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While children are clearly ready to potty train at different ages, I don’t think it was entirely luck that landed me with less than two years per child of diaper duty (my youngest was out of diapers at 18 mos, the oldest right around her 2nd birthday)IMG_3898. So with the caveat that you could follow all the advice I’m about to dole out and still be changing diapers on your four-year-old, and that would be fine-if-tedious-for-you, here’s how we did it:

1. Cloth diapers. Cloth diapers, even the fancy ones, feel wet when they are wet. This is uncomfortable, and helps kids know what is happening in their pants.

2. Potty, potty, everywhere. I left several small potties strewn about the house. The kids found them, played with them, wore them as hats, sat their dollies on them – and finally peed in them.

3. Just bare it. At home, I left my toddlers naked. Being bare-bottomed helped them recognize when they needed to go. Yes, I had to clean up a few puddles, but we have hardwood floors, and the quick potty training was well worth a few messes.

4. Model good behavior. Let the kids watch you use the bathroom. Having a tiny person peering between your legs while you’re on the toilet might be awkward, but it’s a great way for kids to learn what’s going on there.

5. Expect success. The Very First Time each girl peed in the potty, I took her out of diapers. With both girls, my plan was to put them back in diapers as soon as they needed them. Neither kid ever did. Both were sleeping dry at night from the first day. Neither ever had an accident in a public place.

A lot of these techniques are used in Elimination Communication. The one book I read, which I found helpful, was The Diaper-Free Baby. The book, and the EC movement, advocate never using diapers, even with a newborn. As I mentioned above, I used cloth diapers on my kids until they were able to use the potty on their own, so I can’t really speak to the infant aspect of the approach.

A few things we did not try include:

  • candy
  • sticker charts
  • other rewards or consequences
  • fancy potty chairs
  • special potty books or toys

I think these things work for a lot of people, we just never needed them. Again, every kid is different, and will have a different timeline and set of needs for this skill. But it is a skill that just about everyone naturally acquires. I think in many cases it can be accomplished with speed, simplicity and little or no stress. Hopefully our family’s approach will help a few of you who are going through it now.

If you have additional resources, anecdotes, or tips, please share them in the comments.


1:30 a.m. Rio gets out of bed, goes to the bathroom, and puts herself back to bed. She needed no adult interaction; if I’d been sleeping I would not have even known. I happened to notice because I was up stupid late doing some paperwork.

My first thought was one of intense pride: my little girl, finally able to manage her own potty needs at night!

My second thought: I wonder how often she does this?

Flickr Photos

A little bird told me…

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