Going Potty

So, how to approach the dreaded subject of potty training? Well, I’ve helped more than 35 toddlers go through this process, so let me tell you some of my thoughts. I recently heard the term “potty learning” instead of potty training, and I like it, since I think it more accurately represents what’s going on. My best source for potty learning is an article that was given to me quite a few years ago, which I’ve since lost. I’ve looked for it online, but I don’t see it floating around out there. If find it I’ll pass the info on, because everything that author says seems to be right-on.

Develop Interest
There are several distinct phases in a child going from diapers to underpants. The first piece is that the child has be interested in it. This usually happens sometime between 18 and 28 months of age, and when you notice it happening, jump on it! If you miss the cues, or want to give the interest level a little nudge, start talking about going potty. Be excited when you’ve gone potty, be excited when your husband goes potty, be excited when house-guests go potty. This can be really funny and fun for you and your spouse, and it often gets the interest level up pretty quickly.

And, since kids learn through imitation, expose your child to as many people going potty as you can. Invite him to come with you when you go, have dad invite him when he goes, and invite families with slightly older children, who are going potty but need adult assistance still, and let your child be part of the activity. Daycares and play-programs are great for exposing kids to other kids learning to go potty. My first few years of teaching the potty-area was in the classroom with a short wall around it (you can see it in the photo above), and all of the children stood on a bench and watched each other learn the ropes. I’ve never had an easier time potty training! They cheered each other on, and they inspired each other. I’m not kidding: one little boy saw another boy poop in the potty, and he looked at me and said, “I want to do that.” He sat down on that potty for literally (I counted) twenty minutes. And finally, he did it! He was quietly proud of himself.

Peeing on the Potty
After a child develops some interest, she starts sitting on the potty, and usually not much happens. Then one day pee goes in the potty (by accident? Who know?) and you’re so excited! Soon enough your child figures out how to ‘push’ the pee out, and you’re halfway to having your kid in underpants. The next few months are spent with your child refining the skills of peeing on demand, and developing the skills of pulling their pants down, pulling them up, flushing the toilet, washing hands, etc. This long-ish time can turn into a mire where your child loses interest in going potty, and you get stuck, so watch out.

The trick to having this time be successful and keep moving forward is to have going potty be a special time with you that kids look forward to. Here’s what I do: I have a stool in the bathroom so I can sit facing a child while she’s sitting on the potty. I sit down and have her pull down her own pants and take off her own diaper, helping her just as little as she needs, and giving lots of smiles, encouragement and eye contact. Then when she sits down on the potty I might sing a little song or nursery rhyme with her, again with joyful eye contact. Then I say, “Do you think some pee will go into the potty? Let’s listen for it,” and I turn my head to the side and cup my ear, listening intently (without eye contact, so she can concentrate on her body). I’ll wait for awhile, perhaps repeating, “Do you think it will come?” If it does come, I smile as I listen, and when the flow is done I turn to her wonderingly and say in a quiet, happy voice, “I heard it!” Don’t get too excited while it’s happening, or she’ll clench up and stop the flow. If no pee comes, I’ll say, “No pee this time! Maybe next time it’ll come.” Either way we wash hands together, and I give her a kiss, and we go back to our day.

Some kids enjoy the process so much that they never want to get up off the potty if no pee is coming. If that happens, I hold up my hand in a fist and say, “When my fingers are all up, then it will be time to get off the potty.” Then I silently watch my hand as I very slowly raise my thumb and each finger in a steady, inexorable, slow-motion stream. When the pinky reaches the upright position, suddenly a ‘bell’ goes off, and I sing out, “Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding!” and I swoop them off the potty, laughing and giving them a kiss. “Would you like to get your own new diaper?” I’ll ask. This method usually stops the ‘discussion’ you’re having about whether they should get off the potty or stay on, and you can move on with your day.

Moving Beyond Diapers
As your child gets better at peeing on demand, start taking him more and more often, and soon you’ll probably get to a point that your child is keeping his diaper dry between pottying. Then it’s time to move out of diapers. I’ve found that there’s a window of time when it’s the natural progression to move on, and if you don’t make the switch during this window, children will often decide that they either aren’t interested in going potty anymore, and/or they don’t want to move out of diapers. Now you’ve got a power-struggle on your hands. I’ll leave you with this cliff-hanger, and I’ll write about making the switch from diapers to underpants in another post!

Miss Faith


  1. Oh, my goodness, I cannot thank you enough for this information! My daughter is almost three. We got off to a great start with learning to go potty, but have been a bit stalled in the last few months. This helped me to get re-excited about the process and, thus, to re-ignite her interest. We live in Alaska, and pulling her own pants up and down was a bit much for her in the winter with multiple thick layers, but now that it is summer, she can pull her own pants up and down. Her pride in this has helped with getting her back on track. When she sits down, we now do a brief song with fingerplay, such as Itsy Bitsy Spider, then I “listen” as you suggest, and then she really loves the fingers up, “ding, ding, ding” part (so much so that she just wants to skip peeing and just do that!…but we’re working around that). Again, THANK YOU!

  2. Dear Miss Faith,
    Reading this post makes me feel so good about helping my 3 year old son learn to use the toilet. He quite happily goes most t of the time but also happily goes in his pants. So much, that I couldn’t keep up with the laundry (even with covers !). We eventually gave up after 5 months of little progress, thinking he physically wasn’t ready (he never told us when he had to go and would go every 15-30 minutes all day). I’d love to find the follow-up article to this one about moving from diapers to underwear. I feel like I’ve missed every “window” you mention here and now we do have a power struggle (though we aren’t really struggling because we told our son to tell us when he is ready to use the toilet). I suppose I do feel anxious that he is not getting the hang of it. Is it common for boys to be older when they finally do learn?
    Thank you for your insight!

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