How to Not Potty Train in 3 Easy Phases


I’m deep in walk training right now.  Yesterday my kid got 3 stickers for walking across the kitchen but today he’s been crawling all day!  I keep admonishing him that we don’t crawl anymore and I make him get up and walk for 10 minutes every hour.  This is exhausting!  I can’t wait till he’s walk trained!

Sounds funny, huh?  We don’t walk train or talk train our kids so why do we potty train?  Kids learn to walk and talk because we walk and talk and they become ready to imitate us.  Why isn’t the same true for learning to potty?

Now, I acknowledge that outside influences might force you to “train” your child to use the potty (daycare).  If you do need to potty train check out Elizabeth Pantley’s No-Cry Potty Training Solution.  But, let’s admit that any potty training we do is for our (or another adult’s) convenience.  Using bribes or threats to get your kid to use the toilet benefits YOU in that you don’t have to buy diapers (or wash diapers) or spend time changing them.  I don’t believe there is any benefit to the child of potty training.  

Bodily Autonomy

In fact, I think there is great benefit in letting them lead the way.  Why?  To teach bodily autonomy.  Bodily autonomy means knowing that you are in charge of your own body.  The concept of bodily autonomy is so important to raising kids that respect their bodies and do not allow others to abuse it.  There are several ways to teach bodily autonomy but I think the biggest way is to LET THEM HAVE BODILY AUTONOMY.  That means they are in charge of what they wear, eat, and do with their bodies within safety guidelines.

What does this look like?  Well, my kids are naked a lot because what they wear in the house is not worth my trying to control.  Of course they have to be dressed to go outside but they can wear what they want.  My kids are not perfect little cuties in perfect little clothes (well, to me they are.)  It means I don’t force my daughter to have pigtails if she says no (although I do insist on a daily brushing).  It means they have access to food when they want and aren’t forced to eat something when I want them to.  It means I make bedtime enjoyable but they can go to sleep when they’re ready.  And it means that I am willing to change diapers until they don’t want me to anymore.

By 12 months old people (cough, Mom) started asking me about potty training.  Because Aellyn was “smart” she was clearly “ready”.  What they meant by that is she clearly had the communication skills and understanding for me to use behavioral conditioning to make her use the potty.  Behavioral conditioning (also called Operant conditioning – think Pavlov’s dog) is training someone to do something based on a consequence.  For example, use the potty and get a sticker or have an “accident” and get punished.  At this point, parents begin putting baby on the toilet often, asking if they have to go often, and giving rewards if they use the potty.

Since I had decided to not train we tried hard to ignore the naysayers.  This is hard!  I was often worried that she WOULD be the 18 year old in diapers!  But, I calmed down, trusted my instincts, and waited for Aellyn to be ready.  Here’s how it went.

Phase 1: Observation

Aellyn sees mommy and daddy use the potty often.  Some people are very private but I don’t think that serves well with kids.  My kids see me naked, see me shower and get dressed.  It isn’t like “now I”m going to show you how to sit on the potty” but just casual observation of how people do things normally.  Like walking and talking, kids want to do it because you are.

By 2.5 years old she was often saying “When I grow up I’ll go on the potty like mommy and daddy.”  She would also tell me BEFORE she went poop.  So, I’d ask calmly if she’d like to go on the potty.  She’d say “no” and go off to poo in her diaper and then come to me to change it.  She clearly had knowledge and control of her urges (the pressure to “train her, train her!” became stronger) but she said no and I respected that.

Phase 2: Responsibility (and Waiting)

I don’t know if this contributed to her finally going on the potty but I”ll put it in here in case you want to try it.  By 3 she could dress herself so we bought pull ups and she became responsible for changing her own pee diapers.  She was excited about this and I wouldn’t have done it if she had shown resistance.  She took off her own wet diaper, threw it away, got a new diaper and put it on.  When she had poops she came to me to change her.  During this time, since she’s often naked, she would run around “accident free” naked and then go get a diaper when she wanted to pee.  I would again ask her if she wanted to use the potty and she said no.  (I can literally hear my Mom saying “OMG TRAIN HER!”)

Phase 3: Click!

One day, when Aellyn was 39 months (3 yr. 3 mo.) her friend Caelan was visiting and she went potty on the toilet.  Aellyn watched.  After Caelan left Aellyn wanted to pee on the potty.  She did.  A few hours later she pooped on the potty.  I put a diaper on her that night and the next morning let her put on panties.  That was it.  She never wore another diaper.  Day or night.  She’s had 3 accidents.  She pooped once in her underpants and cried!  That was after we moved to the new house so I think she was holding it.  And twice she’s woken up wet; and really just a little wet and then she goes potty.  Better yet, she doesn’t need me at all.  She goes potty on her own and I never ask her if she needs to go.  She wipes herself and I decided not to intervene or “check” and a few times she had an itchy butt and we talked about wiping good and once she had an ouchy vagina and we talked about front to back and getting dry.  I’ve just been completely hands off about it.

Honestly, I’m not exaggerating!  It was in her time so when she was ready there was no training, or transition, or anything.  It was like walking – one day she did it and then she always did it.

I’m so glad we trusted her timing.  I had promised myself not to get worried until 4.5 years old (and I had to remind myself again and again).  Clearly, seeing a peer use the potty was her catalyst but I’m sure something would have eventually played that role if not Caelan (Thanks Caelan!).

(note: this post refers to traditional diapered kids and potty training.  I don’t consider Elimination Communication to be the same as potty training.  To learn more about EC check out these great posts.)


9 thoughts on “How to Not Potty Train in 3 Easy Phases

  1. Caelan was SO proud when I told her what happened after you called me that night. I am SO glad that she was able to help her friend with this huge accomplishment. I love it that she just did it on her own. That's how Ellery has been lately, and I am letting it happen. We'll see. 🙂 Love you!


  2. Wow! Way to go to not put the pressure on. My son used to sit on the potty when he was younger but stopped going as he got older. We also moved, so he HAD to wear a diaper always instead of being free most of the time. So, I believe that had a lot to do with it. Hopefully he doesn't resent me trying to "train" him the few times I did. With my daughter, she was diaper free at 2 with no help. I was much more relaxed about it then..Interesting!


  3. This is a great post, and soooooo needed. I am a daycare provider, and it is very hard to help parents understand these concepts, and that pressure is exactly what will NOT help a toddler feel safe to go potty on a toilet. We forget that toilets can be pretty scary, and that there's anxiety and fear sometimes involved with such a big change. It is a whole new step into independence from mom, and I think children feel that at some level. Thank you for sharing your experience. I let my daughter and son both go potty with me, and always had a potty chair there. Eventually, they wanted to use it, and moved into underwear pretty easily.


  4. "Clearly, seeing a peer use the potty was her catalyst…" made me laugh, because this mind interpreted 'peer' as 'pee-er' and it made wonderful, double-entente sense.


  5. This might possibly be the stupidest thing I have ever read. This is not some kind of innovative way of parenting,,,its been around for a while, it is called LAZY! Allowing your children to run around naked, feed themselves when they want, dictate how their hair is or isn’t done, change THEIR OWN DIAPERS, potty train themselves, and wipe themselves is not impressive, it is just sad. Your remark of “potty training is just for an adults convenience” is moronic. Potty training is anything but. You have to worry about when and where they might go, and drop everything to take them, even pulling off the freeway to find the nearest bathroom is NOT CONVENIENT. Whereas I suppose forcing your child to wear a sack of their own waste around until you have time to change them, or MAKE THEM CHANGE THEMSELVES sounds like much more of a convenience to me. Your method is irresponsible, lazy, and unhygienic.

    As a side, have you ever had your baby hold on to your fingers while they walk around the house? Probably not since you don’t sound very “hands on.” However, most parents find themselves hunched over their older baby, while they hold on to their fingers and walk around the house. This is how they learn the ins and outs of walking. Your argument is ridiculous.


    • What I find most disturbing about your comment is how disparaging you are about a child’s autonomy. For example, listen to “Allowing your children to run around naked, feed themselves when they want, dictate how their hair is or isn’t done, change THEIR OWN DIAPERS, potty train themselves, and wipe themselves is not impressive, it is just sad. ” Do you hear that? Any choice the child dares to make for themselves is an anathema to you. I think if you research child development a bit you’ll understand the importance of autonomy and competence – an essential human need.

      One correction though – I never said nor implied that my child “walks around in their own waste” and I don’t “make them” change themselves they are so excited to be in charge! If you want to “train” your children like a dog that is your prerogative.


  6. I wanted to share an alternative approach that is still very much in line with these values, since it was such a revelation for me when I tried it with my youngest child (after taking a more traditional potty training approach with my older two) and I don’t understand why I don’t hear more about the method we used. We have done no “training” at all, and have actually done virtually nothing, yet she was reliably dry in the day by 2! Essentially our method boils down to: put them on the potty regularly once they can sit. No pressure, virtually no encouragement (we didn’t hide our natural pleasure if she did anything in it, but no over the top displays, praising or rewards), no hassle. Around 6 months, when she could sit independently, we bought her a potty and got in the habit of putting her on it every time we changed her nappy (unless she was upset or just didn’t want to), and occasionally at other times if we thought she looked like she was about to poo. At first this mainly just saved the odd dirty nappy, avoided accidents during a change, and gave her backside an airing without risking a mishap! But over time she became more and more likely to produce something on the potty until it was happening very frequently, and by the time she was about 18 months old she was regularly asking to go.

    Obviously I have no way of knowing whether she might have been an early learner anyway, but I suspect if I’d taken the “wait until she seems ready” approach I wouldn’t have even considered putting her on the potty before she was about 2. My older kids were both quite old before they were reliably out of nappies, so if that’s anything to go by then I don’t think she was predisposed to be an early potty user.

    I certainly wouldn’t advocate early potty training, it’s unnecessarily stressful for all concerned and based on what I’ve read can seriously backfire (creating health problems, anxiety, withholding, regression etc) but what we did was the most ridiculously easy process imaginable! She’s 3 now and we’ve never had any of the problems people report with potty learning/training (refusal, regression, withholding, anxiety, asking to put a nappy on to poo, playing with her waste, frequent accidents, having to persuade her to use the potty, etc). Honestly, it couldn’t have been easier for all concerned!!

    I had no idea you could “potty train” such a young child without actually doing any real “training”, zero pressure, hassle or stress, and virtually zero effort. I’d always assumed people who proudly declare their child to be potty trained before 2 must have been ruthlessly training them or at least spending way too much precious time getting them in the habit, but I now know it’s perfectly possible to do it in the most gentle yet lazy way possible! I know some do Elimination Communication very gently but that always seemed like a lot of work to me!

    There’s no guarantee this would work for other people, but since there don’t seem to be any downsides at all to it I would completely recommend it to everyone! The worst that can happen is… nothing.

    I should add I am not boasting, I don’t think my daughter is fabulously talented or my parenting is any better than anyone else’s, I’m sharing in the spirit of offering a suggestion for other parents based on my own experience 🙂


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