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Our daughter is 2 years and 7 months old. We would like to train her to go potty, but it is not easy and I wanted to ask how we could proceed.

We already made our first attempt a few months ago, but it was only one day at that time. On the one hand, we sat on the potty for a long time and at some point a few squirts happened to go in. Of course, we praised her for that. Unfortunately, the larger amounts always went in the pants. She just did not feel before that she has to go. We then thought that it was still too early and stopped training for the time being.

Since then we have tried again and again to persuade her to put on panties instead of a diaper. Lately it became clear that she was afraid of having wet pants again. We then reassured her that this is not a problem at all and now we managed to try again. Unfortunately, since then nothing has changed, she continued not to feel before that she has to pee and the pants got wet.

General information:

  • She is very smart and bright and talks like children twice her age.
  • She is pretty interested in toilets in general, she always goes with us and looks at the pee and poop, etc.
  • During potty training there are always hours between her "accidents".
  • Of course we are only positive about it, never negative.
  • We regulary read children's books about potty-training with her, she seems to understand the concept, although she doesn't care either way.
  • She doesn't mind the diapers, except she doesn't like that they itch sometimes.
  • We notice she knows a poo is coming up as she stands up or does gymnastics. But nothing for pee.

Now the questions:

  1. Are we maybe doing this completely wrong in general? Do you have any tips or guidelines?
  2. Is she not ready yet and we should wait a few months again? Or would that be counterproductive?
  3. How should we proceed now? It will be very difficult again to convince her to put on panties. Once we manage to do it again, we want to have the right approach.
  4. Can waiting be a problem? Does it get harder to learn it as she gets older or is it possible to unlearn something?

Thank you very much in advance, We are quite at a loss.

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    Have you looked at any of the potty-training questions/answers we have? (E.g. those directly to the right of this post.) It's a subject tailor-made to make us doubtful of our ability as parents, so there are very many of them. What you're going through has been the exact experience of very, very many people. "...is it possible to unlearn something?" If it were not, we'd all be in diapers, and potty training wouldn't be the issue it is. ;)
    – anongoodnurse
    Mar 21 at 14:27
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    @anongoodnurse I have, thank you. And they are indeed helpful. They lead me to believe that we aren't even doing the basics correctly, so no wonder it is not working. Still I couldn't pass up the opportunity to maybe get some specific advice for us - if that's wrong I'll (or you'll) delete my question, sorry. The specific question we were wondering about is: Does not feeling the urge to pee before peeing mean that the child is not ready yet? And I couldn't find an answer for that, although reading everything I believe the answer to be: no, with good training almost"any" child should be ready.
    – Manuel K
    Mar 21 at 19:29
  • No, please don't interpret my comment as a request to delete. People come here for help. I was trying to show you that there have been many helpful answers about this that might benefit you. I don't mind your asking at all. "Does not feeling the urge to pee before peeing mean that the child is not ready yet?" I'd say "yes" is the correct answer to that. Let me think about a better answer. :)
    – anongoodnurse
    Mar 21 at 19:44

2 Answers 2

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First I'm going to address one specific question which you elaborated on in comments:

Does not feeling the urge to pee before peeing mean that the child is not ready yet? And I couldn't find an answer for that, although reading everything I believe the answer to be: no, with good training almost "any" child should be ready.

Last part first: children come in all temperaments and abilities, and I would disagree that every child of your child's age can be or should be potty-trainable with the "right" methods. However, the literature does state that many children are ready to start toilet training by the age your child is now, and the vast majority by 36 months of age.

Many advocate the commando approach. I can see the positives in that approach; the child would definitely learn to associate a specific feeling (the urge to urinate) with the result (emptying one's bladder). Knowing that, I can see at least two outcomes: they dislike the sensation of urine running down their legs, and they learn it's better to let go on the potty chair, or, they don't care about the sensation and just pee at will, willy-nilly. (There are others in between the two extremes.) Because I didn't want to deep-clean my sofa, that was not my approach.

Is a child who cannot recognize the urge to urinate able to be potty trained? Not without a lot of parental involvement over a long period of time. However, if a parent watches a child carefully, they can recognize the onset of the recognition of the urge by the child's behavior, e.g. the child stops what they're doing, looks ahead blankly for a minute, then resumes what they were doing before (but with a wet diaper); the child clutches at their diaper or takes it off once they've wet it; some kids hide to pee or poop, etc. That's the child teaching the parent when they're ready. Then, the parent knows the child has the urge-elimination association, and uses it to train them.

Some parents are so perceptive, they can tell when a baby is about to pee. They'll whip off the diaper, rush to the potty/sink/whatever and make a sound/use specific words (e.g. "go potty"). The baby urinates. Done consistently enough with a receptive child, it works. The parent cues the child ("go potty") and the child does so. This method is called "elimination communication". It's a kind of operant conditioning.

Are we maybe doing this completely wrong in general? Do you have any tips or guidelines?

No, you're not. Guidelines aplenty in the sources linked to. My tip: always, always keep it positive. Use praise and, if necessary, bribes to get child to cooperate. My first born was potty trained early (positive reinforcement only). When my second child was born, the first backslid. With the appropriate reward (never punishment), they retrained themselves in two short days. (It was a video they liked. Our first video. The perfect bribe works wonders.) My first grandchild was pretty resistant and was bribed regularly. As long as they sat on the potty, they could watch (select) videos. (Eventually they had to pee, which then was met with great praise!)

Is she not ready yet and we should wait a few months again? Or would that be counterproductive?

You know better than we do; you see your child every day. There is some literature that suggests waiting too long may result in more long-term elimination problems, but most of Western literature advocated starting not before 18 months and by 30 months.

How should we proceed now? It will be very difficult again to convince her to put on panties. Once we manage to do it again, we want to have the right approach.

There is no one right approach. Pick one that looks like it will work with your particular child and try it for a while. If it fails, try something else. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. I suggest always, undeviatingly keeping it positive. Not every authority agrees with me.

There is a lot of history and toilet training philosophy in the links below. It should convince you that there's no one single approach that is "right". I do, however, advocate the child-centered approach, but unlike the American Academy of Pediatrics, I disagree with the subtle use of peer-pressure to encourage success in achieving full continence. I prefer the perfect bribe, and found one for each child.

Some parents who favor authoritarian-style parenting would disagree with any bribes at all. I kind of see a paycheck as a bribe of a sort. Who happily works for free only because someone tells them to?

Toilet Training
Toilet Training: Common Questions and Answers
The American Family Physician handout on toilet training, 2019

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My mother's advice is that the first step in the process is for them to go with no clothes on the bottom half, no panties, no pants. Maybe a skirt or dress. The wisdom online is that the underwear feels too much like a nappy/diaper and they just forget they need to use the potty.

Once she seems to have got the idea with nothing on her bottom half, then you introduce loose bottoms - baggy clothes which she can push down herself to use the potty.

Then after a bit of "going commando" you can introduce the underwear.

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  • That sounds like good advice, thank you! How would you deal with the naked child sitting on the sofa or the carpet though? Towels? Wait for the summer/outside?
    – Manuel K
    Mar 21 at 19:30
  • @ManuelK - I've wondered this myself.
    – anongoodnurse
    Mar 21 at 19:44
  • @ManuelK, that depends on what your concern is. If it is the sofa/carpet getting dirty from pee, then for the carpet we didn't worry too much about (just be quick in cleanup when the accident happens). For the sofa, we used a combination of towels, a water-proof adult sex blanket and an easily washable cloth on top of that. Generally, stuff that is easy to wash on top of a waterproof layer. Mar 22 at 9:01
  • @ManuelK I think we did a lot of activities in rooms with wipeable floors, and stayed away from sitting on the sofa for a few days! A waterproof picnic mat/blanket or puppy pads or similar might be of use if its unavoidable.
    – R Davies
    Mar 22 at 15:19

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