The bottom line

16th August, 2011 - Posted by Drboo - 1 Comment

The big news this month is that X now uses a potty / toilet!

He is still in nappies at night, but during the day (even this week when he has had a bug giving him chronic diarrhoea up to 10 times a day) he asks for the toilet or potty.

I am so proud of him. Not of us, you notice. But of him.


We did not train X to walk, talk, eat….so we didn’t think he needed training to move from nappies to “Daddy pants”.

We call them “Daddy pants” rather than “big boy pants” for this very reason. You see, for us, using a potty doesn’t make X a “big boy” – he isn’t, he is a toddler, a child. If he had not felt ready for the pants we didn’t want him to think it was a big deal, that it meant he is a “baby”.

X has often had nappy off time, and about 6 months ago we bought a potty so that we could whip him onto it if he needed, and to get him used to the idea. He hated it at first, so we made it into a toy for a while. Then, when we moved to a place with wooden floors and the weather was good for playing in the garden, we got it back out again and directed him to it.

Yes, we cheered when he used it, and rang his grandparents so they could congratulate him. We even gave him a car when he used the potty for a few days. A toy one, obviously (secondhand shops do bags of about 10 for £1). Does that mean we trained him? Maybe. It is, after all, a form of conditioning. But, to be honest, I wasn’t very regular with the cars and there were times he would use the potty without my even knowing it (sometimes I would realise he had been cheering himself while I was in the other room!) I seriously don’t think that he linked the cars and the potty. Maybe he would have done if I was better at it….

But as it was, it was just the right time for him. I had nothing to do with it. We bought him the pants one Sunday, just thinking we would see how it went. Three accidents on the first afternoon. Then he was dry. We were amazed. Xan just took it in his bandy-legged stride. I am by no means smug about the lack of nappies – just impressed with my son’s bladder control.

There was a time when this – being out of nappies at not-quite-two – would have been considered late. In the 1900s most babies were in pants at 2 and dry at night by 3. Babies in the early 1900s were started at 1 year, even at 4 months in order to be out of nappies as soon as possible. Suppositories or “soap sticks” were being suggested in some paediatric clinics in the USA, to ge those bowel movements under control (the parents control, obviously). I read that in 1957 90% of children were dry by 2.

It seems to me that, along with disposable nappies, came later potty training. I don’t know if these things are linked, perhaps it was harder to potty train when the child found it difficult to associate peeing with being wet etc. But there was also a more child-centric approach around that time, urging parents to look for signs that their child was “ready” before thrusting them on a potty. I certainly think that having X in reusable nappies and ensuring we were using them (we do get lazy about that kind of thing from time to time) around the same time as encouraging using the potty at nappy off time helped the process a little.

As the twentieth century went on, people began to worry that early potty training could lead to psychological problems later in life. Freud also linked early potty training to personality disorders! It seems reasonable to think that early training could cause problems (but not personality disorders) but only if that early training was harsh and punitive. After all, many families successfully use elimination communication (EC) from birth (picking up on a baby’s signs they need to use the toilet, and using cues to help them associate the toilet with peeing and pooing) with no signs of detriment whatsoever. Far from it – in order to successfully use an EC approach you have to be so attentive, and so in tune with your child using a cycle of early communication and immediate response to the child’s needs, that the chances are you are raising an individual with a strong attachment bond. It is clear, however, that EC does demand a great deal of time and attention and personally I cannot see how it would be possible for working parents. I am happy to be corrected, so if you have experience as a working parent of an EC baby or child write in the comments section!

Anyway, back to the change in social attitude, in the 1960s Brazelton advocated a more child-orientated approach and said that the child must be ready for potty training, not just the parent. His approach was “step-wise”, starting with the child getting used to the potty (sitting on it clothed for example) and going from there, but not until at least 18 months, and definitely not until the child has met other developmental stages, such as the ability to say “no”, walking, pulling clothing on and off (see Gina Ford’s advice later).

The next load of advice came from Azrin and Foxx in the 1970s. A bit like Brazelton, but less patient and more adult-controlled, they told parents to load their child with water on a given day to get some control over the fullness of the bladder and then scheduling frequent and regular toilet trips. They advocated lots of praise for success, including treats and presents, and “over correction” for accidents (negative consequences).

These days most childcare “experts” suggest something in between these two approaches – waiting, as Brazelton suggested, until the child is developmentally ready and then having regular toilet trips and rewards for success (but no negative consequences for accidents, these are just dealt with with the minimum fuss).

The science behind potty vs nappy seems to hinge on a developmental stage of controlling the “relax and hold” message the bladder is receiving. This apparently contradictory task is required of the bladder to store urine without leaks. Once you have control over this, you then need to be able to interpret what you bladder is telling you – need to pee, don’t need to pee yet, having a pee NOW!

That said, there is some weight behind the argument that some degree of “training” may be required to help kick start the transition – perhaps like we did with X: nappy off time, excitement at his using the potty, telling him when we are going to the toilet (and letting him watch), telling him when he is going to the toilet, little rewards for using the potty successfully.


At night it’s a slightly different story, with an “anti-diuretic hormone” helps to cut down how much urine is made at night – some people just never get enough so are up in the night once or twice (or more) as adults.

So how do you know if your little one is ready? There are plenty of sites about this out there, so I won’t reinvent the wheel, but briefly it seems your child will be aware of peeing or pooing (stop what they are doing, stand in a certain way or hold their nappy, ask to be changed immediately afterwards), and they can follow instructions. Some will say (Gina Ford, for example) that your child should be able to point to their body parts when named and dress and undress themselves as well. For what it is worth, X doesn’t dress or undress himself with any degree of competence or regularity yet.

That said, with EC these “rules” do not seem to apply, and very young children (ie 6 months or so) are able to sign that they need the potty/toilet…. for more information there is a great book “The Diaper-free Baby” (By Christine Gros-Loh) which has sections on using EC with children whether you start at birth or the toddler stage.

Is there a right or wrong time to start? Well, as long as your approach is not harsh and punitive, there is no psychological evidence that I can find that suggests you can do this too soon (as the EC-ers would attest to), and there is research evidence that suggests that early potty training is better for children who are inclined towards bladder infections.

The Parenting Science blog has a compelling article on the science behind the timing of potty training.

While I am thrilled that this has happened for X relatively early (in the current day and age), as far as I see it, this is yet another child-rearing event which is heavily dependant on what you as a family want to do – whether you are following an EC approach, or waiting for those “signs of readiness” – and whether you have sunny days and wooden floors that can cope with the odd “accident”…..

Things we bought (or nearly bought) for potty training -
A potty
Pull up pants (reusable)
A toilet training seat
A step stool
A portable potty
A portable toilet training seat (as he refused to use the portable potty)
10 pairs of “Daddy pants”

Things we actually used -
A potty (but I think we could have just used the training seat, especially as we have a downstairs toilet)
A toilet training seat
A step stool
Portable training seat (but I think we could have just held him over toilets in public toilets)
10 pairs of “Daddy pants”


1 Comment


December 29th, 2012 at 12:51 pm    

, what worked for me may not work for you but here’s what I did for my lttlie boy. When he was ready showing interest and peeing on the potty daily we went to full underwear (pull ups only at nap and overnight, if necessary). I had my son sit down to pee, because it was an easier concept for him to grasp (as opposed to aiming!) and it was easy to “catch” a poop, if that makes sense. If he was standing up and he discovered he had to poop, guess where it went?? EW! I started on a Monday and put him in underpants. I set the timer for every 15-30 mins, and we went to the potty. That ended up stressing me out, and throwing him off his game (though others swear by it!) On day 3 I said, “Forget the clock!” and I took him whenever he asked to go or if it had been more than an hour or two, we tried to go potty. We had a few accidents that day, but once he realized he was in control of when he went to the potty he was game!So we started on Monday and by that Sunday we took an all day trip to the zoo with no accidents. We started three days after his 2nd birthday.I hope you get some good advice here, and that you find what works best for you! With two, there may be more tricks you can try References :

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