Family Matters: A Commonsense Approach to Toilet Training

Published on Wednesday, 19 April 2017 13:28 - Written by JENNIFER FLANDERS

My husband was a hard one to toilet train. At least, that’s what my prospective mother-in-law told me the first time we were introduced: “It’s so nice to meet you, Jennifer…. By the way, Doug was murder to potty-train.”

Those were practically the first words out of her mouth. Nearly 20 years had elapsed, and she still hadn’t forgiven him for all the trouble he’d given her while training. What she neglected to explain was that she began said training when he was only nine months old. Is it any wonder, then, that she encountered a little difficulty? Yet, after two short months of trying, he was trained.

Clearly, what she should have announced to me at that initial meeting is, “You’re dating a child prodigy. He potty trained before he was a year old. You’d better not let this one get away!”

Having raised 12 children, here’s what experience has taught me about passing on this important life skill:

1. Every child is different. Your child will reach milestones at a rate appropriate to him. Encourage him, cheer him on, support him as he learns and grows, but don’t pressure him to do things just because your neighbor’s child is already doing them.

2. Watch for signs of readiness. Your child should be able to communicate when she needs to go potty, walk to the bathroom herself and get her britches down without help. Other signs that she’s ready to potty train include staying dry for extended periods of time, stripping off her own diaper as soon as it’s wet, or squatting over the dog bowl when your back is turned.

3. It’s OK to wait awhile. The difficulty of potty training goes down as your child gets older, while the difficulty of explaining why he’s still wearing diapers goes up. The easiest time to train is when the explanations become harder than the actual training. Granted, that moment may arrive sooner if your mother-in-law (who considers nine months the optimal age to train) lives across the street from you, but aim for the sweet spot, if you can.

4. Set aside a block of time. If possible, delay training until you can devote a few days at home to helping your child master this new skill. Dress her in loose-fitting clothes, provide lots of water, juice, popsicles, soup, and other liquids, and remind her to try (again) every 20 minutes or so.

5. Don’t make it a power struggle. Do what you can to make potty-training fun. Let your child pick the color of his new “big boy pants.” Use charts and stickers to track progress. Float a Cheerio in the water for him to use for target practice.

Training is easier when a child is self-motivated to learn, so I normally waited until it my kids decided to ditch their diapers, then hopped aboard with that plan.

So what if your child is later in wanting to toilet train than his siblings or peers? Don’t sweat it. He likely is making great strides in other areas of learning and development and just needs a little extra encouragement in this one. A few months one way or the other is no big deal in the grand scheme of things.


Although Jennifer Flanders has successfully potty-trained 12 children, none of them learned as early as their father - a fact that has not seemed to disadvantage them in any way. For more parenting tips and tricks, visit