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I want to potty train much earlier than is common, when my son is 12 to 14 months old. What's the best way to go about it?

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It might not be a good idea to aggressively train too early: according to pediatrician Dr. Brazelton "trying to toilet train before (a child is ready) could be coercive and therefore psychologically damaging", but see my answer for a Brazelton approved method. –  David Mar 30 '11 at 5:01
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@David: should possibly be an answer. Early yes. "Agressively" in any of it's various meanings, no. Playfully early, yes. –  Lennart Regebro Mar 30 '11 at 5:35
    
I agree with you. "Aggressive" is not an appropriate mindset with which to approach any parenting problem. Of course I meant earlier than normal. I appreciate all the commentary on the question, but even more, I appreciate the good and interesting answers. Thanks. –  Matt Hinze Mar 31 '11 at 13:19
    
I am curious why you want to start so early? –  Erin Jan 27 '12 at 23:50
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5 Answers 5

up vote 18 down vote accepted

Many parents find that the "elimination communication" method, also known as 'natural infant hygene' is a simple approach. It is important to clarify that this approach is not 'potty training'. Rather, it is a two-way communication. Children know how to potty when they come out of the womb, and most will let you know.

The basic principle of this approach is that children communicate when they need to go, and that the most difficult part of toilet training is un-training the diaper training. Typically, a parent waits for a child to finish pooping and then changes the diaper. This trains the child to poop in their diapers. But the fact that children pee when their diaper comes off may be evidence that they would prefer not to pee and poop on themselves.

The 'elimination communication' approach starts when the child makes a pooping face - often when feeding early on. The parent removes the diapers and holds the child over a toilet. There are toilets that a 3 month old can use (figure 1). When the child poops/pees, the parent makes a 'cue' sound ('sss' = pee; 'mooo' = poo). The child learns to associate the sound with eliminating and will eventually learn to poop/pee when the sound is made.

This approach focuses on communicating with the child and allowing them to put their waste in a receptacle. It is not important to catch all of the poops and pees, but it does reduce the number of wet or poopy diapers that that need to be purchased, changed, and discarded or washed. And when the child is old enough to go to the toilet on their own, it will seem natural to them it will not as necessary to train.

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This is a fascinating idea, and while it seems like a lot of work, I'm wishing it wasn't too late to try it for my kid (who's been potty trained for a couple years now) –  Justin Standard Mar 30 '11 at 5:33
    
@Just it sounds like a lot of work, but changing poopy diapers is both hard and stinky. It really doesn't have to be any harder than, when you see your kid squeezing on a poop, take off the diaper and let it drop in the toilet. Or when changing a diaper, put them on the toilet before putting the new one on. It is not required to respond 24/7, or any more than you have time for. I mostly focused on catching poop, but by 18 mo, it was possible to catch most of the pee too. (the toilet does the actual catching). –  David Mar 30 '11 at 5:45
    
When kid #2 comes along someday I'll try this. –  Justin Standard Mar 30 '11 at 5:52
    
I have to admit that although you say this is not "potty training" I have absolutely no idea what the difference is and can't imagine any way to do it. So it sounds like potty training to me, and the only difference seems to be according to Wikipedia that is can be done from early on, while the "Readiness approach" says you should wait until 18 months. –  Lennart Regebro Mar 30 '11 at 8:53
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@Lennart I can understand your confusion, but the difference is that you don't discourage them from pooping and peeing in their pants, you just give them the opportunity to do it in the potty. Similarly, you don't really 'train' a baby to eat or sleep, you just provide them with the opportunity to do so. –  David Mar 30 '11 at 14:04
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If you have a good space & climate for it, let your child run around outdoors naked as much as possible. This is a no-effort, no-teaching way for a child to learn about that whole poop and pee thing.

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is this a .. serious answer? –  Jeff Atwood Apr 1 '11 at 6:20
    
@JeffAtwood: Yes! I'm often an un-serious person, but this time I'm non-joking. Running around without a diaper helps a child notice what their body is doing and get in tune with it. In some cultures they even do this indoors, and just carry the child outside as soon as anything starts happening. –  Jay Bazuzi Apr 1 '11 at 14:47
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Oh yes, totally serious answer. I wish we'd done this with our first son, and we're currently doing it with our second. He loves running around naked, and with the state of the carpet (who the hell thought that carpet between the dining room and kitchen was a good idea?! Nevermind what the cat has done to it) we simply fail to care anymore - someday it will be replaced with hardwood. That said, early on in our first child's potty training (at 4!), we put him in underpants and moved him to a towel when he started peeing. That quickly taught him that there's an appropriate place for that. –  Ernie Jun 1 '11 at 20:16
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@jeff I imagine this was the standard pre-industrial approach. –  David Apr 10 '12 at 2:15
    
I know a family who flew to Vietnam to adopt a child. They said that at the orphanage there, all the kids were just naked, and the supervisors would swoop in to clean up when the need arose. –  Kelsey Rider Jun 27 '12 at 15:20
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Three parts to toilet training: recognizing "the feeling" (aka readiness), knowing where to go, and getting undressed. The hard part is getting them to recognize "the feeling" when they have to go. For young children, they say it's more about training the parents. Be the scientist and keep notes about when they drink and when they go. Then put them on the toilet at regular intervals with a book and give LOTS of praise when you hear a noise.

Knowing where to go can be done by modeling with a teddy. Have your child teach the teddy where to go at the same time as they are learning. Play-acting with a toy helps instill the routine.

Finally, getting undressed is a big hassle for really young children (an sometimes their parents too)! If you want them to be completely independent dress them in long t-shirts. Elastic-waist pants are good.

Once you start, don't go back. Try these resources: Pre-toilet Training and Potty Training in One Week

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Great point about the undressing. I'm not sure 12-14 month olds have figured out pulling their pants up and down at that age. The earliest I had heard was 18 months but every child is different... –  Rhea Mar 30 '11 at 3:27
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There is actually a fourth part for them to be completely independent you don't mention here and that is being able to communicate about it effectively. They have to be able to say (or sign), "I have to go potty" –  balanced mama Jul 7 '12 at 22:59
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Unless you have a parent who is with the child 24/7 and can constantly and consistently monitor the child's facial expressions and movements, I would highly recommend not wasting your time. In most modern societies today, this is quite an ambitious and futile goal. If you can't be utterly consistent with it, then you end up confusing your child which makes it delay future potty training. Wait until they're around 3 years old and start trying then.

Not to say it can't be done, but I make my argument after ambitiously trying with 2 of our 5 kids to start potty training too early, which backfired on us.

Update: I don't quite understand the down vote since there was no comment left, but after scanning the "Super Nanny" book, Jo Frost gives pretty much the same advice about not starting too early.

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Don't worry too much about downvotes - people will downvote if they disagree and that's just part of the site. We didn't try the "early aggressive" approach with our child, but I agree with you that if you can't be consistent its a problem, so +1 to that. –  Justin Standard Mar 30 '11 at 5:32
    
Your response, I'll categorize it as commentary on the question, is less valuable than a sincere answer, although after consideration I tend to agree with you. –  Matt Hinze Mar 31 '11 at 13:14
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Upvoted because our attempts at early potty training not only failed miserably, but instilled a great deal of fear of the potty in our first son, making the task exponentially harder. –  Ernie Jun 1 '11 at 20:18
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At 12 to 14 months, elimination communication (EC) is still definitely an alternative to 100% diaper dependence and poopy diapers. EC is not potty training - it's just opening up to the idea that same with feeding and sleeping, your baby is actually trying to communicate with you that he or she needs to go. It's not about performance. Do it when you can. We EC'ed our boy since birth and we've only had to change a handful of poopy diapers since. At this age, babies are more mobile and have probably lost the sensitivity to wetness, so a modified EC approach would work best. Don't skip the basics! Spend some diaper-free observation time learning his or her body's rhythms and any signals (grunt, fussiness, suddenly stopping play and staring, etc). A good idea would be to switch to cloth diapers so that both you and your baby can tell when your little one is wet. Get your baby used to sitting on the potty by sitting him on it while he's still wearing his diaper as a start, then remove the diaper later on in the process. If you're looking for a practical resource for EC, start with EC Simplified.

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