Month 31: Question–How do I teach my toddler to ask for the potty?


From the DiaperFree Group in Facebook:

Our DD is 14mo and says no 99% of the time when asked if she needs to go. The other part of the frustration is she has only asked to potty by crawling to it like 4 times EVER. We just have to ask and sit her on the potty. We guess all day every day. Her only signal at all (if at all) is a brief pause in whatever she is doing. I don’t know how to help her learn to ask to go :/  ~ Brittany



I’m a gal just living with her kids, so no phD here, but I hope I can help.  Mom to mom.

First, do you know how awesome four times is in this diapering culture?   High five grrlfriend!   That isn’t a frustration, that is a huge boon, a brag moment — no really, you need to start some shameless mommy bragging.   Change your perspective!    Look, Moms brag endlessly over the maybe-first-step even if Schmoopsie doesn’t do it again for 2 months.    Get you brag on!

When my Itty Bitty was two (or not quite two)  and spilled her potty on the floor — I smiled and puffed out my chest.   I know there was a mess and that sucked…I didn’t like the mess part at all.  But, my baby was copying me emptying her potty all by herself.   WOW!    See, I didn’t teach her that.  She just did it because she’d been watching me do it for her whole life and she finally as big enough and coordinated enough to give it a shot.   I tell you, my bathroom carpets were never cleaner than they were that first month of learning potty emptying!  (Of course, she just knocked over a cup of water and is now cleaning it — can’t blog for two seconds around here…! )

And that leads us to the next part of the question.  You DON’T teach her how to ask.    She’ll learn it.   All you do is encourage and repeat ad nauseum.    Remember she’s still is a baby (I don’t care what anyone says, babyhood is longer than one year) and like a baby she relies on you to just “know” what she needs and when she needs it. That gives her the freedom to feel safe enough to experiment.  You’ve got her back.  She doesn’t need to worry about getting eaten by a predator, where her next meal is coming from, or where she’ll sleep.  She trusts you.  She doesn’t want you to nag and hover, but she wants you at a comfortable distance so that she can run to you at any time.    She watches and listens even if you don’t think she is.    We model and show by our actions and behaviors, it is their job to observe and mimic when they are capable.

Everyone likes to think that they “teach” their children to speak, for example.   Language is far too complex to teach to a baby.  The infinite combinations of how to string a sentence together alone is daunting, never mind the musicality of language, or the use of idioms, articles, and pronouns.    But nature makes it simple.    You talk.  They listen.    You say certain phrases and words more often so they are encouraged to repeat because it is in their design and it makes you smile and interact.  But 99.9% of the words they know, the phrases they utter, and the Grammer they use you never teach to them directly.     For example, I have never taught my toddler the difference in saying, “Let me help you,”  “Let Mommy help you,” and “I’ll help you.”      She says “me help you” and “I’ll help you” and if she needs me  “Mommy help”, and “Help me mommy”.    She is even using past tense!   “I helped Mommy, Daddy.”    I certainly didn’t teach her how to conjugate a verb!       All I have to do is talk and expose her to conversations.      To be honest, I have become a walking toddler to English translator.  I have learned toddler-speak!  More often than not I hear myself saying, “When did you learn that?”   or “I didn’t know she knew what that was!”    She knows “handle bars”…really?…I never told her what a bike handle bar was!

So that’s all you have to do.   Model, show, use your potty sign/word/cue, repeat, and pick up the slack.   (And of course ditch the diapers — for those reading this and still using them at this point.   I know I’m a rebel.)

That subtle pause she does means, “I trust my mommy to know what I need.”  It’s the same way you “know” when she’s hungry without her saying anything.

She is also beginning to enter little by little into autonomy so I suggest you not ask a question you already know the answer to.     If you do ask a question , be prepared to respect the answer even if it isn’t the one you want!           There are times when you are just going to have to let things happen.  Put the potty there and say, “There is the potty if you need it.”         When you see the accident cue, “Wait!” and help her get to the potty fast to finish.   She will pick up on her own that she can stop peeing if she goes in the wrong place, that there are unacceptable places to pee,  or if she miscalculates/waits too long, that you will help but not nag, and you will show her how it is done.

Short term mess equals long term benefits.   Happy Pottying 🙂

Visit Itty Bitty Entry:   13 months
Visit Brother Blog:  Pottytunities for Two


I hope that helps!


About Laissez Faire

I am 41...42...43...44, married with two children, two cats, and a dog. Writing is my hobby, and learning and teaching my passions. Books! It used to be that I could devour several books a week when I had the time. I am usually too tired to stray awake these days with two kids. Currently my brain and energy levels have steered me to casual games, writing contests, and some inconsistent blogging.

Posted on April 27, 2012, in Parenting, Potty Training, Toddlers and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Ah! This is awesome. Thanks for making me feel good! BTW slight update from the other days grumpyness about my almost two year old and potty tantrums about the pants – after 3 days he has learnt the difference between wearing a nappy and wearing pants. He cries when I take his nappy off now, but he will use the potty when he knows he is just wearing pants or undies. I’ve also stopped badgering him as much and just trying to go back to instincts 🙂

  1. Pingback: I Will Stop Complaining Now | two poppy seeds

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