Respectful Potty Training

By Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves,

Q: I have read about raising babies without diapers, or getting them out of diapers by two. I am pregnant and would like to do that with my second baby. However, I did not do that with my first child, and now my daughter is three-and-a-half and still in diapers. How can I help her to toilet-train, and how do I start it better with my second baby?

A: Human beings of all ages must be the sole owners of their bodies. Like you, your toddler wants to make her own bodily choices and timing. It is very crucial never to “train” or entice a child to get out of diapers. It is her body. You don’t want to teach her that someone else can decide things about her body.

Any attempt to toilet-train can slow the child down. In addition, many children develop inhibition and emotional discomfort with their own bodies due to pressure to get out of diapers. If you have used disposable diapers, it will take the child longer to change a familiar habit that has little consequence for her.

I suggest that you change to cotton diapers and drop the subject completely. In cloth diapers, your daughter will fully feel her own eliminations. Without pressure, she will eventaully want to stay dry and she will use the toilet of her own initiative. Being autonomous, she will be emotionally healthier and self-reliant.

Infants are aware when they eliminate and can indeed grow without diapers or with a minimal need for them. In natural societies, a baby is often carried naked on her mother’s body and when she needs to eliminate, the mother knows it and holds the baby away from her body above ground or a container. In his book, Magical Child, Joseph Chealton Pearce tells of a doctor who visited a natural tribe and was perplexed by mothers’ ability to know when the baby has to eliminate. “How do you know when your baby needs to go?” this doctor asked a mother whose naked baby was snuggled against her bare body. She looked puzzled and said, “How do you know when you need to go?”

The first lesson most babies receive in Western civilization is that elimination occurs in the privacy of their own clothes and is then ignored some of the time. They learn to become unaware of their bodily functions because we don’t respond promptly. The child is so comfortable with these familiar sensations that giving them up may not be so easy. You are asking her to change what she assumed was part of life and of herself and is very convenient.

Babies Know Their Bodies

With your next baby, try using elimination communication and/or cloth diapers with communication. The following are guidelines on how to nurture natural elimination awareness, followed by ways to recognize babies’ elimination cues.

Nurturing the baby’s awareness of her own body functions:

When your baby is eliminating, acknowledge what is going on with a sound or words — With delight and ease, let him know what he is doing and change his diaper as soon as he is done (or take him to the sink or toilet to eliminate without a diaper.) An aware baby wants to be dry because that’s what he is used to.

For faster growth out of diapers, use cotton ones — With cloth diapers, the baby is instantly aware of his own experience. Your prompt removal of the diaper brings that awareness to a sharp focus. All-in-one cloth diapers are as or more convenient than disposable and they are better for your baby’s skin, her health, and the environment. Clear the soiled ones into the toilet and put all the dirty diapers in a pail with water and vinegar till you launder them.

Have your baby and toddler watch you on the toilet — Acknowledge what you are doing with the same sounds as you make when she eliminates.

As soon as your baby crawls or walks, put a potty next to the toilet — Just have it available without an agenda. Your wee one wants to be like you. With autonomy and self-awareness, she will take the initiative when ready and will become more independent by learning to rely on herself.

While I am diving into the details of moving from diaper to toilet, I would like to suggest that, as parents, we have the opportunity to bring to an end the habit of males who pee standing and leave a mist of urine all around. I have raised three boys who sit while they pee and so does their father. It seems much more civilized and makes the bathroom a nicer place for all.

Here are some typical cues babies and toddlers give when they are about to eliminate:

Timing — Many babies go at specific intervals and times. Notice if the baby eliminates at a set number of minutes after nursing, specific times of the day or fixed intervals.

Facial expressions — Babies give us cues like tensed face, raised eyebrows, frowning, concentrating, pausing as though listening, becoming motionless, squirming, fussing, making specific sounds and/or movements, sudden increase or decrease of activity, stirring or waking from sleep, looking intently or reaching for you.

Movement — For an older baby, signals could also include moving toward the bathroom, holding the genitals, grunting, struggling to get out of a car seat or a snugly, or trying to get off padded places.

Intuition — You may find that you develop intuitive recognition of your baby’s physical need to eliminate even before they occur. Your mind may actually tell you that your baby needs to go. Listen to it. If you need to pee, it is possible that your baby needs to as well. One mother told me that she gets the sensation of warm wetness on her lap while the baby is still dry and the baby pees shortly after.

When using diapers — When you know that the baby is going to eliminate, say, “You are going to pee now” and as soon as she does, add the sounds of whatever the event is and promptly change her diaper. After she has cleared her bowel, let her walk around naked as much as possible. If she ends up peeing when nude, give her the same verbal feedback; she sees, feels, and hears you and her awareness will grow.

Using the sink or toilet — With your baby, you may be able to get to the bathroom before the diaper is soiled. However most babies, once they start to crawl or walk, are too busy to bother with the bathroom and you may have to use cotton diapers. Respect the baby’s or toddler’s choice, but if she is inclined to try the potty, let her. Respond to the child’s preference not as the director, but as the nurturer of her path. If the child senses that you want her to go in the potty, she may resist doing so and stay in diapers for a longer time; it must be her own desire.

No cheerleading — Stay neutral in your attitude. If your child senses that you are invested in her choices, she will either back off and delay getting out of diapers, or become dependent on pleasing and seeking approval. Children who are in diapers for longer are often waiting for parents to get out of the way so they can be in charge of themselves.

Have you noticed that when you are with your adult friends, you cannot tell when each one of them got out of diapers? If you already used manipulation and your child is resisting the toilet, make peace with reality and stop showing any interest. Enjoy every minute of surrender and delight. Early toilet training does not mean anything, and it often makes life with wee ones more difficult as you have to stop the car, interrupt dinner, and take junior to handle his business.

If you do elimination communication from early on, your child maybe a reliable user of the toilet. Or, she may pee on the floor sometimes. Living mostly indoors, I find that providing a child with cottom diapers is more respectful of her than having her pee on the rag. Trust your child’s inner guidance. It is reliable. Everything unfolds right on time as long as we understand the cues and respond to them.

11 thoughts on “Respectful Potty Training”

  1. while the information on the “history” of elimination and why children have a hard time transitioning to eliminating in a toilet is extremely fascinating to me, i feel compelled to share that cloth diapering is much easier and less labor-intensive than indicated in the response. with modern cloth diapers (such as BumGenius, FuzziBunz, Applecheeks, etc) no soaking in water-and-vinegar is required. in fact, no pins or plastic pants are necessary either. the diapers go on in a very similar fashion as disposables with velcro or snaps and if a child is breastfed exclusively, no dumping of solids into the toilet is necessary. also, many tools are available to make cloth diapering even easier, such as a sprayer (similar to your sink’s sprayer) that attaches to the toilet water-intake pipe to clean off the diaper without having to touch anything. although we didn’t practice elimination communication, i credit cloth diapers as the reason my son was completely potty trained (except nighttime, of course) at 2 years and 5 months. I apologize for the lengthy response, but i wanted to give a wider perspective on cloth diapers. they are not intimidating at all, and have proved to be almost an addiction–which i can comfortably feed with the money i’ve saved by not using disposables! 🙂

  2. With my first son I started putting him on the potty first thing in the AM when he was around 13 months and by 17 months he could control his bladder to the point that he would pee immediately when I put him on the potty. I would put him on every couple of hours and he stayed dry. It was nice because it was simple, but it took work on my part to make sure a potty was available whenever he needed it. He was what most people consider “fully trained” (meaning he would tell me when he needed go) by about 2 1/2 years old.

    I just haven’t had the time to do that with my second. He’s now 21 months and I just started putting him on the potty first thing in the AM. Just like his big brother, he always goes, so I am hoping he will develop control quickly, too — we’ll see. Both my kids were in cloth diapers and I put them in absorbent cotton underwear with a water-proof cover around the house as they got older.

  3. I find this amazing! My son is 15 and did not potty train until he was over 3… I did not want to pressure him and he did exactly what you said… Went spontaneously one day when HE DECIDED. He would say “no thank you poop in potty mama” when I suggested it. I wish I knew about this way back when!! Good luck to all the mama’s who give this a shot!

  4. Oh, how I wish I’ve read the part about boys sitting 3 years ago. We do EC with both kids and it feels right, but I just didn’t imagine the issues that come with peeing standing. My older boy will be 4 soon and often pees all over the toilet. I am quite desperete about this and sometimes spill out at him, which I hate, of course, not having quite hold of Naomi’s SALVE formula yet:) Any idea how to introduce it now? I tried to tell him this morning, but he refused. I am also thinking to ask papa to show it when we get home from holiday.

  5. Veronica, You have beautifully answered your own question: It is about being like Daddy. And, maybe, if you live in nature or go hiking, you can give your child the option of standing to pee outdoors, “The way animals do.” This will give him a frame of reference from which to distinguish human civilized indoors customs and nature’s wild way. Enjoy a clean bathroom.

    With care,
    Naomi Aldort

  6. I so wish I knew this 4 years ago! My son is now 6 and he is still wearing nappies, day and night. This is of course causing him much stress at school, at the gym, swmimming lessons, pijama parties with his friends, etc He has never ever sat on the toilet, let alone do anything on it since we started to train him at around the age of 2. We have tried every method that has been suggested to us (sit him on the toilet on a frequenc basis, stickers, rewards, punishment, take nappy off completely, potty, toilet, etc etc etc), we have seen 3 psychologists, and he has also had every physiological test and analysis there is to be done in these cases, and nobody has been able to help us and especially help him. Only just a month ago I discovered Naomi’s book and when reading its content it felt so much in line with my way of thinking, my opinion about educating kids and treating people in general. My husband and I followed the methods suggested by the different experts we visited out of inexperience in this subject and to be honest because we were concerned that our son may have problems at school if he still wore nappies. However I have to say that I neverfelt completely comfortable with the methods I used (as if I was going against my values). I completely agree with Naomi and I think that my son will one day be ready to start using the toilet like everyone else. And I have to respect his timing (by the way, the experts think I am naive if I think this will ever happen). I nevertheless wanted to check with you if there is anything else I can do to help him. Thank you for your help.

  7. Carla,

    I have invited the author to respond to your comment. You may also wish to post about your situation on the API Neighborhood/Forum, where you will be in touch with an API Leader and other parents who may have experienced similar issues. Here is the link: In order to post, you will need to register for a user name and password; the link is in the upper right corner of the Forum homepage.

    ~ Lisa Lord, Editor

  8. Dear Carla,

    You have already realized that you must let your son blaze his own path towards being diaper free. Congratulations. I cannot know that just letting him be is guaranteed to be enough for him to regain his sense of autonomy. Most likely yes, but he could have developed a reaction that may be stronger than his will; a reaction to the expectation and wanting to be his own boss. In addition, he may be using his elimination to assert his need for self governing in other areas in which he feels lack of autonomy.

    Let him be and tell him he can use diapers as long as he wants. Drop the subject completely. But at the same time, look for other areas that interfere with his autonomy. If feeling in charge of himself he doesn’t get out of diapers soon, there may be more to it at this point, and further professional help may be warranted. Once the intent is clear it will be very simple to remove the underlying cause.

    Naomi Aldort

  9. I’d like to add that if you want to get your child out of diapers completely, you shouldn’t interchange this between diapers, pull-ups, letting him roam around naked or putting some pants on him. Otherwise, when his diapers are on, he’ll simply go whenever he feels like it instead of trying to hold his bladder and waiting to go to the toilet.

    This is important even in public. Sure, there will inevitably be the one or two occasions where he might wet his pants accidentally when you’re out but you should just bring a change of pants for that. After 1-2 weeks, he should be able to control his bladder properly enough.

    Good luck!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *