Q: I didn’t do infant potty training. Do I have to wait for Brazleton’s signs of readiness? What are some good books on potty training?
A: No, you definitely do not have to wait. Brazleton’s potty training guidelines were funded by Pampers and are not based on solid scientific evidence.
Diaper-free before three (if you’re organized)
Diaper Free Before Three is a great read because it has all the actual science of potty training and makes a person much more confident to start training whenever they feel ready. The first half of the book is the science of why “readiness signs” aren’t correct indicators of readiness and other potty training info. If you’re starting potty training before 2 years or before 18 months, this is a great one for making you feel confident that you are in no way scarring your baby for life, even if you don’t use her method.
The Diaper Free baby (if you’re more go-with-the-flow)
You can skip the chapters on infant training and go straight to the ones for “older” children. The Diaper Free Baby is the distilled wisdom from an online forum on potty training. It gives lots of nice how-tos on part time potty training, and gives you confidence that you are in no way confusing your child with going part-time. It is also nice in terms of confidence because it clearly explains how there are several potty training windows and not just the standard one.
For the children:
History and some science
Prior to widespread disposable diapers (back in the 1950s and earlier), the average age for potty training was 18 months. Today, for boys, it is 3 years 2 months. The recommendations to wait until age 2+ and the signs of readiness were introduced by T. Berry Brazelton who was working for Pampers at the time. Of course, Brazelton was also reacting against harsh potty training methods that had come earlier and actually did psychologically scar kids, but it wasn’t the age element that was the problem in those cases, but the method. But, by moving the average age later, that did help keep some of the pressure off in addition to increasing disposable diaper sales.
According to Diaper free before three, if you start older, training happens faster, but if you start younger training happens earlier. So if you start at birth, you can have a completely trained kid at 12 months (with 12 months of training), but if you start at 3 years 2 months, you might have a completely trained kid at 3 years 3 months (with one month of training, but >3 years of diapers).
If you start earlier, you will have to clean up more messes, but you will stop wiping poo from bottoms earlier. If you start later, it will take less time and you will clean up fewer messes but your child will train later on average.
There’s no right or wrong and you will not be hurting your child so long as your focus is gentle and non-demanding no matter when you start. Think of it like offering food but not forcing it on the baby. There’s several windows of opportunity
Interestingly, anecdotally it seems like younger kids learn poop first but older kids learn pee first. I’m not sure why that is.
What we did
We were not organized enough to use the method in Diaper Free Before Three, though we do know folks who used it to great success. Her method is the same method that is used to teach developmentally disabled older children and even adults, and works very well. I LOVED the book even though we didn’t use her method in its entirety and would recommend it for anybody.
We used parts of her method along with the much more relaxed Diaper Free Baby. Specifically we un-diaper trained first, by going diaper free for about a week and getting very excited whenever DC peed (“You’re peeing!”). It was a big surprise to hir at first, “What is this stream of water coming from my body?” We did potty time at specific experiences like right before bath or right before going out etc. We weren’t organized enough to do it at the same time every day or the same amount of time between pottyings like Diaper Free Before Three recommends.
We switched to underpants and cloth while we were training, and that helped a lot. But as in Diaper Free Baby, whenever it got stressful we’d put on a disposable. Ze also had disposables at daycare until ze’d gone a full week without an accident at home. We also cued peeing by singing the same song every time DC peed, so that pee was associated with the song. (The books recommend making a ssssssss sound as your child pees.) This was fantastic when we were hitting the potty at say, a restaurant or right before going out when potty breaks could be scarce.
We started part-time at 15 months. Ze started full-time in daycare at 22 months. Ze was mostly dry in school sometime after that when ze moved into the daycare room closer to the potties. At 4 and a half ze still needs a diaper at night. Ze goes months without an accident but whenever ze has a growth spurt or has a big developmental change ze’ll have a few accidents over a few days.
For us it was really gradual, sort of like weaning or really anything else ze’s done. One day we looked back and realized there hadn’t been a problem in a long time but couldn’t really pinpoint when it was. Ze just gradually had fewer and fewer accidents and gradually needed to be reminded/helped less.
Early half-a**ed training was really a ton less stressful for us than most of the people we knew training hard-core and later. That’s the nice thing about starting earlier– you can half a** it and there’s no pressure (AND you skip the terrible twos/threes). Plus it is really helpful for getting into preschool if you can get it done by 2 years 9 months.
Btw: If you get size 3 padded gerber undies (they hold one tiny pee until the kid’s bladder gets bigger) you can wash and dry them on hot the first time and they’ll shrink. That is WAY less expensive than buying undies that actually fit a small kid.
I would have started earlier if I had known we could, if I had read the actual research instead of just relying on T. Berry Brazelton. We went very gently and ze gradually got better and better (with little regressions whenever ze hit a milestone or something big changed in our lives). The whole process was a lot of fun for everybody, unlike the constant fighting most of my coworkers with older kids were complaining about. And since we were starting early there was absolutely no pressure to get anything done and we spent a lot less on diapers (and random unrelated side purchases at Target) while we were doing it.
So: Bottom line: Read these amazing books. Start potty training whenever you want. Do it full-time or part-time; it will all work out in the end. Just keep it stress-free and low key.
Any potty training memories or theories you would like to share?