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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