Out of Diapers at 19 ½ Months

Ocean Beach, San Francisco

Ocean Beach, San Francisco ~ August 2008

I believe in teaching typical toddlers to use the potty or toilet before age two. Post 1960s child development “experts” began recommending delayed, child-led toilet learning, which has led to the current trend of three and four-year-old children still wearing diapers full-time.   Barring developmental delays and medical problems, I do not agree with waiting until a child is over three years old to begin the process.  I joined an “early potty training” group and was surprised that “early” was defined as having our children out of diapers by age three. I believe that giving a toddler the dignity, pride, and self-respect of keeping himself clean and dry as soon as he is physically capable is best for both parents and child. The “magic” age I have found is between 18 and 22 months for the majority of toddlers, however, this is not set in stone by any means. There are some important factors to consider before trying this method.  I do not recommend it for toddlers with developmental delays, medical problems, or anything considered special needs.  I also do not recommend it if the child’s life is in a major transition.  Major transitions include such events as the separation of parents, divorce, a new sibling, serious illness, home remodel, moving, loss of caretaker, new daycare situation, and similar events that need to pass before this can be done reasonably.  In my experience, waiting for a child to be “ready” often means that they become embarrassed about soiling themselves and sometimes humiliated by their peers teasing them, calling them babies, telling them that they smell, and even refusing to play with them. As a professional nanny for over 20 years, I have experienced these exact scenarios with preschool-age children in my care.  I have also observed first hand that as toddlers approach the two-year mark, they start developing a lot of common fears, including the toilet and elimination. Many also become stubborn, desire more power and control, and are far less eager to please their parents and caregivers, which makes the process very difficult. These developmental changes are a normal part of growing up, but they can be quite counterproductive to the toilet learning process. If you wait too long, you risk missing that window of opportunity and sometimes have to wait until what I call the “embarrassment and humiliation stage” that I described above.  Sometimes that does not happen until children are close to four years of age.   The process can take much longer and be a lot more difficult after age two, so many parents choose to wait and try again after the “terrible twos” have passed.  Wearing diapers for an extra two years also means an additional $1500 or more spent on diapers.  Another issue to consider is the phenomenon called “stool refusal” which did not exist prior to delayed, child-led toilet learning. Click HERE to read an article by family psychologist, John Rosemond about stool refusal in children over age three years.

At 19½ months, Rocco was wearing regular underwear all day, using his potty chair with pride and enthusiasm, and keeping himself clean and dry 99% of the time. The learning process from wearing diapers all day, to wearing regular underwear all day, took exactly eight days for Rocco. I want to stress that there was no crying, no tantrums, no fear, and no anxiety for Rocco.  I was calm and matter-of-fact about it, and he was very curious about seeing pee and poop coming out of his body.  He was thrilled by my praise and excitement and quickly became eager to please me.  Toilet learning at a year-and-a-half old was common place until the 1970s, so your toddler does not have to be exceptional or advanced in any way for this to work. In fact, Rocco was almost non-verbal at 19½ months. Of the dozen or so words he spoke, none was related to using the potty. He never expressed an interest before I introduced him to idea of staying dry and using the potty. In fact, I am certain that he was completely unaware that it was even an option until the day we started. The potty chair I purchased when he was 18 months old was nothing more to him than a chair his size to sit on and play with.  Teaching him to use the potty was 100% my idea. It was not difficult at all. I had helped many toddlers learn to use the toilet as a nanny. I also taught my first son back in 1990 just before he was turned two. Although every child is different, this method has worked for me every single time with approximately two dozen toddlers over the past 20 years. The youngest was a set of 17-month-old twin girls in 1987. The oldest was a 23½-month-old boy. Some got it in a few days, while others took a few weeks.  I have also helped teach preschoolers (age three or older), and some of them were very easy, while others were frightened and traumatized by the whole experience.

Your toddler should ideally be between 18 and 22 months when this is done, however, all children are different and it will work for some and not others.  There is no technique with a 100% success rate for a specific age or time bracket. You will need to set aside about one week to spend at home with him, mostly sitting on the floor and watching him like a hawk for cues that he is about to go pee. The cues for poop are usually much easier. If you have a play room or family room, plan to spend the week in that area with your child. If you have carpeting, I recommend laying thick towels, quilts, or blankets down that can be easily washed. At the end of the week, you’ll need to do a good carpet cleaning.  If you are able to do this in a room with tile or wood floors, you are very fortunate.  Be warned that toddlers often slip and fall on a wet floor in a split second, so be mindful of that.

I highly recommend the Once Upon A Potty book, the Once Upon A Potty DVD, and the Elmo’s Potty Time DVD right around 17 to 18 months. Rocco and I spent about three weeks watching and reading these daily before starting the official process. Rocco loved these and he did connect events in the book and on the DVD with his accomplishments several weeks later. In addition, we purchased the Baby Bjorn potty, which is very comfortable and easy to use, as well as easy to clean. Rocco liked the potty chair and spent several weeks sitting on it fully clothed thinking it was quite a nice chair.

Spend the day before you begin the actual teaching process explaining to your toddler that he will no longer be wearing diapers. Instead, he will be wearing big boy underwear and using his very own potty for pee and poop. Take him to the store and let him pick out about a dozen pairs of big boy underwear with his favorite characters. Rocco picked Elmo and Thomas the Train. The next morning, have the area set up with plenty of your toddler’s toys, books, DVDs, clean underwear, rewards, favorite foods, and lots of fluids. I recommend water and juice. You want your toddler to eat and drink as much as possible throughout the day. Treats are optional. Some children respond well to m&m’s or stickers. Others are fine with lots of hugs, kisses, and praise. At this age, toddlers are very eager to please. They are motivated to do things that make you happy, which is why this age range is so perfect for toilet learning.

When your toddler wakes up, take off his diaper and have him “help” you take all of the diapers out of the house. Put them in a big bag and explain that the diapers are going to the babies. Put regular underwear on your toddler, get down on the floor, and start watching. As soon as he grabs himself or you see wetness in his underwear, say “Oh, you’re going pee! Let’s put the pee in the potty! Great job!” Give him a ton of praise for even just a few drops of pee in the potty. Have him “help” clean the potty in the bathroom so he can see that the pee goes in the big toilet where Mommy and Daddy go. Expect to go through all the underwear in the first day. You’ll be washing them with the towels the first night.

You will notice fewer accidents each day. Our experience was 11 accidents the first day, seven accidents the second day, and one accident the third day. By the fourth day, Rocco was walking to the potty on his own when he got that feeling and there were no accidents. Poop did not click with him until day seven. Day eight was a perfect day and after that we resumed our normal activities, including visiting the park and having lunch out. Rocco never wore another diaper after that first day. I chose not to attempt nighttime training at this age. That is a different process, so I purchased a set of cloth training pants for overnight use only, so Rocco would not be confused by using diapers. By age two years, Rocco was dry five out of seven nights, so it comes on its own in due time.

Thanks for reading~Sid

Published in: on January 31, 2009 at 10:44 pm  Comments (20)  
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20 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I read your post on cafemom with the poll and I thought you brought up a very good point. My son is 19 months and I am going to try your advice from this blog. THANKS!! I’ll let you know how it goes 🙂

  2. This has been a helpful post, thanks for writing it. And the pic is absolutely gorgeous!

  3. I potty trained my son this way before I read your blog. It worked for us. I fully believe that kids can be potty taught at an early age. You son is absolutely a doll.

  4. I did this sort of thing with our son who is now almost 24 months. He was doing amazing and I could safely say he was fully potty trained, but just this last week he came down with a terrible virus and the experiance was tramatic for both of us. He has experiance some regression since then so I am hoping that we can get back on track. Any suggestions? Anything would help.

    • Hi Erin,
      I would just tell him that it’s time to use the potty again now that he is feeling better and that these things happen when you’re sick.

  5. I saw your post on cafemom and had to check this out. My son is 25 months old. I’m going to try this method. The only down side is that I do have a 5 month old too. We’ll see how it goes!

  6. hi i am deaf mom for my son age 5. my son is 5 years old. I have been potty training my son Carlos since he was 3 years old before his birthday October 25. i had been trained him for 2 years. in school . he wears underwear in school mostly since september. he refused wear underwear at home since. i tried my best. he does goes to bathroom and pee and dd in toliet. he had a developementall delay since age 4 during evaluations. i need big help because he is going to bigger classroom this fall 2009. i had to get more underwear alot of it. he is very stubborn refused to wear underwear, i make him leave the underwear alone at home. he ingored me. i told him i warming him once get to september people will mocked him age 5 still wearing pullups. i goes to bathroom myself age 2 i wear underwear at age 2 with no problem at all. i need your big help. i am only person to teach him age 3 for carlos myself strugging him for 2 years since age 3 to 5 years old. that is 2 years.

    • Hi Michelle,
      My best advice is to let him know that you will no longer buy Pull Ups and get rid of all the Pull Ups you currently have. Do not give him that option. Let him know that he can be naked or wear underwear, and that you really don’t care either way. This is a battle that he is enjoying, and winning. If he sees that you don’t care, it won’t be fun anymore. At 5 years old, he can be responsible for cleaning himself up and any messes he makes as well, and that really won’t be fun.

      Let him know that if he wants to act like a baby, he will be treated like one, which means no television, no big boy toys, naps in a crib, early bedtime, etc. Let him know that it’s his choice to still be a baby, or act like a five-year-old. Keep in mind that I do not know the details of his developmental delay, so adjust this according to his limitations.

  7. I loved your post, thank you! My only questions is, after the 8 days when you go out in public again, what do you do when they need to go to the bathroom? You won’t have their potty with you and I would think a big potty in a public restroom would be scary.

    • Hi Susan,
      I bought a tiny Baby Bjorn potty that easily fits in my stroller basket. If we are far from our car, I push the stroller into the handicap stall and put the potty in his stroller seat. It was easier than changing a diaper, and to get him to cooperate with taking the bathroom break when he was having fun at Six Flags, I gave him one plain m&m. If we are close to the car, he sits on the little potty in the back seat where we have tinted windows. To clean the potty, which thus far has always been pee when we’re out, I keep a zipper bag with paper towels to soak up the pee if there are no bushes to dump it in. I wipe it out with a baby wipe and we’re on our way. It’s different, but not more difficult to deal with than changing diapers. Here is a link to the small style of potty I purchased for outings:

  8. OMG! My son is almost 21 months! I better get started.. ty so much! Off to go underwear shopping! ill let u know how it goes!

  9. I have potty trained my son during naps and during the day while at home. He just recently trained to underwear after only being trained if he was naked for about a month. I am just curious how you trained him overnight… my son is ready I’m sure but I just don’t know how to do it at all and he’s already past 2 years and 3 months old.(27 months) I want to train him while he’s still young and interested. He sleeps naked for naps and sometimes with underwear. The big problem is if you have to leave a potty in the room… my kids share a room and my daughter is 1 year younger and made a mess of their room during the day when she got into his poop because they decided to close the door and couldn’t open it. I worry about that happening at night. He does use the potty seat on the toilet around bath time before bed but he needs help with that… I would love to hear how you trained him over night so I could see if I can use that method with my son… I’m plaining on using this blog entry’s method when my daughter gets to 18 months.:)

  10. By the way I love your choice in potty chairs.. my son has the same one and I’m getting my daughter one in pink when I get the money:) Is there a reason you linked to the one on amazon because I’ve seen it many other places cheaper if I recall correctly?

    • Hi Megan,
      Yes, that is the best potty chair I’ve ever tried, and we have tried about six! I linked it on Amazon because that’s where I bought the DVDs and books I used, and the potty chair came up on the “you might also like….” so it was just convenient. It’s cheaper at drugstore.com and they have free shipping. I bought my from a local store. In no way do I benefit from or suggest that anyone buy anything from a specific website. My links are for information only. I recommend doing a Google search to find the best price for everything. Thanks for bringing that up Megan.


    • Hi Shannon,
      That’s great he likes the potty. Start with regular underwear and the potty close by. Sit him on the potty as soon as he starts to pee in his underwear and give him a lot of praise. That seems to be the fastest, most effective way to teach toddlers what is expected. Without that first step, I hear over and over that a toddler will sit on the potty for 30 minutes and pee on the floor as soon as they stand up. What seems obvious to us, isn’t to them, so that’s the first step. After a few days, there will be a big change. If not, at 19 months, he may be ready to try again in a few weeks.

      Thanks for your comment,

  12. I tried the method that you recommend, which is exactly what they say to do in the book about potty training in 3 days. It has worked for friends of mine, and I believe that it will work for my child as well…once she is ready. She is 26 months, and we devoted 4 days to her potty training with only 2 successes using the potty. She would show no signs that she was about to go potty, and we would take her and sit her on the potty every 15 minutes. Even with doing this she would not go in the potty, but would wet her pants about 2 minutes after getting up. The times that she did go in the potty we praised and rewarded her, so she knew what she was supposed to do, she just didn’t understand what the signs were that she needed to go. My child is not developmentally delayed, or going through any sort of transitions, she is simply not ready, which is exactly what I suspected, and what was backed up by her daycare teacher who has 25 years of experience with potty training children. I believe that you are right that children are capable of being taught how to use the potty at a very young age, but I also believe that sometimes they really are not ready, and that doesn’t mean that they will wait until they are 4 before they are.

    • To lianadickson,
      You are entitled to your opinion. I do not know your child the way you do, however, I have seen “signs” in most children when they are about to pee, and perhaps they were too subtle for you to notice. Nowhere in my method do I sit a child on a potty at specific intervals. That is setting up your child for confusion and failure. The only way I have found for a toddler to make the connection about what we are trying to teach them is to sit them on the potty while they are peeing. With all due respect, you did not try my method if you were putting your daughter on the potty every 30 minutes. Still, I never said my method, or any other would work with every child.

      I wrote that waiting too long sometimes to a child being close to four. In my 20+ years as a caregiver, that has been my experience. There are no absolutes, and I never wrote that missing the windows means that they will wait until they are four. Those were your words, and I want to make it clear that they are not mine.

      Thanks for your comment and good luck with your journey.

  13. Hi Sidney,

    I totally agree with your thoughts on “toilet learning.” I started the process with my son just before he turned 22 months. I found your post soon after we started, so we didn’t exactly follow your method (DVDs, getting rid of diapers). But he got the idea really quickly and by the 3rd week he was saying “pee pee” or “poo poo” before he went, and he stayed dry for 2 days that week. Since then he seems to have gone downhill. He’ll pee in his Pull Ups or training underwear and say “pee pee” afterwards, or not even tell us he needs to go. When he does say “pee pee,” I’ll go to pull down his pants and he runs away screaming “no, no,” like it’s a bad thing. And now he’ll just pee wherever he happens to be, whether he’s wearing Pull Ups, underwear, or nothing. He does sometimes pee in the potty, and pooping has not been a problem. We have been so good about positive reinforcement, with stickers and stamps, and I don’t know what happened. I’m SO frustrated and don’t know how to handle this. We were not able to be as consistent as you were with Rocco, because it was not possible to stay home for a full week or more (I work part time, etc), and I feel our daycare provider was slacking when it came to potty training him.
    What should I do?

    • Hi Carlee,
      I am so sorry you’re going through this with him. I would say that there is some confusion for him with the daycare. If they are slacking and breaking the consistency, that will cause problems. I wonder if something happened at daycare that scared him to make him suddenly start screaming about using the potty. I am not suggesting anything horrible, just something minor that made him afraid of going in the potty. I don’t know what method you exactly used, since you said it was a little different, but have you tried moving the potty to his play area at home? Some days Rocco only wants to stand up and pee in the big toilet. Other days he doesn’t want to leave his toys, so I offer him the potty chair right there. Sorry I couldn’t help more.

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