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It’s Not Too Late for Infant Potty Training

By Laurie Boucke

This article is for parents who start infant potty training (IPT) when their baby is 6 months or older. Many families do not learn about this method until their babies have passed the first and most powerful window of opportunity (between birth and 4 to 5 months old).

The most frequently asked question is, “Can I still start if my baby is 6 months or older?” The good news is that if this method resonates with you, if it sounds right for you and your baby, then yes, it is fine to give it a try (despite all the scare tactics to the contrary).

Windows of opportunity for infant potty training
Although the first and most effective window of learning ends around age 5 to 6 months, other windows of learning open at different times during a child’s development. For example, many babies are again ready for toilet learning around the age of 8 to 12 months, 18 months and/or 24 months. Since each child is unique, there is no way to know for sure when your baby will again be receptive to toilet learning, once she is older than 5 months.

One way to look at IPT is as a sort of insurance policy in that you know that your baby will gain elimination awareness and control at or before the age of 24 to 30 months. It is not a contest to see who can toilet train their baby at the youngest age. Rather, it is about communication, responsiveness and personal beliefs. It is a lifestyle choice.

Adapting traditional infant potty training methods
If your baby is 6 months or older, you’ll need to make some modifications to the traditional infant potty training (IPT) method. It is usually (but not always) harder to start with a mobile baby who has been "trained" to go in a diaper or who wears disposables and does not associate the feeling of wetness with elimination.

If you are using disposables, try switching to cloth diapers at least part-time. With cloth diapers and no plastic cover, you know immediately when your baby goes. You can thus start to learn and recognize elimination timing and patterns. At the same time, you can change your baby as soon as he goes and avoid teaching him to be comfortable with wetness.

Consider using tiny training pants and then later move onto regular undies. You can sew your own little shorts and pants, using sweat pants with an elastic waist as a basic pattern. These are easy to pull up and down in a hurry. You can use any material you like, depending on climatic conditions, budget considerations and other relevant factors.

When possible and convenient, let your baby be diaperless. Although it is not a requirement of IPT for babies to be bare-bottomed, it heightens their awareness of elimination and speeds up the learning process (sometimes dramatically!). They instantly experience cause and effect. The next-best thing to going diaperless is wearing training pants or even Chinese open-crotch clothing. The Chinese clothing has a slit in the back, enabling babies to squat and go without wetting or soiling themselves.

Try different potty positions until you find one that is comfortable and convenient for both you and baby. For smaller babies, you can try some of the in-arms positions that are used to hold infants. For more independent and mobile babies, in-arms positioning might not work. Look for a small potty that fits your baby; otherwise, you can either use a toddler toilet seat on the big toilet or else sit on the toilet with your child.

Learn your baby’s patterns
Study your baby’s elimination timing and patterns in relation to meals and awaking from sleep. For example, most babies need to go immediately upon waking in the morning and after naps. Thereafter, they might need to pee every 30 minutes two or three more times; then the timing may increase to an hour before she needs to go again. On the other hand, some still pee at 15- to 20-minute intervals for a while.

Study and learn your child’s natural toileting body language. Each child has her own set of signals. Some are extremely subtle and hard to recognize, while others may be blatantly obvious.

Introduce a sound or word that you and your baby associate with elimination. The “sss” sound is popular in many cultures, or you may prefer to simply say “pee pee” as your baby goes or when you think she needs to go. You can use the same sound (or two different ones) for pee and poo.

Use sign language or any hand signal you like. This is especially helpful with preverbal babies, as it enables them to communicate their needs before they can speak.

Time for results?
Do not expect immediate or clear-cut results for several months. There is no fixed time scale for infant potty training (IPT). Many parents feel frustrated if their baby doesn’t seem to care about staying dry, forgetting that they taught their baby to pee in a diaper in the first place. It takes most babies considerable time to unlearn this.

Use an open-door policy by letting your baby accompany you or dad (fathers are especially helpful with boys) to the toilet. Let your baby observe you and/or other family member(s) using the toilet and talk to her about using the potty or the toilet with a child seat attached. Learning by example and observation can be helpful for many, but don’t make a big deal out of it. If your child is curious, she will observe and learn.

Be relaxed, gentle and patient. Accept and enjoy your child’s learning pace. Never compare your child’s results with another in a competitive or judgmental way. Avoid any and all pressure, anger, punishment and other negative emotions, words, intonation or actions.

If you feel elimination is "yucky" (a Western hang-up, in my opinion, stemming from using and having to change or clean diapers), strive to get over this feeling. This is where kids gain control or get stubborn, if they know it bothers you. In non-Western societies, mothers just smile at accidents and clean up, with no negative emotional reaction.

Always remember that every child and every family situation is unique. Use trial and error to find what works for you.

Some parents have no trouble getting their baby to pee in the potty but reap no results for quite sometime with pooing in the potty, or vice versa. Don’t worry! This too shall pass.

Go with the flow of your baby’s natural learning process. A common scenario is for toddlers to let you know they peed or pooed immediately after they have gone in their pants or diaper. This is all part of the learning process, and your child will eventually learn to inform you beforehand.

There will be good days and bad days, amazing successes and the inevitable setbacks. Expect one step back for every three steps forward. Small children are very busy learning many new skills and achieving milestones, as well as going through some occasional discomfort such as when they are teething or ill. Many things (including travel or guests) can interrupt their potty learning on a temporary basis, but they will get back on track if you hang in there.

Expect some resistance and fooling around by toddlers. For example, when they go through the phase of saying “no” to everything, their “no” does not always really mean “no.” In short, if you ask your toddler if he needs to go potty and are met with a resounding “no,” this response may sometimes have little to do with your question. This is all part of learning to read your child and becoming familiar with all forms of communication.

Concerning praise, do whatever feels right, normal and natural for you and your little one. If you feel like praising your child, fine. If you don't believe in praise, simply state or explain what is happening when your baby goes for you.

Siblings can be a great help with IPT. They can teach by example, inspire, entertain and help in many ways. Some siblings are better at “reading” their baby brother or sister than adults.

Many families who learn about this method a little late end up potty training two children at once -- a baby and a toddler or even two toddlers. Parents with two small children can use IPT with both children at once, as long as you are patient; don't have expectations that could lead to any negative feelings or reactions; and respect/accept their individual rates of development.

For parents starting with babies who are already walking, any time your baby goes on the floor (or anywhere else), tell him matter-of-factly what he did and then tell him that it goes in the potty. Clean the mess and, together with your toddler, take it to the potty or toilet. Explain again that it is best for the pee and poo to go in the potty. Do this each time he has an accident.

Trust your intuition, listen to the voice within, have faith in yourself, relax and enjoy.

© Laurie Boucke

Laurie Boucke, Phi Beta Kappa University of California, is the mother of three sons and has authored eight books, including three on the topic of this article; Infant Potty Basics (2003) and Infant Potty Training (2002) are the most recent. She also works as a court reporter for the deaf and encourages sign language as a means of communication.

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