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Potty Learning


“Wanna come over for a playdate? Cool, cool, um … hey just a head’s up, my kid will be naked and peeing in the backyard. It’s potty awareness season at the Rainbolts!”

I am the biggest advocate of allowing children to develop and mature on their own timeline. I think the piece that is missing from the potty training coversation is that what we are really doing nowadays is undiapering – undoing the daiper training we have already done.

We spend the first year(s) of our babies’ lives training them to urinate and defecate into a receptacle that completely disconnects them from their elimination system. The process of potty learning is really the process of removing the diaper from the equation so that your babe can get back in touch with his body.

Elimination Communication

Elimination Communication (EC) is a method of potty training an infant. It involves building an association between the release of going potty and poop and a shushing sound. To use this method, you must be very in tune with the cues of your baby (which I recommend anyway).

To begin, when you notice your baby is “releasing,” hold her over the toilet and make a shushing sound. Continue doing this and after a while when you hold your baby over the toilet and make the shushing sound, she will “release.”

Natural Development

It is natural for a little one to poop and potty in the same place (“Sofia scurries next to the sofa every time she fills her diaper.”) and the new mobility combined with the developmental mimicking around 12 months is a very natural time for potty learning to unfold if you ditch the diapers and let nature take its course.

I often hear people talking about “allowing” their children to use the potty when they initiate as the “natural” potty learning path. While I have zero problems with people diapering an older child if both child and parent are happy and healthy, I disagree that it is the one natural path. Strapping stuffing to your little one’s butt is not nature.

In general, the natural path involves removing as many “things” from the equation as possible and allowing development to blossom. When little ones around twelve months start going upright sans diaper, they become accutely aware of their peeing and pooping and the relationship between all their bodily sensations, choices, and their effects.

I always recommend a potty seat for a child’s first birthday. All three of my boys were using the toilet at 1, nary a reward or punishment (which is the staple of “training”). There is a window between 12 and 24 months when little ones are primed for potty learning. At 12 months, they are empowered with mobility, and using the potty seat provides a great opportunity to exercise this exciting walking skill. At this stage of social development, they are fascinated by all the things big people do and are psyched to get to participate in the potty-time rituals and behaviors with you. They are also fascinated with the functions of their own body and in the midst of an explosion of body awareness.

This is also the time when they start to resist diaper changes. It creates a perfect storm that passes around the age of 2, when they shift their psychological efforts from trust building and accommodating to establishing independence and control, which is when they will resist anything they feel pressured to do, particularly one of the few things over which they are ultimately the kings (their own bodily functions). This usually subsides around 3. So most littles learn to use the potty either before 2 or after 3.

Disclosure: When I recommend a product that I believe will add value for you, it may contain an affiliate link. When you click the link to make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

Lay the Ground Work

Modeling is a valuable tool for potty training. Place a potty seat in the bathroom right across from your toilet. Every time you use the bathroom, say, “It’s potty time,” with a smile, do the sign for potty, and lead your little one to the bathroom with you. Remove her diaper and encourage her to sit on the potty seat while you do.

This is a fun time for lots of positive interaction between the two of you. There is no pressure or negativity. You are modeling and creating a curiosity and encouragement of exploration of the potty process. Don’t shy away from answering any questions your child may have.

We’re also shifting the diapering from being horizontal (How many tantrums has your 1-year-old thrown at being laid down for a change?) to vertical and from being in a nursery to taking place in the bathroom. Remove the diaper, sit on the toilet and lean forward for bottom cleaning, flush, wash hands, etc. All vertical. All in the bathroom.

Learn the elimination cues of your specific child. Just as your little one shows you cues of hunger and tiredness, she also shows you cues when she is about to go potty or poop. All you have to do is tune in and read them.

Place a potty seat in the living room (or play room). Encourage sitting on the potty seat while he is doing activities that will promote sitting still for a period of time. You can sit on the floor next to your child and read a book, play with a toy, or watch a show.

Ditch the Diapers

After the initial stage of introducing your child to the potty seat, you move into the more serious potty learning phase. The key to potty learning is to lose the diapers! While potty learning, your child should be naked from the waist down while you are at home. Anytime you see those subtle cues specific to your child or she starts to go potty or poop, do the sign for potty and say, “Run, run potty seat!”

Initially, you will be cleaning some potty and poop messes off the floor. But this is the way to get the job done. If your child is wearing a diaper, pull-on diaper, or even underwear, going potty or poop can be ignored. If naked from the waist down, going potty or poop cannot be ignored and you can easily see and feel when you need to “run, run potty seat!”

It’s worth noting that the “run” and exclamation point do not denote pressure but excitement. Some children are quiet and graceful and if that is your child, then adjust your verbal cue to reflect their style. My boys don’t have a slow speed. It’s just running or nursing/sleeping. So that’s why the “run, run potty seat!” was a good fit for us.

Speaking of the “nature” of potty learning, the best possible setting is nature. We affectionately refer to our youngest as Tarzan Baby, because his preferred mode is naked backyard adventurer. While potty learning, my little backyard explorer quickly got the hang of his bodily functions. He learned that if he doesn’t aim while peeing, he then has to hose off. He learned that if he pees where he is playing, he can’t continue playing there. So he ended up peeing in a secluded spot at the side of the yard in the rocks with good aim. There was a stress-free, natural evolution of what, why, and how that ended with a firm grasp on the whole potty situation. So if a warmer month is approaching and you or a relative or friend has a backyard you could use (camping trip anyone?), set your timeline to include nature in your child’s potty learning journey.

Once you have lost the diapers, your child needs to sit on the potty seat every hour. It is important that this is a positive time full of interaction. Telling them to leave their fun toys and banishing them to the bathroom alone will set you both up for failure. Making it a fun bonding time full of positive reinforcement and encouragement will set you up for success.

This is the step when putting potty and poop in the potty seat really clicks. At first your child will just be sitting on the potty seat as a behavior, not really understanding the connection between that little chair and the liquid that comes out of them. But then one magical time while they are sitting on the potty seat they will go potty. You see them make their “poop” face and you “run, run potty seat” so they puts their poop in the potty seat. The connection is made. Pride is had by all. They are driven to repeat the experience. As they get the hang of it, you can extend the time between sittings and eventually you will not have to place them on the potty seat at all. Note: Children are usually “poop trained” before they are “potty trained.” Poop is easier for your child to control.

Doing a sign for potty is actually very helpful. Young children cannot always communicate verbally what they are able to communicate with their hands. Using the sign for potty allows your child to communicate that potty feeling in any setting or state. It can also function as a cue for release. It’s just another way to set yourself and your little one up for success.

Leaving the house while potty training does not have to be scary. First, keep a small potty seat in the trunk of your car. Yes, you read right. We have one made specifically for the car with disposable bag liners.

Second, dress your child in potty-training undies (not pull-on diapers). Potty-training undies are cotton underwear that has a thick layer of cotton in the middle.

Third, keep several pairs of clean undies and pants/shorts in the trunk of the car along with a box of wipes. Having everything you need will reduce the stress level so that potty learning can remain a positive experience for both of you.

Before you leave the house, use the potty. Once you arrive at your destination, use the potty. Before you leave, use the potty. As soon as you get home, use the potty. Many children refuse to use public bathrooms, as they are big, scary, sometimes gross, and always foreign places. Using the potty seat in your car eliminates this obstacle to successful potty training, plus it is significantly easier for you.

I also recommend a waterproof liner for the car seat if it is not easily washable (mine easily snaps off and on). Many car seats must be completely disassembled to launder the fabric—ugh. A waterproof liner consists of a piece of terrycloth fabric that is waterproof on the back that accommodates the car seat buckles and sits in the seat of the car seat. If your child has an accident in the car seat, you just toss the pad in the washer—easy.

As your child successfully progresses through the potty learning process, you can move the living room potty seat closer and closer to the bathroom and then eliminate it completely. Your child should actually remain naked from the waist down until they have the fine motor coordination to pull their undies up and down by themselves. After they are successful with undies, you can add pants/shorts.

It’s important to know that dry diapers at night are not a marker for daytime potty learning readiness. Nighttime potty learning is a whole different animal. When the bladder is full it releases a hormone to the brain that wakes you from sleep, If you have a son whose father wet the bed they may not night wean until the onset of puberty when the hormone surge triggers its activation. Daytime potty learning and nighttime waking to use the toilet are not correlated. Baby can wear a diaper at night while they are sleeping. When your babe starts waking in the morning with dry diapers, then you can ditch them. Go potty right before bed and as soon as you wake up. Once you decide you are ready to eliminate diapers at nighttime (once they are no longer breastfeeding to sleep or during the night) you can set them up for success by not giving them anything to drink one hour before bed. It’s really that simple: go potty right before bed and don’t drink an hour before bed.

Potty learning is not as scary or horrible as you may think. The key to successful potty learning is consistency! Once the diapers are gone, they are gone! Do it while they are young and you will have a toddlerhood free of potty-training battles. It is exponentially easier for a 1-year-old to potty learn than a 2-year-old. Go into the process knowing you will be cleaning some floor messes and changing wet clothes. Be prepared for this and it will not be stressful. It is a positive experience to share with your little one.

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I work from an island in the Pacific Northwest, where I live wild and free in connection with my hilarious husband and three growing sailors in our fixer upper on the beach. I authentically live this healing work out loud raising my own neurodivergent family (inner child included) and draw on my decades of education and experience (I've done all the nerdy work so you don't have to) to guide a revolution of overwhelmed parents just like you to feeling at peace within yourself, consciously connected with your children, embraced by a supportive community, and enjoying a values-aligned life you love.

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