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Toilet Training

Okay, get ready for this. No matter what you may have heard or read, toilet training is unnecessary. Children learn to move on from diapers, not because they are run through drills but because they become sensitive to the increasing discomfort of marinating in their own dirty diapers. Just like any other milestone, this occurs naturally as a normal part of a child’s development, and it does not require training.

Oddly, modern technology delays the process somewhat; today’s diapers, which are super-absorbent and designed to fit perfectly, don’t cause the same discomfort that diapers did in years past. I bet one of the reasons you’re toilet trained is that you grew tired of walking around with a soggy, stinky diaper around your waist. Nowadays, children are less motivated to graduate from this phase as quickly. This delay may make you wonder if Jimmy is ever going to be out of his diapers. Compounding the issue, day-care centers and preschools often impose toilet-training ultimatums for enrolling children, not so much for your child’s benefit as for their own convenience.

The truth is that all children will be done with diapers eventually, some earlier than average, some later. But the child-care industry and certain behavioral psychologists have conspired to create a huge amount of pressure for children and parents alike. I recommend that you merely help Jimmy decide when he wants to be clean and offer a little assistance along the way. My laissez-faire toilet training method, scientifically tested on my own three children, goes something like this:

1 | Once Jimmy becomes aware of his daily waste production, around eighteen months of age, he’ll start to let you know when his diaper is full. This is a fine time to start the process.

2 | Buy a potty, and set it on the floor in the bathroom next to the adult toilet. There’s no need to discuss the function of this new piece of furniture.

3 | Let him run around naked as often as you can and wherever it’s practical. Not only is this the best way to prevent diaper rashes, it will make him much more conscious of what comes out of him. Unless you have expensive carpeting, it makes little difference whether you swab the floor or swab his butt.

4 | Now let him go about his normal business. Occasionally, he’ll stop playing to go number one or two. The first few times, he’ll be surprised to see what comes out of him and may even enjoy the novelty, but that will wear off quickly when he slips in his own urine. Soon enough, when he feels the urge, he’ll look around for a place to satisfy his needs where he won’t be bothered by them later. That’s when he’ll remember the new piece of furniture.

5 | Because Jimmy vaguely remembers seeing you—his role model—sit on the toilet, he’ll mimic you.

6 | Before he has fully mastered his potty, he might ask you for a diaper when he feels the urge. Oblige without comment. This is just as good as going to the potty.

7 | If the process becomes too messy or starts to drag on, you may have started too early. Give it a few weeks and try again.


Don’t pressure Jimmy. Pressure can be as subtle as a suggestion. It is at best pointless and at worst can delay the process and even lead to stool retention, a dramatic situation wherein kids withhold their stools intentionally [See: Stool Retention]. If your child’s day-care center or preschool pressures you, just pay your tuition on time, tell the director that Jimmy’s almost there, and stand by him supportively.

Don’t reward or bribe him because he went to the potty. Jimmy is definitely smarter than a pet and will figure out that you have a major stake in his bladder and bowel elimination. As part of the toddler exploration stage, he’ll try to reverse the circuit and figure out what happens when he does not use the potty. Also, rewards become a form of pressure, because he will start to feel punished without them.

Don’t make him watch toilet-training videos or read toilet-training books. They are boring and unproductive.

Don’t suggest that Jimmy sit on the potty when he’s not feeling the urge. He won’t understand what he is doing there if he does not have the need.

Don’t rush him onto the potty if he starts urinating or defecating elsewhere in the house. You probably won’t get him there in time, and these mad dashes will introduce unnecessary commotion.

Don’t worry if he suffers occasional setbacks after achieving some control. It’s not always a perfect process.

If you stick to this method, most kids will naturally achieve control between the second and the third years, first with urine and then with defecation. When they are comfortable with the potty, the transition to a real toilet happens relatively slowly but spontaneously.

Resisting Toilet Training

If Jimmy is still not on the potty by his third birthday, don’t panic; it may just be a matter of time. Just like every other milestone, there are wide variations in when kids reach it. But there is also the possibility that Jimmy has grown so comfortable in diapers that he feels no need to change his habits. Worse, you could also have been mildly pressuring him without realizing it, which can act as a deterrent.

By four years of age, if Jimmy has not achieved bowel control, there is no doubt that he is almost certainly responding to one of these outside stimuli. In that case, here is a modified laissez-faire approach that will solve your problem:

1 | Buy some training diapers. They are much less absorbent than normal diapers and therefore more uncomfortable.

2 | Teach him to put the diaper on himself, and place the pile of extras within his reach.

3 | During the day, let him run around in underwear or, when possible, naked.

4 | If he asks for a diaper, remind him where they are.

5 | If he goes in his underwear, don’t rush to change him.

6 | If he goes in the potty, don’t praise him with all the pent-up relief in your heart. The aim here is to maximize his discomfort and his autonomy.

Again, don’t push and don’t nag. Just calmly send the message that he should use the potty for his own benefit rather than yours. If Jimmy is in preschool he’ll just have to wear a training diaper until he gets “trained.” Little by little, Jimmy will discover the primary reason for toilet training: comfort. The older a child is and the more entrenched his habits, the longer the training may take. But it will always work if you are rigorously consistent.

Night Training
Children also learn to control their bladders at night. After a few months of relatively steady control during the day, you can let Jimmy try a night without diapers. If he stays dry, then that’s that. If he doesn’t, back off and try again a few weeks later. The majority of children will achieve night bladder control in the third year. Some kids remain bed wetters until much later on [See: Bed-Wetting].

After your child has achieved bladder and bowel control, teach wiping. The main purpose of wiping is to avoid underwear staining. In that sense, it’s a cosmetic habit rather than a medical one. Teach it patiently, and don’t worry if it’s slow going at first.

There is an additional dimension to this process for girls: Many parents believe that if girls wipe from back to front, they increase the risk of urinary tract infections. This is highly unlikely. The proximity of the two orifices ensures that the vagina is regularly contaminated with stool. Therefore, you just have to trust that whoever designed the human plumbing system has accounted for this by protecting the vagina from becoming infected by small amounts of fecal matter. If that were not the case, Lucy would have to be on antibiotics as long as she’s wearing diapers.


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