Potty train at 17 months? Talk amongst yourselves.

At Amazon: Baby Bjorn Potty Chair (affiliate link)
At Amazon: Baby Bjorn Potty Chair

Jennifer's 17 month-old son appears to be potty training himself. In fact, there isn't much "training" going on which is causing Jennifer some confusion as to how to proceed. Any advice for her? 

I hate to think of this as a "problem," but I am stumped.  I'm the mom of two boys (5 and 1).  The one year old is almost a year and a half old and through watching his older brother has developed a strong interest in going potty.  Like, all the time.  And he does it well.  

Thing is, I'm hesitating to potty train him.  He's only 17 months old!  He barely speaks in real words!

So my question is: Do I keep letting him train himself and keep him in diapers for the most part or go into full on potty training mode? Is there an in between?

I honestly think he'd be receptive to training, but I'm worried I'm being totally unrealistic about his ability to really be potty trained at such a young age.  For what it's worth, he's a bright kid, so I think cognitively he's "there."  I just can't get past trying to potty train a child who mostly speaks gibberish. (!)  This all may be moot if he potty trains himself, I realize.

Thanks for any helpful advice!

Isn't it amazing how different kids can be?

I remember something my husband said when one of my kids was doing something way off the normal developmental schedule: "The thing is, no one told the kid the schedule." The point is that every kid's internal clock and style of learning really do go at their own rates and in their own directions.

While I didn't have the experience with potty training Jennifer is having, I have gone through other developmental variations in my kids (that's putting it lightly). Looking back, things seemed to work best when I followed their lead rather than trying to direct too much.

So my gut says that since the little guy is into it and appears to be ready, why not show him more? It's not as if potty training needs to be "complete" on any sort of schedule, so progression doesn't need to go in a neat straight line.

It call all be very low key. Perhaps teaching him the words for "potty" and "diaper" (he probably understands more language than he can express) so you can begin talking about it as he goes along?

It may also help to know that in different cultures, potty training begins MUCH earlier. Many years ago I was visiting India, and my cousin's son had just turned one. They would keep him diaperless as he toddled around the house and then run him to the potty when he was ready to go. (It helped that the house had stone floors so the inevitable cleanups were a nonissue.)

It was the most normal thing in the world, and he potty trained soon thereafter. I didn't have kids at the time so didn't pay attention to the details, but now I wish I had.

Please pitch in with your experiences. Who else has a kid who potty trained relatively early? Or for whom "following their lead" made sense? How did you proceed?

Jennifer: you might check out the many, many potty training tips we've got in the archives as well. Lots of great advice in the hacks and in the comments. Also, there are a bunch of encouraging comments about early potty training on the Facebook page.


  1. Molly says

    My kids (twin boys) started using the potty at around that age, or a little before. We noticed that they tended to poop every morning about 5-10 minutes after their morning milk so we decided “why not?” and put them on the potty and from that morning on they started using the potty for their morning movement. We’d put them on the potty a couple of times a day, read books, etc. and they really quickly caught on about what to do on there. There were no rewards or punishments or anything. We’d occasionally try them out in underpants/training pants, but they didn’t really have the bladder control to stay dry– one in particular would pee a little like 5 times an hour sometimes, which is common when bladders are still immature. Around 2 years they started staying dry between trips to the potty, and started doing much more self-initiating of trips to the potty. Around 26 months they stopped wearing diapers (except at night). It was great. They’d have occasional accidents, certainly more than a potty-trained 3.5 year old would, I’d bet, but still I’m glad I saved a years’ worth of buying and dealing with diapers (times 2). Anyway, I totally assumed we’d wait until they were much older to “potty train,”– we tend not to be on the super-achieving style of parenting or anything– but I’m glad we didn’t wait (also glad that we took a really mellow approach to this, despite the earlier timeline). Good luck! Oh, and I should say that my kids were not ahead on tons of milestones or anything at that age– in fact one of them didn’t walk until 17 months and didn’t really say more than a couple of words until about 20 months. There is a book called “Diaper Free Before 3″ which has some helpful info about early potty training (although the book is a little bit strident I did find it had some good practical advice). Good luck!

  2. Nicole T says

    My biggest goal was to get my son to be able to pull his pants up and down independently before potty training, so he could do that himself.

    Our son started wanting to poop in the potty around 18 months, so we got a potty seat and a stool and let him. We also let him watch us go on the potty, since he was an only child at this point.

    Bladder control was an issue though. We would put him in undies for a few hours a day and try to get him to sit on the potty and try to pee every hour or so. Usually, we just ended up cleaning up pee. :-) But we didn’t make a big deal about it with him “Oh, you didn’t make it to the potty. Let’s go sit and make sure you don’t have any more in your body!” It was more about the routine of potty, washing hands, etc.

    He then started losing interest (too much work for him maybe?), so we we just put him in diapers again all the time. Then he was asking for big boy pants and to use the potty again around 2.5, so we started working on it again. It was also an issue of his moving to the next classroom in daycare necessitating it. By this point, he was waking up from nap and nighttime dry. So we did big boy pants during the day, diapers at nap and night. Then pants at nap… pants at night.

    We used cloth diapers, so I think that helped him know when he was wet and dry, and switched to undies for school when he was training. They were really awesome about helping him and changing him into dry ones. I did a LOT of laundry for a couple months.

    The next big hurdle was going potty in strange toilets… which I think was covered in another post. :-)

  3. Kristi says

    Back when I was a kid, 80% of kids wore cloth diapers and disposables were a rarity. And to hear my parents tell it, potty training around 18 months was the norm. So while potty training at that age is unusual now, I think it’s reasonable. :)

  4. Ritu says

    I have two kids who are 13 months apart. My son is older, my daughter at 18 months old expressed interest in sitting on the potty because she was watching her recently potty training brother. She literally potty trained within a few days. I wouldn’t have believed she was ready, but I just went with her cues and expressed interest. Let your little one lead you on this one.

  5. Asha Dornfest says

    These comments are so encouraging! This is what I love about Parent Hacks…thank you all for the comments so far.

  6. Grace says

    We started infant potty training at 6 months old. We noticed that the kids would poop upon waking up and when the kids were able to sit up they’d sit on the toilet every morning with the Baby Bjorn seat, and then most of the time pee and poo. It required patience and we had a collection of books in the washroom, but it also meant I didn’t have to clean dirty cloth diapers. I taught them about 10 signs from ASL including the one for “toilet” which helped them to tell me when they had to go.

    As with anything, we had good days and bad days, but in general it worked well. At 2 years old when my son started preschool I was sending him in underwear and although he wasn’t telling us 100% of the time for pees, I asked his teacher to take him 15 min after he had snacks. We tried to pay attention to their rhythms and their body cues, like the “potty dance”. We would have a potties throughout the house and offer them opportunities after naps, and 15 min after meals and snacks.

    It would be great to continue following his lead. We would use cloth diapers when we went out and underwear at home until he was consistently not having accidents.

    I loved the book, Diaper Free Baby, which gave great explanations and tips on potty training.

  7. valerie h sutherland says

    My son was in day care with 5 boys all older than him. He walked early was a big boy and just wanted to be like the older kids and I used cloth diapers and they were so wet and nasty….he was totally trained by 20 months. I had his sister when he was 2 years and 3 months old…he digressed for a minute then said yuck to me while I was cleaning him up and he never missed again. now the daughter….gosh she was over 3 i thought she would never stop peeing herself!

  8. Po says

    My oldest was potty trained at 18 months, he would tell me he need to wee or poo and I would take him.

  9. says

    Potty training was fairly simple and easy for me. My daughter trained herself. She showed interest, she was ready and she knew all the right words. She was fully toilet trained at 18 months during the day. At night time I would still use a diaper. Once she started waking up with empty diaper, it was time to remove the diaper all together. Kids are different. It is not necessary to stress much. I do’t even like the expression “potty training”. It’s a natural thing. Kids always want to do what adults do. They just have to be ready for it psychologically and most importantly physiologically.
    Have the potty around, available in the bathroom, let your child come with you when you do your business and it will click one day. I never read a single potty training children’s book to my child. Human babies are super able. How do they learn eating? How do they learn speaking? Don’t force, don’t reward, don’t do a happy dance…treat toilet going as a matter of fact issue. That’s key. ALso, don’t compare your kid to others. It’s not a competition. they are all going to be out of diapers eventually.
    Good luck!

  10. Susan says

    I was potty trained by the time I was 18 months old, although I hesitate to use that term because nobody trained me…I just watched my siblings and decided I wanted to do that too. I wouldn’t let my mother put diapers on me. As with everything, my mom just followed my lead and went with it. She was sad that her last baby didn’t need diapers anymore, because it’s such a big milestone, but what the heck…they were cloth diapers and she didn’t have a washing machine so was washing EVERYTHING by hand anyway. Just wanted to say, training early isn’t unheard of…you can either follow baby’s lead or insist on baby wearing diapers. It’s up to you.

  11. Jennifer says

    Thanks everyone! This has been really helpful. We’ll continue to let the little one “lead the way” as we go forward. It’s such a different experience from actively teaching potty skills to his older brother. I feel more confident that he’ll come to it as he wants to and that’s OK.

  12. Denise Jordan says

    It’s been a long time since I did any potty training but I found it best to proceed at the pace of the child. If the child can walk to the pot and try to manipulate his clothing, help him. We shouldn’t hinder his progress because we are not ready. The advantage to having siblings is they model behaviors, hopefully ones we want emulated!.

  13. Tanya Kay says

    We started at 17 months too, for all the same reasons you describe. Two things I found most helpful: 1 – think of it as a process (“We’re potty trainING” rather than he is/isn’t potty trainED). He may finish the process at a more socially acceptable age :); 2 – don’t tell anyone. This is between you and your kid.

  14. says

    The potty training age has only gone up since the invention of washing machines, and then again with disposable diapers. The theory that you have to wait for “readiness” was because there was a movement of early potty training that included abusive and harsh methods…
    So go with it! We practiced Infant Potty Training as well, or Elimination Communication, when our son was 6 months old (you can start earlier). We take him to the toilet (with a seat reducer) first thing in the morning, and certain times during the day when I know he’ll have to go. They do go through natural regressions, or “potty pauses” during big milestone times, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t start early. My son is now 10.5 months old and he knows how to use the toilet, even though he can’t pull down his pants or even get onto the toilet on his own. You can keep him in diapers if he has a lot of accidents. But if you find that he’s only using the diaper once or twice a day, just put him in underwear and see how quickly he improves! If you pay close attention, you might be able to prevent one or two of those accidents.

  15. jill says

    we tried infant potty training since our daughter was 3 days old. she was doing really well after 3 weeks and only having pee diapers. we kept up with it till she started walking at age 9 months. 9 months she was having a serious potty strike. the only time she would willingly go or sit in the potty was right after waking up in the morning so we continued with that and gave up on trying to potty on a chair during the day. she is 15 months now and has started grabbing the potty chair to let us know she needs to go. we taught her the asl for potty and she now signs when she needs to go. she doesn’t always let us know when she needs to go but I’m happy that she does this independently at all. we give lots of praise, hand claps, hugs, kisses. I would go with it!

  16. Brooke says

    We also started doing Elimination Communication at 6 months. She very quickly started waiting until the next potty to poop. We ditched daytime diapers during the day at 16 months and then the night time diapers at 18 months because she would wake up during the night and ask for the potty. I am so glad that we got this out of the way before the power struggle phase set in! And all those months of avoided diaper use is great for the environment, your wallet, and your child’s self-efficacy. I say go for it, mama!
    For what it’s worth, we used the EC Simplified and oh crap potty training eBooks, which served us well. The second book advocates a more proactive approach to potty training, and she makes a good argument for it. It’s worth checking out, and if you have questions along the way, you can ask in the books support forum or on her radio show. Good luck!

  17. Claire Ross says

    THIS is the thread I’ve been looking for! My boy is almost 18 months and has suddenly taken to both peeing and pooing in the potty. I didn’t force him, just made the suggestion gently and he’s really taken to it in a few days. So, will continue to let him take the lead and see what happens. I didn’t expect this at all! He’s been accompanying me to the toilet everyday since birth so that might have helped him understand. I feel a few weeks dedicated to poo and pee coming up…….!