Going Beyond Cloth Diapers: How (And Why) To Begin Potty Training

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Last week we talked about how (and why) to get your little one into cloth diapers. Now we’re going to talk about how to get them out.

The reasoning behind this one is pretty cut and dried – the fewer poopy diapers you have to change the better, right? And while the average age for an American child to be potty-trained is currently around 29-31 months old, I’m going to try to convince you to begin much, much earlier.

Like, six-months-old earlier.

It’s not as crazy as it sounds! Back in the day the average child was completely potty trained by 18 months old and that what we now think of as “early” potty training actually used to be the norm, so much so that the 1946 Dr. Sears parenting book recommended delaying the process of potty training until 6 months of age, meaning of course that many parents were beginning even earlier. And yes indeed, until the 1950’s most American babies were introduced to the potty well before their first birthday.

So, what happened in the 1950’s, you ask? You guessed it, disposable diapers.

Well, say you want to take a trip back in time to the 50’s (who doesn’t? Hi, Mr. Draper!) and begin early potty training with your child– where do you start? Is it really as simple as just sticking them on a potty?

Yes. (Sort of.)

Cloth diaper

Image courtesy of claire poisson.

First things first, you need a potty. Options abound with an incredible array of bells and whistles, but I found this simple Eco-friendly option from BecoPotty perfect. Its small size made it extremely portable and just right for tiny bottoms. Best of all, when your epic potty training saga comes to a close you can simply bury or compost it, where it will return to the earth from whence it came.

Getting the potty is the easy part though, now you begin the training. I began when my daughter was 6 months old. I would sit her on the potty when she woke up in the morning, and before and after each nap during the day. People thought I was crazy, let’s get that out of the way right now. But then she began using her potty like clockwork every morning, and poopy diapers pretty much disappeared from my life, and suddenly I didn’t look so crazy anymore – I looked awesome.

Potty party

Initially, your child will have no idea what is going on. This is totally normal. Just keep it light, fun, and don’t force it if they seem unhappy or uncomfortable. Sit there with them for five minutes or so each time, eventually the odds will swing in your favor and they will do some business. When they do, you party! Celebrate as though they just won the lottery and paid off your mortgage in full. Do this every single time, and eventually they will connect the dots between their actions and your response. This is operant conditioning at it’s finest (and cutest!)

Continue using diapers during the rest of the day, but continue the regularly scheduled potty breaks. Consider introducing infant sign language so that your child can communicate to you if they need to go.

The time of their life

The timing of next step really varies according to the child, but at some point they will become aware that they are going to the bathroom as it’s happening, and be able to communicate that to you. As in, signing or saying pee/potty as they are peeing their pants. Great! Shortly thereafter they will be able to tell you before it’s happening. This is when the magic begins. And the fun sprints to the bathroom eighteen times a day. Get ready!

Remember to progress at your child’s pace, and when you feel they have a pretty good success rate of predicting and alerting you to their need to go, take a special day trip to let them pick our underwear, and make the switch from diapers completely. Make sure that when you take this step you are sure, because it can be confusing for a child to go back and forth between diapers and underwear.

Typically it takes about three months between going into underwear full time and being completely accident-free, so be prepared. Always pack a spare change of clothing, be open and accepting of accidents, reward successes like crazy, and above all, persevere!

Feature image courtesy of Donnie Ray Jones

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Madeleine Somerville

Madeleine Somerville is the author of All You Need Is Less: An Eco-Friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity. She is a writer, wannabe hippie and lover of soft cheeses. She lives in Edmonton, Canada, with her daughter. You can also find Madeleine at her blog, Sweet Madeleine.