I Don't Mind That My Toddler Has No Interest in Potty Training

Despite my efforts, my toddler has yet to demonstrate any real interest in potty training. And that is fine with me. Here’s why.

I’ve told my toddler I’ll buy her whatever kind of underwear she wants when she uses the toilet. I’ve put her on the potty and promised her a vigorous rendition of The Potty Dance, even if she ekes out just a few drops.

Despite my efforts, she has yet to demonstrate any real interest in potty training. (FYI, resisting diaper changes doesn’t count as interest in potty training). And that is fine with me. Here’s why:

I get to avoid potty talk

My older child, who is now five, started using the toilet at two years old. Over the past three years, I have given hours of my life to the discussion of her bathroom needs.

Do you have to go to? Are you sure you don’t have to go? It’s a long drive. Please try before we go. Can you hold it till we get home? Do you want me to come in the restroom with you or wait outside?

The amount of time and energy I’ve spent on this line of conversation is astounding. I am more than okay with limiting this type of conversation to one family member at a time.

Grocery shopping is less complicated

Sometimes I think my older child waits until my grocery cart is completely full to announce she must go to the bathroom. Right. Now. While I realize my toddler might be the type to actually use the potty before we leave the house without being asked, she very well might not be. I’m not a betting kind of woman when it comes to grocery shopping with my kids.

Between lamenting my lack of a commercial driver’s license when maneuvering the car cart, and hating the sound of my own voice saying “No” (no marshmallows, no sugar cereal – no, not even the one with Dora on the box, no getting out of the moving cart), I lack the reserves to manage two children’s urgent bathroom needs. 

I’m already carrying a mom bag

Gone are the days when I dashed out with my phone, my keys, a Chapstick, and my wallet shoved in my coat pocket. In my current bag, you’ll find all that, plus Tic Tacs (a handy, if sugary, bribe), baggies of sliced apples if I’m on my game, a sack of beef jerky or applesauce pouches if not, a change of clothes for each kid, a pine cone or a handful of rocks someone asked me to “hold for a minute,” plus an Epipen, and a bottle of Benedryl (thank you, food allergies). With this load, what difference do a couple of diapers and some wipes make?

She shouldn’t have to be a poop detective

My toddler has food allergies. Looking at her poop lets me see how she reacts to an accidental exposure to an allergen (we try our best, but life happens) or to see how she’s doing when – per our allergist’s recommendation – we purposely introduce a new food to her diet.

Were she potty trained, sure, she might call me into the bathroom to observe her stool before she flushes. Then again, she might not. I’m no expert, but I know my kid. She’s two-and-a-half, she’s scared of monsters, and she loves her stuffed rainbow unicorn. I’m not comfortable entrusting specimen preservation to her just yet.

I’m lazy

I try to masquerade as being laid back and efficient…but I am neither of these things. I am, in fact, uptight (I want my house clean!) and lazy (I don’t want to actually clean it!). These qualities don’t lend themselves to diving headfirst into the labor-intensive, messy endeavor of potty training.

Instead of listening to a podcast and making dinner while pretending I can’t hear my kids fighting and decimating the playroom, potty training would require constant vigilance, close attention to both the clock and the child. I would never get anything done.

Meanwhile, because my toddler refuses to use the potty (I have made a few half-hearted attempts), I would need to add cleaning human excrement off my floors to my to-do list. And don’t get me started on the atrocities of managing a poopy underpants situation.

I avoid the power struggle

I don’t remember what it’s like to be two years old. But I’m guessing it’s pretty disempowering, even if you’re lucky enough to score caregivers who meet all of your basic needs (and some of your desires, including your demands to wear a tutu and tights in the dead of winter).

You’re at eye level with a typical adult’s mid-thigh. You can be scooped up and carried to an undisclosed location with zero notice and without your permission. You’re at the mercy of grown-ups 99 percent of the time. I don’t see the point of adding toilet use to the long list of things you can’t control.

Make no mistake; this is not just for my daughter’s benefit. It’s for my sanity, too. (See: “I’m lazy,” above.) If I wait until my daughter is ready, potty training will be less work.

I get to baby my baby

My toddler is my second and most likely my last child, which makes her my baby forever. I realize it will be just couple of blinks before I’m putting her on the school bus with her big sister. Diaper changes give me a chance to kiss the velvet skin of her little potbelly, to squeeze her scrumptious thighs, to marvel at her unlined, chubby feet. And there’s nothing quite like the sound of her high pitched giggle when I tickle the back of her knee.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes as a parent, and I’m confident I’ll make more. I am also confident that the more I try to push my toddler into something, the harder she’ll resist. So instead of spinning my wheels and forcing the potty training, I will wait until she’s ready.

And if she’s still in diapers by the time she starts earning an allowance, her father and I will expect her to pay for them herself.

Here’s How to Potty Train Your Baby

Instead of training toddlers out of a lifelong habit, the Chinese forego diapers from birth. It’s a hands on approach to potty training and it works.

Our son was barely two years old when we enrolled him in a daycare in China. We were two western parents raising a child abroad, and we liked to believe we were doing a pretty good job at it. We took pride in the belief that our boy was ahead of the curve.

But when he showed up with a diaper under his pants, the teachers reacted like we’d brought him in covered in bruises.

“No good,” the head of the daycare said with tsk and a disappointed shake of her head. “We will fix this.”

Our child had only been alive for twenty-four months, but the people here thought it was embarrassing that he wasn’t yet fully potty-trained. To us, it seemed ridiculous (and a little insulting) that this woman thought she could have him running around dry and diaperless within a week – but she did it.

About seven days later, we were done with diapers. It was incredible – but, by Chinese standards, we were actually behind the curve.

Chinese parents potty-train their children without ever putting a single diaper on their bottoms, and the results are astonishing:

– Children are potty-trained in their first 12 to 20 months

– They never have to clean a dirty diaper

– They never have to treat diaper rash

– They save all that money we waste on diapers

– They save all that space in landfills that we fill with them

– They never hear their children cry about being wrapped up in a soiled diaper

Chinese potty-training is different, but it actually works – and it’s worth every parent’s time to borrow a few of its ideas.

Here’s how it works:

Start at birth.

In Europe and America, people endlessly debate when a child is “potty-ready” – but almost everywhere else in the world, the answer’s simple: they start about a few days after the baby is born.

I’m not saying science is wrong – it’s a fact that children are not biologically capable of controlling their bladders. These Chinese newborns do not politely excuse themselves while they step into the powder room.

They are, however, practicing. And that’s the real goal: ingraining good potty-habits from the start.

In case you’re worried, there is absolutely no danger in starting young. Studies have shown that children potty-trained at birth have absolutely no negative side-effects on their behavior.

Waiting too long, though, is dangerous. Other studies show that children who start potty-training late are more prone to accidents and bed-wetting. When we let kids spend their first three years relieving themselves whenever and wherever they want to, it becomes a habit – and breaking that habit is a lot of the reason it’s so hard to get those kids potty-trained when we do start.

Watch for signals.

The goal, at the start, is to get your children into the habit of going to the toilet whenever they need it. At this point, they’re not really aware enough to know it themselves – so it’ll be your job to keep an eye on what your baby’s feeling.

Babies will usually give some indication that they need the toilet before they start using it. You might see your baby squirming, or start to make a struggling face. His or her breathing might change. If it’s a boy, he might start filling up.

Whatever the cue, as soon as you see it happening, your job will be to bring your baby over to the nearest bathroom as quickly as you can. It’s not easy, but it’s setting up a habit in your baby’s life. Your baby will be growing up used to the idea that he or she should react when it’s time to go — instead of just sitting there letting it happen.

Truth be told, you probably won’t always make it in time. Which brings us to one more tip – most Chinese homes don’t have carpet. If you’re going to give this a serious try, you’ll probably regret not pulling those out the first time you don’t make it.

Hold your baby over the toilet.

When they make it to the bathroom, Chinese parents will hold their children over the toilet while they do their business.

That is – when they make it to the bathroom. The truth is, babies have incredibly tiny bladders, and you’re probably not going to have time to get your child to the toilet each time. That’s why Chinese parents often have a practice potty or, when that’s not close enough by, even use basins around the house. Anything they can hold a child over to keep it from making a mess.

When it’s time to go, hold your baby over your potty. Have your child look at, reach for and grab the potty before starting to make the link between toilets and relieving yourself that much more clear.

Whistle.

From nearly the moment our child was born, he’s heard somebody whistle a high F# every time he’s gone pee. It’s something we did from his birth and that, early on, seemed just like a weird tradition our neighbors had goaded us into following – but when he got a bit older, the effects were incredible. Our boy might sit on the toilet complaining that he doesn’t have to go, but the second we whistle, it comes out of him like pressing a button on a machine.

We were taught to whistle – but other people use other sounds. Most people seem to shush or to hiss. It doesn’t really matter. You could probably sing “La Cucaracha” and it would still work.

The point here is to create a Pavlovian connection between a sound and going to the bathroom. You’re sort of programming your child to go to the bathroom on command – which is going to help a lot with the next step.

Put your baby on the potty regularly.

Realistically, you’re not going to be able to spend twenty-fours of each day staring at your child’s face, watching for the slightest sign of a potty emergency – nor should you. You want to get your child into the habit of heading to the bathroom before the situation gets desperate – and so you’ll want to bring sit him or her on the potty once every hour or so.

This is one thing that we didn’t do well at the start. We’d picked up a few of these tricks from people in our community, but, as Western parents, we didn’t worry too much if he relieved himself in his diaper every now and then.

It really does, though, make all the difference. The daycare we sent him to made this a ritual. The whole class would head to the bathroom once every hour, and even sing a song to commemorate the occasion. Once our son had the habit, his visits to the bathroom stopped being races against the clock, and then we started seeing real results.

hild sitting on potty using an Apple Ipad tablet.

Make it work for your lifestyle.

If you follow these first five steps, you can potty-train a child in under two years without any problems – and it will work. Or, at least, it’ll work so long as you’re willing to never leave your home again.

If I’ve been painting too rosy a picture here, it’s because I’ve been saving the hard truths for now. This isn’t an easy process. It’s time-consuming – newborns typically have to pee 20 times each day, so you’ll be spending a lot of your time dangling your child over a toilet.

This method works for Chinese people because their lifestyles are different from ours. Most Chinese parents live with a set of grandparents, and so they have a set of extra hands constantly on watch to reduce the load.

You probably won’t have that luxury – but you can still make it work. Some experiments have been done starting children at six months old and still had great results.

For our family, we did this clumsily – we worked some of these steps in at birth, and didn’t learn about others until later. Even with our patchwork parenting, we still got some major advantages by incorporating these ideas into our potty-training regiment, and still had our child mostly trained by his second birthday.

Go outside and have fun.

Of course, when you go outside, this all gets a lot trickier.

For Chinese parents, going outside is easy. Their children wear pants with holes cut in the crotch and let it all hang out. When a child has to pee, the parents just dangle them over the nearest trash can and let them do it – and it works, because in China the sight of a half-naked baby peeing into a trash can is as normal as normal can be.

Western society is a bit different. If you try that here, you’ll get more than a few stares, and might get a few concerned phone calls as well. Until we have a major societal change, most parents probably won’t be willing to take a pair of scissors to their kids’ pants before heading outdoors.

Still, there are ways to make it work. In our case, we simply let our boy wear diapers outside when he was young – then, once he was two, just sent him out with underwear and pants and sent him to the bathroom every chance we could.

You might go further. You might not go as far. Perhaps all of this still seem a bit too odd for you to try – and if so, you’re not alone. Even in China, this is starting to change. As the country gets wealthier, a growing number of people are turning to diapers, buying into the belief that whatever comes from the West is best.

But the truth is, there are some things other cultures do better than we do – and there’s a lot of evidence that potty-training is one of them.

Do whatever works for you – but working a few Chinese ideas into your potty-training regimen just might make the process a whole lot easier.

For Best Potty Training Results, It’s Mommy Readiness That Matters

Having a potty trained kid seems like a great idea. Until you consider what it means for you.

According to the millions of how-to potty training books, my twins demonstrated all the signs of being ready to begin the exciting adventure of using a toilet. In fact, my children have done everything short of pulling off their diapers and getting on the toilet to use it.

What all that potty training advice fails to mention is how to recognize “mommy readiness”. Here, I will attempt to fill the void.

Enthusiasm to clean yet another mess

Many moms spend the majority of their waking hours cleaning some sort of mess, whether it’s the food smeared on the furniture or the diaper cream used as finger paint or the toys strewn across every inch of the house. Just the thought of encouraging another mess can send some moms right over the edge. 

There comes a time, however, when the diaper messes become so revolting that the thought of cleaning up after potty training actually sounds appealing. This is what I mean by mommy readiness. If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, just wait. You’re much better off remaining in a state of blissful ignorance until then.

Motivated to do more laundry

On the topic of messes: the endless amount of laundry moms face on a daily basis. Obviously when potty training a child, accidents will occur, leading to more laundry. Mommy readiness becomes apparent when you find yourself cleaning sheets, blankets, and clothes every morning thanks to stripped off diapers. Suddenly, cleaning a few extra outfits seems minimal.

Eagerness to spend all day in the bathroom

It’s difficult to imagine having to add another activity to an already busy schedule, much less one that involves running to the bathroom at a moment’s notice because your potty trainee needs to go. But when you add up all those dollars spent on diapers and wipes, you realize that spending some extra time in the bathroom might not be so bad after all.

Readiness to deal with accidents in public

Going to public places with toddlers is extremely challenging. They are interested in all the new and fascinating items in front of them, which sends them in every direction except the one you want. Their attention span is also limited, so you find yourself moving at warp speed trying to accomplish whatever task you set out to do. “Accidents” in public create yet more obstacles in your outing. That said, discovering your child bathing in toilet water speedily enhances your readiness to deal with any accident in public.

Willingness to use public restrooms

Many people avoid using public restrooms. Toilet training your child means using public restrooms on a regular basis. Finding your child throwing their dirty diaper across a room that is not a bathroom helps you overcome this hang up real fast.

Admitting your child is no longer a baby

This is by far the most difficult step for any parent to make. On some level, they will always be our babies. After learning to use the potty, the next step is going to college – or that’s how it feels sometimes. Statistically, most college students end up moving back home anyway, so you need not worry about them leaving you anytime soon.

Hopefully, these signs of mommy readiness will help you know when it’s time to potty train your toddler. If you’ve got a friend clearly exhibiting these signs who’s also in denial, feel free to leave a copy of this article discreetly on her desk. I might leave a copy on my own desk as well.