On Potty Learning: Wait Until They Are Ready!

Drop the prefold from the front, let it hang from the back, and the potty opp is still easy pee-zy.Nothing fills me with more sighs of consternation than the line, “Wait until they are ready!” when it comes to having children use the toilet. Let us exclude the special cases of children who have sensory disorders and delays, and discuss the rest.

Why does this line fill me with enough exasperation that I am forced to use twelve-letter words just to convey it?  Those five words never, ever come with any more explanation.      I present you with my argument.

1. We were not born with diapers; it’s not the human condition.   This means diaper use is a learned behavior; not instinctual behavior.  This “Wait” phrase implies the diaper use with no introductions to the toilet is the only option.   It implies that if you don’t wait, you are pushing children too soon too fast.     It makes parents afraid to merely introduce the toilet for fear they are being damaging.     Babies and toddlers around the world demonstrate that they can learn to pee other places as easily as they learned to pee into a diaper.

2. We are mammals and thus babies are very aware that they have to empty their bladders and bowels as surely as they are aware of hunger, thirst, and temperature.     They are already ready to go; we need only bring them to it.    US culture tells parents that babies and toddlers have no idea what they are doing when they are voiding bladders and bowels “until they are ready”.   When is that exactly?

3. We provide puppies with more opportunities to learn where the proper places go potty are as soon as they are capable, yet, our culture tells us that human children are incapable of understanding their own need to pee.   Our culture says that unless children can talk, pull down their pants, sit down to do their business, and pull their pants up by themselves they aren’t ready to use the toilet.  High expectations for a very simple process.

4. Readiness is not capability. No baby is born ready to use a diaper. The simple fact is that society says we are to put them in one and expect them to use it.   Yet, it is considered crazy to not put a diaper on them and expect them to void somewhere other than a diaper.

5. Waiting doesn’t mean you do nothing. Waiting means you actually continue to encourage use of diapers by putting them on until the child wants to spontaneously use the toilet.   It can happen that way, but it requires commitment to do that for as long as it takes. That might mean as early as eighteen months or as late as age six.    Average age for American children to be out of diapers is now edging towards age four.     Inconsistency is confusing.

6.   In reference to number five:   Around age 3.5 to 4, parents start to lose their patience as the pees get larger and the poops messier and the blowouts more frequent.   But because they have been told to, “Wait Until They Are Ready,” they have missed every window of opportunity that presented itself prior to the “age of autonomy.”  They are now in power struggle territory which is exacerbated by inconsistent signals (sometimes diaper, sometimes no diaper).

7.   “Wait Until They Are Ready” is never accompanied by an explanation of what that looks like.   I’ve yet to have anyone say that a signal might be:      Young children who are in the mimicry age range show interest by wanting to follow the parent to the toilet and sit.  Children who despise diapers and take them off at every available opportunity, even defeating backwards pajamas and duct tape tricks.     Children who hold themselves when they pee in a diaper.  Children who go hide in a corner to drop bombs.  Children who bring a fresh diaper as soon as they soil themselves.   These and more all demonstrate awareness.

8.  Waiting doesn’t make potty learning easier.  It simply takes the parent out of the process except for diaper changes and does not encourage parents to offer input.    This method is an option, but it requires commitment to waiting as long as it takes and to accept issues that are common with late toilet users.     Older children may have trouble peeing and pooping without a diaper.   The longer they are in diapers, the more likely this is to happen.  It does not happen all the time, but it is a very real possibility.  It is more common because they have not had to exercise those muscles or think about their elimination for years.  Sitting down on a toilet is also a whole different experience than peeing standing up just anywhere.   It can be quite scary!   They may not know how to release when sitting down, or release when their bladder isn’t full.   If they are wearing pants they may forget that they aren’t in a diaper because it has been a long term habit.     These children need even more patience and understanding because it is hard for them; it takes time to unlearn diapers and relearn body cues.

9.   “Wait Until They Are Ready,” never comes with an age to expect the magic moment to happen or what to do when it’s getting to be quite a bit past the average age.  What if the child is six and still shows no interest in toilet use for whatever reason unrelated to anything physical. They are healthy with no delays, but simply don’t want to use a toilet because they prefer a diaper.     Yet, the parent is simply done with diapers.   What then?  When is it okay to offer encouragement?  When is it okay for the parent to just stop participating in diaper changes?     It doesn’t happen all the time, but it does happen.

10.   These words are not a plan of action.   It’s inaction to changing a parent-established routine.    Some children do take to toileting all on their own, it’s true!  What about the others who do not and their parents?  What help does waiting provide them?

Inconsistency is confusing

Inconsistency is confusing

My advice is this if you want it.   If you are going to wait, then you must wait as long as it takes and commit to that philosophy.  However, don’t be afraid of introducing the concept in the first place.

Otherwise, there is nothing wrong with starting potty learning at any time.  Whether that is Elimination Communication style from anywhere between birth to eighteen months (http://www.godiaperfree.com).   To modern potty learning methods starting at the windows of opportunity between eighteen months to two and a half years (http://www.jamieglowacki.com).    Waiting until after age three is a foot planted firmly into autonomous territory and it needs a whole different approach, understanding, and a heaping dose of gentle, but firm encouragement (http://www.jamieglowacki.com).

Choose your path;  there is more than one!

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About Laissez Faire

I am 41...42...43, married with two children, and two cats. 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 and some inconsistent blogging.

Posted on October 26, 2015, in Attachment Parenting, Babies, Gentle Parenting, Parenting, potty, Potty Talk, Potty Training, Toddlers and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Thank you for this very thoughtful exploration of our culturally conditioned “go to” phrase for potty training. My neighbor was practically in tears yesterday because everyone has told her to let her child train herself and she’s now three and still pooping in her diapers. I told her, no, you should train her whenever *you* are ready and she resonated with that and yet was very very sad. All three of mine have been EC’d from birth and I’m so happy about that. They are absolutely capable, from birth just like other mammals as you say! Thank you.

    • Hello! Good to see you! Thank you so much! You know it is so frustrating at times to be the only one in a sea of “waits” saying, “yes, go for it”. Sometimes there is one or two others, but overwhelmingly the minority! Six years ago, I really thought there would have been a big shift the other way, but the “ready” sentiment has seemed to pick up steam in the last few years.

  2. I disagree with most of your post but I have to draw attention to the sheer stupidity of one of your arguments, specifically about puppies. Dogs (depending on the breed and living conditions) have a life span of 8-16 years so they develop a hell of a lot faster than humans. Considering they’re walking within a few weeks and normally weaned off milk by two months. By your argument not only should a few weeks old Infants be potty trained they should also be solely on solids and be able to walk

    • You seemed to have missed the point and jumped right into beating a straw man. How fast they develop in comparison is irrelevant. Though, according to you a puppy who is capable of walking to a designated spot to pee is at the same level age wise as a two year old, that means that an actual human toddler should have no problem understanding a toilet. A puppy is aware of their body functions;we do not question this fact. Body awareness is innate.

      We do not discount a puppy’s ability to learn simply because they can’t speak human language and have dog brains. We provide them with help and show them what we want (not once thinking they are incapable even if they need help and guidance when young), and expect them understand to take over seamlessly.

      Our own children have the same instincts and are considered to be more intelligent, but our culture has conditioned people to believe that they have no body awareness and they are to do nothing to encourage toilet use. If a puppy with no grasp of the human language can learn where to eliminate simply by being taken to that place when they need to go, parents should not be afraid of encouraging their children (of any age) to use a toilet. It’s just a toilet; it’s not that complicated.

      If a parent chooses to wait, their choice. I am saying that waiting is completely unnecessary. Toilet introduction can start at any time. The children were born capable and ready.

  3. Great post! I especially loved the quote on the picture “Always pee and poop here, not in your pants EVER, expect sometimes if you have a diaper and I am busy… Or tired… Or we are out… Or you are in bed… But even if you have on a diaper tell me when you need to go!” – THIS!!

    I think that the whole “wait until “THEY” are ready” thing is actually more about waiting until “YOU” (as the mother/father/primary caregiver) and the wider community that you have chosen to be part is ready. The fact is Western families and societies are often not ready to let go of the highly seductive unconscious and incredibly damaging convenience that comes with using wearable toilets. I think we need to shift the conversation from potty “learning” to diaper training; as many parents will be happy to wait to toilet train if they are given the choice of doing it when it is (modern Western cultural)ly acceptable than earlier when it will require a lot more input on their behalf for a longer duration of time. However if they understood that any and all diaper-training caused both short and long term physical, psychological and relational harm to their infants perhaps they might be more tempted to seek out alternatives?

    • I am glad to see my article reaching people and generating conversation. The consequences of our disposable habits (diapers, menstrual products, cleaning supplies…) is a whole other kettle and blog post!

      I don’t believe that parents harm their children by using diapers. I want to make that clear.

      The shift in conversation needs to bring to light the contradictions in our society, and to ease the fears of parents. Give them actual plans and options rather than statements that advise nothing.

      Our society has made people believe collectively that diapers are a state of babyness and tends to gloss over the possible problems that come with the late training territory (and some horrible, demeaning advice that tends to pop up). This creates the atmosphere ripe for making those who toilet children under two seem like they are making them grow up by the simple act of having them pee in a different location! And leaves the parents who patiently and dutifully waited and still waiting after five years feel defeated and guilty.

      There are people who have no idea that they don’t need to use diapers for so long (4-6 years is a long-term investment); there are people who think they will physically and mentally harm their children by encouraging them to use the bathroom! Our culture has taught parents to see the poop face, comment on it, watch the event, then react only when the act is done–and at the same time look upon the parents who see the poop face and react immediately to bring them to toilet as ridiculous.

      Cultural conditioning affects everyone on this topic. Even some die hard ECers will sometimes say it takes more effort to EC, when really it doesn’t. It takes attention before the act, not more effort. Every issue I have seen thus far with early potty learning is directly related to these same culturally ingrained “wait for readiness” beliefs. The blame is then placed back on the idea of early toileting being a failure, when in fact it is the ingrained cultural habits and false beliefs that caused the issues.

      We need to be discussing the cultural collective belief of what can and can’t be done without alienating people. A simple, “You can wait, but you don’t have to wait. Here is what you can do and what to expect.”

      • I think the issue is not just raising a discussion on what is and isn’t possible but the age old question of WHY? If the “choice” to use diapers or not was just a case of the parental preference alone then yes I would agree with the message “You can wait, but you don’t have to wait.” However, as I, personally believe that diapers, or wearable toilets as they have been more accurately named, are in their very conception and execution harmful in ever increasing ways as our dependence on and now desire (the modern cloth diaper popularity) for them deepens and expands, the question becomes “why wait when you don’t have to” or “why is natural infant hygiene important when it makes no difference if you chose to use wearable toilets until your child (or more accurately you) are ready (or finally fed up enough) to be done with them”.

        Unfortunately as our capitalist, 24/7, consumerist culture promotes an increasing need for us to misunderstand what is obvious (in this instance, “poop face” is a signal not a cute baby expression); ignore what is instinctual (helping baby to use a potty) and distrust, or even detest what is natural (babies NOT wearing diapers), I repeat that I believe it is our unconscious diaper-training practices, not the age of potty training that needs to be focused on.

        Another example of this is that I don’t think we as a global society would have questioned the use of the commercial menstrual and cleaning products you mentioned, if no one had first learnt of the dangers associated with the mainstream options available. While it is in and of itself fascinating that we can make our own personal and home care products ourselves, I highly doubt that many people, other than those with a love for DIY, would care if the alternative was equal in all terms (i.e. harm caused, cost (in both money and time) and quality/effectiveness etc).

        I guess that just like all things we have to agree to disagree on some points even when we generally see eye to eye on the “big picture”. Thanks for raising this as a point for debate, as it is an important one that I don’t believe can be tackled enough. Apologies for the thesis length comment, ha, but it is reassuring to know that there are others that share (at least some of) my views on these issues in a sea of mainstream conditioning and product marketing!

      • No worries. Many things can be accomplished with partial agreements. Easier to convince people with common goals on neutral ground, rather than arguments on their turf. 🙂

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