What is the best age at which to potty learn?

The Big Potty

I am gathering data for my next, update post on how the 3-day Potty Learning Method is going for us (i.e. counting poos and pees). In the meanwhile I have got some great comments on my last post. One in particular got me to thinking. She (Ms Annonymous) said:

As a mother of three children (now ages 22,17,12) all of my children had their own style of potty training. Each child took a varying amount of time to get the hang of it, went through accidents, regressed from pottying at times but all children do get the hang of it eventually. What I feel we need to ask ourselves as mom’s is why we want our children to hurry up and potty train? Is it because we need to put our child in daycare and they must be trained by a certain age? Do we see bowel movements and urine as disgusting? Do we grimace when we change our child? Children should be respected & will in time of course learn to go in the potty. No “training” is necessary.

Personally I can say I am not planning to put DD in daycare anytime soon and possibly not at all, so there is no pressure from that angle. I am also not averse to changing diapers or anything like that (except for the environmental angle – and on that front I do think less is more when it comes to diapers). For me, the impetus to start earlier comes from research that shows that ‘early’ potty training is the most common thing throughout history and across the world’s cultures. The trend to start later is actually what is new and is particularly prevalent in the USA, as far as I can tell (my Portuguese friends were appalled to hear how late some people leave it here).

Plus, I am very swayed by the EC style arguments that keeping babies in diapers is effectively ‘training’ them to go standing up and clothed (rather than sitting and bare-bottomed) – thus making it physically harder to un-learn the habit, the longer you leave it. I have also been influenced by my reading of material discussing the emotional and cognitive development of children that seems to indicate that the later you potty train the more likely that you will run into power struggles and the potty will be used as a tool to try and manipulate the feelings of the parents or try to get a rise out of them – hence making it harder for kids and families emotionally, the later you start potty training.

Another commenter waded in with some great information on timing :

We did EC from birth night and day (smaller messes, easier learning curve for a beginner like me, already waking at night anyway). Out of diapers at 9m, night continent 15m (?), little potty independent at 18m.

This is not an EC friendly culture so it appears/sounds to be more work than it really is. I knew that starting at birth wasn’t necessary since between 4-6 months is common, but I wanted to give *myself* time to change my diapering mindset.

I helped conventionally train 2 siblings (my mom did diaper cold turkey around age 2 iirc). You want CT to be done or nearly so between 2 and 2.5. I can say that “waiting for readiness” is a pit trap that causes more headaches and issues than necessary. When you conventionally train you must simultaneously help them unlearn diapers. The longer one waits the harder that is. The ages between 2 and 3 is the worst time to start. If you wait that long to begin it is quite common to have power struggles, bowel withholding, potty aversion, and night-wetting well into age 4 and 5 or more.

Conventional training works best between ages 12m and 18m — steady walkers who are still very, very much into mimicry and only just experimenting with independence. Between approximately 18-24 months (depending on when you started) diapers should be done away with completely in favor of naked or training pants — no pull-ups…ever. Pull ups are diapers and send the wrong message and prolong the training phase.

One of the things I agree with with the 3 day is early starting, banish the diaper crutch, and consistency. That IS EC! Really. It just sounds like conventional/traditional pottying but really those are all EC principles. Older babies need more words and obvious demo, while newborns and infants do not. What I don’t like is that its a misnomer. I think it disappoints those who start too late (after 18m) and doesn’t emphasize that it will be harder the older the baby.

My top tip for newbies is…pottying should be seen as a daily matter of course. It is something that we all do several times a day and babies should be part of that and not a separate event.

Happy Pottying :)

This same commenter has a super-informative, fab, diaper-free blog here.

I do think you need to do what you need to do – for you, for your family and to fit in with the rhythms of your family and work life. If you are stressed out at work, if you are about to move home or have a baby… now may not be the best time to potty train your child, even if this is the perfect ‘window’, by the book (well, one of the books, anyway – as they all say different things).

So, what is the right time to start potty training? Is 18 months too early or too late? People are clearly coming up with different answers to this question. All of us here, natural, gentle parents, put love, care and respect at the center of all our parenting practices, including potty training. And indeed different timings may well suit different children up to a point… but I can’t help thinking that earlier is better, if it will be easier emotionally and probably physically, too – as most research seems to suggest. I don’t want it to be a stress on my little’un or the stuff of future power-struggles between us, if I can avoid it (can I?!) Above all it feels right. We use less diapers, she gets to run around naked – win-win.


2 thoughts on “What is the best age at which to potty learn?

  1. Pingback: Pull-Ups: a Blessing or a Curse? | Palatka News Magazine | InPalatka.com - FL

  2. Pingback: sometimes pissing yourself is beneficial « en deshabille

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