved from the sink to the toilet. The position is this: I sit on the toilet seat facing the tank, holding my boy as described above. We make it through maybe 90% of nights without using up a diaper, but only about 30% of mornings, his maximal pee time.

  2. says

    I was going to comment something about EC but someone else beat me to the punch. It’s fairly easy to discount someone with a new baby doing EC but I have a 3 yr old (girl) and a 15 mo old (boy), both of whom are/were EC’d.

    My daughter went 2 weeks with no accidents at 16 mos, and then was going through up to 3 pairs of training pants a day (sometimes no accidents, sometimes 3, just depended on sickness or teething or whatever) until 23 mos when she started being dry day and night again and has been that way ever since.

    My son is 15 mos and in training pants (except at daycare) and he pees in the potty several times a day, and is starting to hold it for longer periods of time. He knows when he has to pee and when he doesn’t. Your guess is as good as mine as to when he’ll decide to use the potty every time.

    But the reasons to start so early are that you don’t have to fight with your kids to get them to use the potty. You don’t have to bribe them with sticker charts or potty prizes. You don’t have to teach them what a potty is for. You don’t have to groan every time they won’t pee or poop on the potty, but do it the second you put that diaper back on them. They already know what a potty is for, and they can make the choice to use their pants or the potty, and assuming you’re not using Pull-Ups, they do choose the potty. After all, they’ve been using the potty all their life, so it’s old hat!

    By doing it the traditional way, you might have a kid who potty trains in 2 days at age 2.5. Or you might have a kid who takes a year to finally potty train at age 4. But with doing EC not only won’t you have the frustration if your kid would have been an age 4 trainer, but in that case you’d probably save 2 years worth of diapering. I think it’s worth the bit of extra work early on… and it’s rather fun and exciting when your baby is doing these “genius” things.

  3. Anonymous says

    We’ve been doing EC as well since our daughter was 2 weeks old, she’s now 7 months. I agree that several potties are the way to go–we’ve got one for the bedroom, one for the living room/play area, and of course the big ones in bathrooms.

    EC has been suprisingly easy, though it does take a time commitment. We had a diaper service for the first few months but quit around when she was about 4 months since we just weren’t using them. And it’s definitely easier to dump poo out of the potty than clean it off the baby!

  4. says

    We gave my daughter the mindset that this was a step that bigger girls took to getting bigger. This gave her some mental framing for the challenge. We never used it in the negative, but always just gently mentioned that bigger girls prefer the toilet to their diapers.

    Second, she ended up having her own style to poop, and she still uses it. She plants her feet on the seat and squats, eastern-style. It works for her. At first, we thought she was clowning around and dissuaded her. Then, when we realized she was legit, we made sure she got lots off praise for her methods.

    You’re right: go with what works best for your kid.

  5. kittenpie says

    mine started out by asking to sit on the toilet, so we bought her a potty, and she started using it right away and it has been painless thus far, but we are just letting her take the lead for now and not pushing for it to be exclusive. She still wears diapers but as she has more and more success with telling us, waiting to sit, and then doing her business, we may try a move to undies in the day. She started around 21 months (nothing genius!) but we are pleased that she seems to be taking the lead, as she has never complained about wet or full diapers, so I wondered if she would ever care to avoid them. I try to praise specifically about the process of telling, waiting, then going so she gets that that is how it works. If she tells after going, I remind her to tell first next time, because now it’s too late for the potty, we have to change diaper instead.

  6. says

    We are another EC family. I started EC with my son when he was very little, but only casually, and diapered him conventionally when we were out. Around 6-9 months, we started EC for real and he was largely dry by 15 months. He has had occasional accidents since then, but none since Christmas Eve (at 20 months), when I think he just forgot in all the excitement of opening presents. He’s 22 months now.

  7. Joe says

    We tried various kinds of active encouragement with our son for months, getting more stressed (without trying to project it on him!) as he turned 3 and had only occasional success at the potty. Finally, we stopped worrying about it. We would mention the potty to him frequently, but didn’t push him at all and read potty books only when he picked them out. One day (around 3 1/2) he told us that he didn’t need a diaper to pee anymore, and he never had an accident after that. We kept him in training pants for a couple of weeks at night, but quickly realized that it wasn’t necessary. After that, for another few months, he (on his own) would put on training pants to poop. He clearly knew when he had to go, but was afraid to poo in the potty. Again, one day he just switched gears, went poo in the potty on his own, and hasn’t ever had an accident (he’s now 5).

    My advice is to not worry about the process too much. So what if your kid is “late” in potty training? It will eventually happen. We learned a lot about our son’s temperpent through this — he didn’t really respond to rewards (stickers, treats)… it just created more pressure for him to perform. He needed to make the change on his own terms, and I think that had a lot to do with why he never had an accident after the transition.

  8. AmyS says

    It seems my daughter read all the books that said lose the pull-ups and distribute potties throughout the house. And she, being a nonconformist like her mama, decided to mess with the system. She used the potty for a few days and decided she didn’t like it and wanted to use the toilet — but she didn’t tell us and just held it in (12 hours +!) until we figured it out. So, no multiple potties for us.

    And she asks for pull-ups when she needs to poop. Trying to force (“pull-ups are gone, honey”) results in a constipated babe. I am confident that she will decide to use the toilet for that when she is good and ready. Gotta love a girl who wants make decisions about her bodily functions!

    Nothing we read in books worked for our girl and when we backed off and let her take the lead, she did great! And no accidents!

    Our kids are all individuals and the books speak in generalities. If what they say doesn’t work for your child, toss the books and use your own best judgement.

  9. Kathryn says

    It’s always interesting to me to read comments on potty training from parents who have only one child. Many times the natural inclination seems to be to project their experience onto all other children.
    Well, I have potty trained FOUR children, and done it differently each time!
    My first was potty phobic, so our experience with him matched up more with the parents who posted about their child training after age 3. He FINALLY used the potty several months after his third birthday, and “never had an accident after that, etc. etc.” But 3 years is an AWFUL long time to change diapers!!!

    Our second (a girl) we trained using the “Toilet train in One Day” type method, at about age 2. She trained within two days, and needed pull-ups at night for a good while after being fully daytime trained.

    Our third (girl) trained between age 2 and 3, and used kind of a combination of methods.

    With our fourth we discovered EC for the first time. After years and years of diapering, I was ready to try something, ANYTHING, to change the process we’d been going through. I started at 7 weeks, and either my son was also a genius, or the statements about babies and sphincter control are poo, as the previous poster said. He’s currently 3, and while he has wet the bed a few times, the stress of having a broken leg probably contributed to that!

    I found EC to be very rewarding, and enjoyed the complete freedom from diaper rash it gave us. Our family has very sensitive skin, and I am pleased I now have a way to keep my childrens’ sensitive skin from being irritated by their urine and poop. I plan to EC our next child, and any other future children. The only thing I plan to do differently is to start from birth instead of 7 weeks!

  10. max says

    wow awesome to see the rise in popularity of ec, i live with an ec baby and it is probably the best parent hack i have ever heard of – saves money, time (yes i said it, changing a diaper takes longer than pottying), rashes, headaches, waste, money…

    diapers are a consumeristic conspiracy !