Top Ten Tricks for Early Potty Training Success

Are you interested in saving money? Conserving resources? Preventing diaper rash, UTIs, and constipation? Side-stepping years of changing diapers containing "man-poops"? Do you want a greater range of choices for preschools? Would you like to avoid potty training an uncooperative 3-year-old? Then early potty training just might be for you.

If you want to try early potty training, it's as easy as taking off your child's diaper, and plopping them on the potty every once in a while.  Here are my best tips for successful early potty training, based on my experiences potty training my second and third children.


Start young.  
Start putting your child on the potty around 6 to 9 months, or whenever your child starts to use a high chair, and use similar methods to acclimate your child to the high chair and potty.  I think this is a great time to begin because, if your kids are like mine, you have to spend 99% of their waking hours with them anyway, so some of that time might as well be spent reading books on the potty. If your child is already older than 9 months, no worries. Just start now! Whatever you do, please don't wait for those ridiculously outdated (and inaccurate) "signs of potty readiness" you see everywhere.

It's not all or nothing.  
You don't have to try to completely potty train your child by one.  Just give your child a chance to use the potty if she's ready, and let her get familiar with the potty while she's impressionable and willing.  You may be surprised at how much happier your baby is to use the potty (rather than her diaper).

Choose the very best times to put your baby on the potty.
Begin by putting your baby on the potty when it's either easy and convenient for you, or the most likely to result in a deposit. I found it easiest to put the baby on the potty before/ after a bath or diaper change (diaper is already off!) or while I was using the bathroom (potty = convenient place to set the baby). I had the best luck with my baby using the potty right after she woke up (morning or after naps) or just after a big meal. Read more about the most promising potty times here.

Use a little potty (not a potty seat on the toilet).
I don't recommend putting your baby on a potty seat on the toilet. First of all, because she can fall off (even if you are right next to her looking at her -- trust me). But also because it's really easier to poop with your feet resting on a surface (not dangling) and your knees up higher than your hips. It's also nice to keep the toilet free for older kids and adults, and sometimes motivational to be able to use the toilet simultaneously with the baby using the potty. So I strongly suggest starting with a separate potty. However, be aware that most potties are designed for toddlers and preschoolers, not babies. Our favorite potties for babies are Baby Bjorn's Smart Potty and IKEA's Lilla potty. Find more recommended potties here.

Dress for success.
What clothing you put on your baby influences how often you are willing to plop her on the pot! I often dressed my babies in just a shirt and fitted cloth diaper at home to make taking off and putting back on a diaper quick and easy. Without a waterproof cover on, it was also easy to see if my baby was still dry. To protect legs from chilly tile and wood floors in the colder months, we used Baby Legs.

Be entertaining.
In the beginning, with most babies, you are all the entertainment that is necessary to keep your child on the potty.  Once your child gets more mobile, it can get a little trickier.  I have used various strategies with my babies, including singing, annoying (to me) electronic toys reserved for potty time, and board books of baby faces.  Find more ideas for entertaining a baby on the potty here.

Consider cloth.
If you plan to use disposables, no problem! Early potty training is completely compatible with disposable diaper use, and will save you oodles of money and keep lots of dirty diapers out of the landfill. But if your mind is not entirely made up, I would urge you to consider cloth. Babies that use cloth diapers have more potty awareness from the get-go because they can feel when they are wet. Cloth diapers (particularly without a waterproof cover) also allow caregivers more awareness of when baby is wet and when baby is staying dry. Read more about using cloth diapers here.

Let your baby go diaper-free whenever practical. 
This is actually easiest to do with the littlest ones. Before my third baby was too mobile, I often let her lie on top of a prefold diaper on top of a waterproof pad next to me. In addition to providing some nice healthy air flow around the bottom, it gave my baby the chance to get used to peeing with her diaper off and me the chance to make a sound (such as "pssss") while she peed that I could later use to cue her while she sat on the potty. During warmer months, you might consider letting a crawler or toddler hangout outside diaper-free for a while each day.

Be prepared for some backsliding and ditch the guilt. 
I always struggled with this one.  The thing about potty training a baby is that it is often more dependent on you than your child.  For example, at one point my daughter was peeing 5 or 6 times in the potty per day.  She could be in the same dry diaper all morning and afternoon!  And then the in-laws arrived for an extended stay, and we traveled over the holidays.  I stopped putting her on the potty as often, and she started peeing more in her diaper. Oh well. When things calmed down, we started using the potty more again. I also often used to feel guilty when my daughter pooped in her diaper because she didn't have access to the potty. Or sometimes it happens that your toddler just decides to stop using the potty as often. These things happen, and it's best to just accept them in advance. Sometimes even big kids have accidents, either because they couldn't or wouldn't go to the bathroom in a timely manner.

Count hits not misses.
As your baby more frequently uses the potty, you may be tempted to think in terms of how many "accidents" your child has throughout the day when you assess how your early potty training endeavors are going. Don't do it! Count the hits, and think how lucky your baby is to be learning from a very young age that the potty is the best place to do her business.

Interested in learning more?  

For more tips, tricks, and tales from early potty training, visit my Early Potty Training page. This page includes links to every post I've written about early potty training, including gory details from my experiences potty training my second child from the age of 8 months and my third child from the age of 4 months.

If you are the bookish type (like me), two books that served me well as both introductions to the practice and as reference guides are: Diaper-free Before 3 and Diaper Free.

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  1. Oy. So glad I'm done with this part of my parenting. But like you said, I let my kids tell me when they were ready. And once I knew, I was persistent. They can get sidetracked and may not want to do it but that's when your persistence come in. My son was ready but didn't tell me with words so I got on him and 'showed' him he was fully capable. My daughter (the smarter gender of the two if you ask me) was done and she ripped off her diaper to let me know and never looked back since then!

    1. Some kids will just let you know and practically train themselves. And some parents are still waiting for their 4yo's to be "ready." It was actually some of my friends talking about struggling to seal the deal with their 4yo's that provided part of the motivation to stick with early training.

  2. How old were your children when they were fully potty trained? I found boys were so late in getting trained. I could have used these ideas when they were potty training.

    1. Well it's hard to say when they were fully trained. Fully trained sometime before 2. Both pooped almost all the time in the potty by the time they were 1, and mostly trained by 18 months, I'd say. I cared a lot less about #1 than #2 :)

  3. That is the cutest photo Betsy!I have to admit that I'm so happy my boys are beyond this phase! It was a lot of work. They always used a little potty. I like the idea of starting early. Why not?! My kids were always pretty vocal when they were ready to give it a try.


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