Now that my Littlest is out of diapers, I wanted to share my thoughts on “diaper free by two.” I’ll talk about how I’ve set flexible expectations, and changed my definition of the words “potty trained.” I like to tell people my son isn’t potty trained, but I am. Last summer we did the three day method, and packed away daytime diapers to begin potty training. But it doesn’t mean he does it all on his own and never has accidents, it just means I’ve changed the way I am managing his pee and poop from diapers to the potty.
Before I start, I feel a disclaimer is in order. I’m no stranger to potty training, but I’m not a guru either. I have potty trained three children of my own, and a dozen or so daycare kids as well- so I’ve definitely been in the trenches a few times. This means I’ve formed some opinions and methods on the subject that I’m happy to share- but with the disclaimer that I don’t think YOU have to do anything the way that I do it.
This can be a touchy subject because there are so many high expectations involved. I believe that parenting is a village but also individual. You should take inspiration from others, maybe even myself included, but never judgment. If you do potty training differently than me, that’s okay! I just want to share my feelings on the subject and have my readers take what they need from it, or leave it entirely! It’s all good.
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What’s the potty training sweet spot, age-wise?
You do NOT have to potty train at two if it doesn’t feel right for you. However, I have found that the potty training sweet spot is between 22 and 24 months old. This was the time-table we used for all three of my boys, and the many other kids that I have been responsible for over the years. Studies suggest you can start earlier, or later, with varied success, but for me I feel that 22 months meets a lot of the conditions I need to get ‘er done.
Firstly, at this age they’re typically old enough to walk, pull clothing on or off (with help of course), and begin to really watch and associate you using the potty yourself. Talking is hit or miss at this age and, in my opinion, not essential to potty training. I’ll be managing his bladder myself, in the beginning, so he doesn’t need to tell me right away with words if he isn’t able to. A lot of the principles of Elimination Communication apply during any type of potty training. I’m watching for cues, and I’m also directing him myself.
The other nice thing about 22-24 months is that they typically aren’t quite at the “fiercely independent and argumentative stage” just yet. But it’s on the horizon, and approaching rapidly. You’ve heard people joke about “terrible twos” being nothing compared to age three, and I agree. A three year old is lovingly referred to as a ‘threenager’ for a reason! The attitude and nature that comes with the age isn’t very conducive for starting a new skill like potty use. I feel that starting just before two gets my child understanding the concept of using the potty and figuring things out before he starts “asserting his independence with the passion of a white hot sun” every time I ask him to do something. (At time of writing, he’s 2.5 and definitely showing more signs of white hot sun!)
Does the three day method actually work?
Yes, it can! But it’s important to talk about expectations. Surely if you’ve done any googling on Potty training, you have read about the three day method. Potty success takes a whole year to really solidify, but the initial induction can be accomplished in three days. That means the three day method isn’t the end of the lesson! I’ve heard so many parents shoot down potty training a two year old entirely because they’re still having accidents, but the truth is- that’s pretty normal.
Even after six solid months of being diaper-free, my two year old still has some occasional accidents or even some days of regression. That’s okay! The important thing for me is to perservere: to not go backwards. Waiting until he turns 3 or 4 to avoid the hassle of washing out pants isn’t something that works for me.
That last line may have triggered something so I’d like to reiterate what I said at the beginning: it’s totally fine if your opinion differs. There is no judgment here, just personal preference. If waiting until 3 or 4 is what works for your family, many other moms are doing it that way too.
I prefer to stick with my method. It’s done me well for all my boys, and it might work for you too! Just keep being patient and remember that potty training at two basically means you are on bladder patrol for your toddler 24/7. It means laundry, and accidents, and a lot of work. It also means every building you visit in the foreseeable future will start and end with a trip to their washroom… but it’s totally doable!
Laying the ground work is important
You can make the process easier by laying some groundwork early on. By around 15 or 16 months, I introduce the little potty to my toddlers. I put it in the bathroom and allow him to sit on it if he’s curious. I also stop using a change table to change diapers, and change him in the bathroom. I just sit on the edge of the bath tub and lay him across my lap, right next to the toilet. This provides an early association with bathrooms and what they’re for.
Being a cloth diaper mom means that I am flushing poop into the toilet after each change- and I make sure that my little one sees this. “Bye bye, poop!” I say as it goes down. He waves. It’s fun! This is establishing more association. You can (and should) do this with disposables, too! Human waste is supposed to be emptied into the toilet before tossing the diapers.
When I’m finally ready to begin potty training, we pack up the diapers together. The last two boys I started 2 months before their second birthdays. I prepared about a dozen size 2T cotton undies in his favourite characters (Thomas the Train and Paw Patrol). For the beginning stages I prefer no training pants- we add those later, after he know the feeling and result of being wet.
I picked a long weekend close to the timeframe, and went naked for three days. I put him on the potty every 10 minutes, then every 15, then 20. It is exhausting, but my husband and I made an event of it! The first time they actually peed in the potty, we celebrated! “Yahoo! You did it! Hooray!” and I even gave them potty treats (jelly beans) those first few days, to reinforce their success with some kind of positive joy. This is entirely optional, but works for me. I do not continue treats beyond the first few days as a personal preference. I didn’t want to make it a habit.
Staying in the hardwood floor areas of our house really helps during those early days. I keep a stack of rags, and a spray bottle with some vinegar water on hand, because there shall be accidents. Oh, the accidents. It’s okay- it’s part of the learning process and the important part is not to panic when you see that little puddle forming under your child. Just move them to the potty and remind them that they have to get their pee in there next time.
My Littlest is a very heavy sleeper, unlike my middle son. So we will be delaying overnight potty use for now. He wears potty training undies for naps and cloth diapers overnight. Our middle son was able to do overnight training simultaneously with daytime potty training, and was out of diapers entirely from the first day. We would put him on the potty at 11:30 every night, and by using a baby monitor I could hear him whenever he stirred and I knew to put him on the potty. But our Littlest is a different kid entirely. You could pick him up and dance around the room to loud music, and he’d sleep right through it, so his bladder cues aren’t even close to registering any kind of arousal. It’s totally okay to delay nighttime potty for your kid if necessary. It hasn’t prevented daytime training for him at all.
Tips for leaving the house
I didn’t leave the house for the first week, to save my sanity. For the first year of potty training, you’re dealing with a very tiny bladder and a very delicate thinking process. This means that from here on out, you need to put your little one on the toilet every time you enter or exit a building. Leaving for the grocery store? On the potty before shoes and coat. Arrive at the grocery store? To the public washroom we go, portable potty seat in hand (seat optional). Leaving the grocery store? Back to the bathroom we go!
It’s genuinely exhausting, but necessary to enforce that potty process in your child’s head, and keeping their bladders safely empty. I like to use potty training undies for trips our of the house, to protect both pants and car seats, and prevent having to clean up puddles in the grocery aisle. These ones work great, and hold one full accident for us! We also pack a folding potty seat in our diaper bag, because most commercial toilets aren’t designed for two year old bums.
When you’re feeling frustrated
Remind yourself that this too shall pass. Your toddler will get this, eventually. Consistency and perseverance is key to potty training at this age, and going backwards can draw the process out further. If I want to do “diaper free by two,” I have to stick to it. I remind myself that like everything, it’s a stage and we’ll get there. It’s hard work, like every other area of motherhood, but I’m pushing through it.
The best advice my mom ever gave me about potty training was not to compare my kids progress to everyone around me. Some kids get it quick, some take time. If you can remember that it’s not an instant process, that the “three days” isn’t a complete time frame, and your child will take a good year to get to the “fully trained” stage that we all seem expect them to be at, it makes the frustration ease a bit. Also, accidents aren’t the end of the world and everything can be washed. Some extra loads of laundry come with the territory.
Share your experiences and tips
Now, the loudest advice my mother and grandmother gave me was that “pull ups are made by diaper companies to keep you as a customer as long as possible.” My grandma insists that her generation had it easier than us because disposable diapers and underwear didn’t exist to delay the process. This may or may not resonate with you, and really it’s up to you of you want to avoid them or not- but if you’re running into a stall or regression, removing pull ups from the equation might be worth a go. I prefer cotton undies for primary use, and cloth training pants for the car and outings.
We are a village here, and everyone’s experience matters. Drop a comment with any questions, tips or thoughts on potty training below and let’s keep the conversation going! And if you ever need to chat, hit me up on Facebook.