Potty training readiness signals?
March 4, 2009 8:56 PM   Subscribe

Is my son trying to tell me he wants to potty train?

My son is 21 months old, and I am pregnant with baby#2, due in May (just as son#1 turns 2). I generally follow the attachment parenting school of thought, and so my opinion on toilet training is that there is no point trying to toilet train a child unless they are ready, and that somehow when my son is ready, I will know. My other recent opinion, was that since everyone tells me older siblings regress when a new baby arrives, I wanted nothing to do with toilet training of any sort, until after the second baby arrives and my toddler gets over the regressing stage. Also, changing diapers sounds like way less work to me, than cleaning up accidents and looking for restrooms in a hurry when out and about. But that's my lazy side talking :)

So, just to throw my plans into the air, my son has recently started pulling his pants down and tugging at his diaper, and saying "poo-poo". The vast majority of the time he does this, his diaper is not poopy. Now he has started saying "need poo-poo" sometimes, but not pulling his pants down (and the diaper is again empty). I am confused. I thought 21 months was way too early for a boy to show interest in toilet training, and I don't know whether he is trying to tell me that he wants to go, or if he is just parroting back what he hears from other kids at daycare (an older girl just recently potty trained). I kind of want to ignore this and continue with the original plan of "not until after the baby, when you seem ready", but I am worried that I might somehow miss an important phase, or that I would be letting him down by ignoring his requests.

So, I don't know how to react to this. I know none of you can tell me what to do, or what he wants or needs, but I'm interested in thoughts and opinions. Is it common for toddlers to go through phases where they show interest in the potty and then lose interest in it again, without actually toilet training? Is it possible I would be doing him a disservice by not making any effort to show him the potty and talk about pooping/peeing on it (with no pressure to toilet train)? Do toddler boys this young willingly toilet train, and if so, how might they express it?
posted by Joh to Human Relations (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

But my instinct is that if you're trying to parent in a way that's child-led, then you should take your child's interest in using the potty (and announcing the need to poop) as a pretty serious indication that your son is ready for toilet training. At the very least, why not show him the potty and discuss pooping and peeing in it? Your half-joking resistance to toilet training him because it's less work and because it messes with your plans for his development seem no different to me than toilet training a kid before it's time.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:09 PM on March 4, 2009

Best answer: Why don't you try taking him to the potty when he says he needs to go? See what happens? If he goes.. super! If he doesn't.. ok, we'll try later.. no big thing.
I run a mom's group and it's not unheard that a son actually speeds up toilet training because baby #2 is arriving. Some do regress after the baby is born, but I've heard quite a few training their sons early while they were pregnant. They said it was kind of eerie the urgency their children had shown; like they had the need to go to the potty and be trained. They didn't rush it either.. they were doing child-led as well.

If he's telling you he has to go, pulling at his diaper, saying "need to poo-poo".. I'm not sure what else he needs to show you that he's ready. :) Just try it and see. Even if he is imitating the kids at school, by you paying attention to his expression of potty and your reaction to it really speaks volumes for him.
posted by czechmate at 9:13 PM on March 4, 2009

I would definitely go with it while the interest is there. As the parent of a 3 year old boy who was potty trained by 2 years old, it may or may not be a quick process. Boys are notoriously later to potty train than girls, and there are ups and downs in there as well.

The best bet is to get a potty training toilet and start with the process - no need to actually go, never any punishment, only reward when he does anything potty related. If he thinks he has to go, celebrate! If he pulls his pants down to sit down, woo hoo! If he actually goes in the potty, party like its 1999.

We were lucky. When our youngest started going, he had virtually no accidents, and has consistently known when he has to go. There was a slight regression when starting school (not long after potty training), but that was only about two weeks of hesitation and holding it when Mom and Dad weren't around. I'll pop back in later with any more thoughts that come up.
posted by shinynewnick at 9:19 PM on March 4, 2009

IANAParent but I worked for a time in the 2 year old room in a daycare. We had some just-barely 2 year olds all gung ho about the potty while we had some nearly 3 year olds who couldn't care less.

Even if he is just mimicking a girl in the daycare, this is good! A lot of our kids didn't show interest until they were around other kids who were using the potty and then they were all about trying to go.

It really can't hurt taking him to the bathroom when he does this and having him sit on the toilet. Maybe nothing will happen, maybe it will, either way it helps him get used to the idea of going in the potty.

When I would take kids to the bathroom I'd remove their dirty diaper and ask them if they wanted to try to go. They usually said yes, and they'd sit down on the potty while I removed the next kids diaper.

It really doesn't add that much time to the whole routine and it's pretty awesome the first time they go (it might just be an accident - which ends up being hilarious - they get so surprised.)

But uh, I think I got away from the question, but I'd say he's ready. Maybe not for the whole pull-up route, but definitely for sitting down on the potty a few times a day and seeing if anything happens.
posted by thisisnotkatrina at 9:24 PM on March 4, 2009

I'm not a parent but my mom ran a daycare with toddlers when I was a kid, and I have babysat/nannied for a lot of families with toddlers and babies, both boys and girls. If your kid might be giving cues that he needs to use the restroom, by all means pursue those. It generally makes life a lot easier to have an even quasi-potty trained kid when the new baby arrives. Less diapers for sure.

Not all kids "regress" when a new sibling is born. Sometimes they become a little needier, or try to imitate baby things (like wanting a bottle, or wanting to be carried). It's not that they actually can't be as capable or independent as they were before the new baby arrived, it's that they see acting babyish as a way to get attention. A lot of kids, though, take being a new older sibling really well and actually become more mature because they want to help take care of the baby. Again, I'm not a parent, but this has been what I've seen with the families I worked for who had a baby when the oldest was around your son's age.
posted by fructose at 9:58 PM on March 4, 2009

One thing no one ever tells parent is that it's okay to wait till YOU'RE ready. Potty training can be really frustrating, and if you are currently pregnant, it seems like you are perhaps inviting more stress than you need. I worked in a preschool for a couple years and saw exactly the kind of mimicking you speak of, but not much of it really counted for much. Some of the kids did respond well when introduced to the idea of the potty, but most just didn't do it till they were good and ready. They really like to make their own decisions at this age, don't they? Reading the child books about the potty and getting them their own potty is a good way to teach them what to expect. You got nothing to lose by trying at this age, but many of us waited till it was more convenient for us as parents. Hell, I got twins! I'm not going to drive myself nuts!
posted by Waldo Jeffers at 10:45 PM on March 4, 2009

Best answer: It's no big deal to say "Let's go sit on the potty" if he seems interested. It's also no big deal if it doesn't immediately result in potty training.

Follow your kid's cues, but make sure you're following him, not reading in anything for or against potty training NOW! that you've got in the back of your mind.

My experience is that it's a process that doesn't necessarily go from point A to point Potty Trained. I do have kids, 19 months apart in age, so I was not far from where you are a few years ago.
posted by padraigin at 11:27 PM on March 4, 2009

I would get a small potty that sits on the floor and then switch him to "pull-up" diapers that he can pull down and back up by himself. Follow his lead for a week and see how he does. If he has the right idea, great. If not, well, my daughter really wanted to wear big girl underpants right about age 2. We tried it for two days - she had lots of accidents and was totally not ready. I explained to her that while I knew she was turning into a big girl, she had to wait until her body was ready and then it would be much easier. We waited a couple months and then it went very smoothly. Or, in your case, you could just leave him in pull-ups, leave the potty on the floor and let him do what he wants where he wants until you are ready to do serious potty training.
posted by metahawk at 1:23 AM on March 5, 2009

well, i am a parent - with another one due in August. if your kid is exhibiting interest in the potty, ROLL WITH IT. you don't want to be that parent whose kids are COMFORTABLE with being wet or stinky - then potty training gets tougher. I know many parents are potty nazis and push potty training as soon as their kid can walk. But this is an opportunity. I say, go with potty+pull ups until your newborn is able to sleep for longer than 2 hours w/o eating. then switch to underwear all day (pull ups at night). why wait? because you're gonna be changing toddler clothes 4-6 times a day as he gets used to recognizing the feeling.

I know it sounds crazy, but my son's day care advised us to go cold turkey - and it worked for us. he needs to feel the discomfort of being wet. todays diapers are so absorbent that one could pour a several cup of water into one and still not feel the dampness. he'll make the connection on his own. It's pretty amazing when it happens, too.


Keep a potty on every floor. i also bought my son a small fisherprice urinal to help with peeing standing up. no Cheerios required!
posted by Davaal at 3:29 AM on March 5, 2009

I have a 3 year old, a 1 year old, and am pregnant with #3. I'm telling you: POTTYTRAIN.

My older daughter did the same thing, and I sort of dallied and was too tired and sick (my pregnancies are morning sickness 24-7, even with medication) to push the issue. She was really interested! But I thought she'd just regress and I'd have to start all over again.

It is INFINITELY harder now. She was all interested *then*... now she's all "I'll go in the potty when I'm 4". The older they get, the more it becomes a power play. It would have worked if I'd just pushed it a little, and it would have been a nice differientiator: "You're a big girl who can eat pizza, ice cream, and GO POTTY!!!! YAY!!!!" (while the baby has to use diapers, etc)

Instead I'm now changing 2 sets of diapers, and that gets old very very fast. Older daughter has tantrums when put on the potty. We may go cold turkey this weekend, but it's SO much easier to reward, persuade, and help them go when they're younger (she's now 3 yrs, 4 months). And Lord, are those Pull-Ups expensive. Plus, the older they get the more reasoning skills they have, and the easier it is for them to get freaked out by restrooms not their own.

If you're an attachment parent, read up on elimination communication and perhaps this will help you. Buy lots of books on potty-training. Have books/toys in the bathroom that are only to be played with when on the pot. Do the happy dance. Reward with M&Ms or Fig Newtons (both of which help ease the poop issue). Keep a spare potty in the kitchen or den so he can go while watching TV (it's relaxing). Throw a cheerio or square of toilet paper in the potty/toilet so he can aim at it (or "make it yellow", as we say in our house).

A little insistent nudging now will get you over the hump and you'll feel so much better later. Even if he regresses a bit, he'll pick back up quickly (from all I've heard). I desperately wish I'd done this.

The only bright side of my story is that my 13-month old seems already interested in the potty. I'll probably end up training them both at the same time.

Best of luck--
posted by mdiskin at 4:27 AM on March 5, 2009

Kids are all totally different and ready at different times.

I have three little monkeys and they all had their own time table.

I would do this:

1. Get a training potty and put it somewhere where they will see it as familar and just a part of the landscape.

2. Don't make your own bathroom habits a total mystery. I don't know many parents that have privacy in that regard anyway, but if they know that you use a toilet to "take care of business" so to speak, that helps.

3. Never dole out punishment with regard to accidents or toilet training, but rather offer encouragement for a job well done. "If we can do this for five days in a row, we'll go to the store and get a little toy."

4. If you get desperate and your child is getting on the much older end of the potty training spectrum, consider having them play pants-less at home. All my kids LOVED hanging out in their birthday suits when they were toddlers, but as an added bonus they did not want to have accidents that actually made a mess. My oldest potty trainer had to go this route eventually when he was almost three. He had 3 accidents and then started using the training potty on his own accord.

Can kids regress? Absolutely. My second child (girl) still had diapers, but went through a period where she wanted to use the toilet to poop, until one day she just stopped and wanted to use diapers again. I asked her why and in her tiny 2 year old voice, she told me "cus first them float, then them die" Kids are bizarre and have their own wacky world view. Like someone said above. Roll with it. She was back at the potty a couple weeks later.

Lastly, your son sounds like he is showing a LOT of interest just by telling you when he's got to go. That's a huge step. He's on the younger side, but not too young. Miracles happen. My youngest waltzed into the bathroom on his own at 18 months old, pooped in the potty and never looked back. I did NOTHING to train him.

Good luck!
posted by Edubya at 4:44 AM on March 5, 2009

I am a parent but I am not your parent. In the US we tend to wait longer than most of the world to potty train our kids, so for most of the world 21 months is if anything on the old side for training. So you can add my voice to the chorus of those saying to go for it and encourage him to start using the potty. It sounds like he is showing enough interest that he might do it very quickly, especially if he is getting reinforcement at daycare.
posted by TedW at 5:31 AM on March 5, 2009

Just want to agree -- every kid is different. My 2-year-old started potty training (by request) at 15 months, and wears diapers only to sleep. She's been pretty good (with occasional accidents, not more than one a week) since around 18 months.

But each baby is an individual. Follow their lead :)
posted by lexfri at 8:38 AM on March 5, 2009

Hi Joh!

I could have written this word-for-word last month about my then 22-month-old son. He started doing the same thing your son is doing and it seemed crazy early and unexpected.

I went with it, started the first week by putting him in underpants and taking him to the potty every hour and when he asked to--checked out a lot of potty-time entertainment books at the library featuring little kids going potty.

After the first week, we got rid of diapers and the changing table, using waterproof, more absorbent trainers at night (we cloth diaper and you can also get re-usable trainers at the usual cloth diaper retailers).

We don't use any system other than watching the clock and his signals, and having potty parties when he uses it (no comment if we have a miss). The first week was tedious, but now, a month later we're at 75%, which means 75% less diaper changes and well on our way to having a totally potty learned kid much before three (and possibly before two, we have one month to get the rest of that 25%).

Surprising, but like everyone says, every kid is different and the so called "average" kid doesn't exist. Go for it! Involve him in the process! Have fun! The only other bit you might look for is periodic moments in the process where he suddenly seems like he has decided he DOES NOT WANT potty learning, but for us, these were usually just a small part of random days and went away if we acknowledged his resistance in the moment, moved on, and asked again later.
posted by rumposinc at 11:06 AM on March 5, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! So I got a couple of potties for the house, and we are experimenting in a low-key manner. Anytime he mentions "poo-poo" we ask him if he wants to go sit on the potty. In the space of 2 days this has gone from NO every time, to saying yes sometimes, and being willing to sit fully clothed on the potty and read a book. I'm encouraged that he seems to be warming to the idea, but still unsure if this is a phase or the real thing. Regardless, I'm taking the attitude that if he's not ready, at least he will become familiar with the potty and that's cool.
posted by Joh at 10:59 AM on March 9, 2009

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