In the world of potty training our girls were way “behind” the average 18 to 24 months when most people start, but the more I think of it… but we didn’t potty train.
Much like we didn’t train our girls to use a fork or put on a shirt before they were developmentally ready to do so, we waited until they learned by example, and it worked beautifully for our family.
I really wanted to get Philomena potty trained when I first found out I was pregnant with Zelie. I bought a little training toilet off of the local buy-sell-trade Facebook group and she was so interested at first, even going pee a few times when she was about 18 months. I thought it would be amazing not to have two in diapers so, while I tried not to pressure her, I was always very enthusiastic for her to sit on it any time she wanted to.
Soon, however, her interest in the new little potty wore off. I was so disappointed until a good friend posted this article on Facebook – “The Dangerous Consequences of Potty Training Too Early,” – read it here. It may seem like a bit dramatic of a title, but there are often problems with early potty training that show up later on, including UTI’s, bedwetting, or chronic constipation.
The article’s author is Dr. Steve Hodges, a pediatric urologist who sees firsthand the issues many children have who are trained early on the potty.
It’s not that young kids can’t be potty trained. Sure they can. But knowing how to poop on the potty is not the same as responding to your body’s urges in a judicious manner.
Let’s fast-forward two or three years. That’s when potty prodigies show up at my clinic – one of a handful specializing in dysfunctional voiding – with the sudden onset of pee and poop accidents, urinary tract infections (UTIs), urinary frequency, and/or bedwetting…
Once kids learn to put off peeing and pooping, essentially the definition of toilet training, they tend to do so often and for as long as they can. This is a dicey habit…
Physician visits for constipation have doubled among children in the last decade or so, while hospital visits for constipation have quadrupled.
Chronically holding pee and poop also causes urinary tract infections. The less often a child pees, the more opportunity for infection-causing bacteria to creep up to her bladder….
The reason kids who train at age 2 have more of these problems than children who train later, in my opinion, is that they have spent more months or years deciding for themselves when they should pee or poop – before they’re mature enough to understand the importance of eliminating as soon as they feel the urge. What’s more, the bladder needs about three or four years to grow and develop, and uninhibited voiding (read: diapers) facilitates maximum growth.” – Dr. Steve Hodges
Whew! Okay, this got my attention so I put my agenda aside, and didn’t bring it up to Philomena again. I didn’t want to “train” her to use the toilet with a really forced, set regimen of loading her up on liquids and setting her on the toilet a bunch. Instead I wanted to help her learn how to go potty when she was ready. The truth is that at 18 months, 24 months, or even 32 months, she wasn’t ready to recognize her body’s signals or communicate them to me.
As time went on Philomena always told me when she was going in her diaper, so I knew she was becoming aware of her body. Fast forward to this spring when she was approaching 3 years old, we were sorting through a bunch of hand me down clothes given to us by church friends. Inside Philomena found a baggie of cute little girls underwear and she was captivated. I said she was welcome to wear them whenever she felt ready to go on the potty.
She enthusiastically lead me to the bathroom, sat down on the big potty, peed, and slapped the undies on afterwards.
I thought it was a fluke, but by golly the girl loved those undies and she wanted to use the potty. Since she had been telling me for a while when she was about to go in her diaper, I knew she was aware of the need to go.
I ordered this simple potty seat off of Amazon and she can get herself on and off the toilet herself using it.
At first we set her down often to make sure she was going frequently and not holding it. We found though that if we set her on the potty and she had said she didn’t need to go, she always was right. She was old enough to recognize her body’s signals and communicate them to me.
Essentially, that was it. She just did it.
Much like we don’t train our kids to use silverware, put on a shirt, or other simple tasks, with time, going on the potty is just a skill they can pick up with a lot less stress than the more common, high pressure, potty training methods.
This was the potty learning I hoped for in the end and it worked so smoothly!
Philomena was scared at first to have bowel movements on the potty, which is pretty typical for kids, so she would ask for a diaper when she needed to go, which we happily supplied.
Her diapers were getting so messy to change, however, and she hated the process of me cleaning her up. I encouraged her to try once on the potty if I held her. I acknowledged it was scary to her to try something new, and it was okay to feel that way. I knelt right next to the toilet and hugged her as she went so it wouldn’t feel as scary and she was so proud when she went!
She still wanted a diaper sometimes, but she was also often times willing to use the toilet if I would hold her hands or hug her while she went.
The Weird Hang Up
We did have one weird hang up in all of this where for a couple days in a row she would purposely pee in her play area while I was nursing the baby down. (These were absolutely not accidents). I panicked a bit and asked in a Facebook mom group I’m part of what to do, and a seasoned mom gave me great advice… just put the undies away.
She said if we kept up on going like this it would become a power struggle with Philomena. (You know, her using peeing to get attention when I needed to tend to the baby). I let Philomena know that the purposely peeing outside of the bathroom meant that we were putting undies away for a while. There was no lecturing or shaming, just a matter of fact statement that logically if she used the opportunity of wearing undies to make pee messes, she was done wearing undies for a while. This removed the opportunity for a power struggle and it did not become a habit.
We switched to diapers for a couple weeks, and when she asked in earnest to wear her undies again I said that was fine but that if she used wearing undies to make messes on purpose they would be gone again. She never purposely peed again and all is well.
Other Benefits of Waiting
Because we waited until she was really aware of her need to go potty and able to let us know, wearing undies out and about to the park, the store, or Mass have been easy with no accidents in public. In fact, she has only had about 3 real accidents ever, and all were at home.
Just imagine me with a newborn having a toddler with an non-fully-developed bladder running us into public restrooms with almost no notice that she needed to pee. How not fun would that be? Philomena being older meant I never changed a single pee-soaked outfit from an accident in a car seat or in public with a baby in tow. It was just so much easier.
Some other benefits of waiting until she was really older was that Philomena very quickly learned how to get on and off the big potty herself, how to pull her undies up and down, and how to hold her dress up so it wouldn’t get messy.
We were also able to completely eliminate the need for the tiny training potty, which is great because with Zelie all over the place she would just end up getting in Philomena’s way and probably getting into pee! (Although I do keep it in the van so if we end up heading to a far out park or nature hike without restrooms we don’t have to worry.)
We do keep the bathroom door closed with a childproof knob cover on it in general so Zelie can’t get to the toilet, so all I have to do for her is open the door when she needs to go and she can handle the rest quite well, always calling me in to wipe her if she needs it.
Even though two in diapers for a year was annoying at times, our cadillac cloth diaper stash was perfectly adequate for our needs, and before I knew it Philomena was ready to learn how to use the potty.
Zelie Did the Same
Little sister wanted to be just like Philomena and kept asking for undies when she was about 2.25 years old. Whenever she’d wear them, though, she had an accident every single time because she simply was not developmentally ready to recognize she had to pee and communicate that to me. I didn’t want to create a habit of constantly peeing around the house. I knew she wasn’t ready or she would simply tell me when it was time to go, so I told her we needed to wait a few months. About 4ish months before her 3rd birthday, Zelie said she really wanted to wear undies and she could tell me when she had to go potty.
This time, she was ready.
Exactly like when Philomena was ready, Zelie put on undies, and simply started going potty in the toilet. She had maybe three accidents total around the house when she was really engrossed in play in the first couple weeks, but that was it. She has been wearing undies all day for over 4 months now, without a single accident in public.
She still asks for a diaper to go #2 at times, but that is becoming fewer and farther between as she more frequently chooses to just do that on the potty, too.
Much like Philomena, Zelie also seems to have pretty large bladder capacity, which I think has to do with Dr. Hodges’ argument that uninhibited voiding for 3-4 years lets the bladder fully develop and grow. This means no frantic races to the potty in public because 1. She is older enough to immediately recognize and communicate needing to go before she can barely hold on any longer, and 2. She has a large bladder capacity and doesn’t need to go as often.
We are now 2/2 not potty training, and are so glad we went this route!