gentle potty training

The honour of potty training: the 3 things parents need to know to get it right

We might not ordinarily think of “honour” when it comes to potty training. But in fact, its a core principle of gentle, toddler-led potty training. So what do we mean by this and why is it important? 

Defined, honour means to respect, to do what’s right, to fulfil an obligation. Andrea Olson describes how when it comes to potty training, parents “must create a special kind of environment in which the toddler feels safe, capable, empowered and honoured” (The Tiny Potty Training Book). So how can we understand these principles?


Once your child is 18m or above, they are not a baby anymore as far as their capabilities are concerned. As a parent, you have supported them to develop independence in so many areas, to encourage their development. Learning to walk is possibly the number 1 milestone between age 0-5 and potty training is arguably the second. Potty training is a right of passage that just 50 years or so ago was initiated around the time a child could walk. That’s why over 92% of all children were potty trained by 18 months in the 1960’s.  Children today are not so different as far as capability is concerned. Between 12-24 months, your toddler is pushing an agenda of mastery and independence. You have no doubt noticed this in many areas of play, mobility, communication and interaction. To respect our children, potty training should be part of this.

There are advocates of delayed potty training everywhere , who will argue that you should wait until your child initiates things, or until you see clear signals that they are “ready”.  In so waiting, many parents miss whats known as the “sensitive” period for potty training, which is said to occur sometime between 18-24 months. This is the age when toddlers are most receptive and you can tap into this to respect their burgeoning desire to master independence. Leaving potty training until your child is 3 or above not only becomes difficult, but I’d say it is not respecting your child’s capacity, their natural sense of self-control and awareness of socially acceptable behaviour. And pooping in a nappy at this age? Not dignified, never mind the clean-up. When we teach our kids to brush their teeth, to wash hands, to start dressing and dressing – and a whole load of other independence skills, how can it be respectful not to initiate the self-care of knowing where to put their pee and poop?


If you’ve come to this part having read the above, you will know where I am going with this (and if not, I’d encourage you to read back). As parents we need to learn to recognise the signals of capability, not readiness. If your child is 18m or above, they are capable. That’s it. Responding to your child at an age-appropriate level in terms of meeting their needs is gentle and child-centred. You are working in partnership with your toddler in a way that meets his needs as well as your own. Potty training also involves setting boundaries – teaching and asserting the new norm of where the pee and poop now needs to go. You are giving them the skills they need to understand, succeed with and maintain this milestone. This means that you as a parent also need to have the right tools for the job – such as a clear plan that works in harmony with your child.


When it comes to potty training, its time for parents to step up, be the parent and teach what their child needs to learn. You know your child better than anyone, you are the best person to implement a clear plan in a way that your child will respond to, with your support. This is not a job for someone else! And its not a job that can be avoided. You night read about kids who potty train themselves, but they are the exception and assuming this will happen is akin to assuming  you wont be at risk of cancer if you smoke. i.e., its a big risk to take. Potty training is a skill, there is a method involved which has been used by parents for generations. Winging it with info you found for free on the internet, or from casual advice from friends (many of whom wont want to admit they found it hard ‘cos they didn’t know what they were doing and didn’t get the help they needed), does not meet your obligation as a parent to do the right thing and respect your child (see points 1 and 2 above).

Meeting your obligation as a parent means preparing, understanding the task at hand and learning how to work in partnership with your child in a gentle way which meets their needs. It means taking the time to do this, as well as the time to implement the training.


If we ignore potty training, if we take it on “casually”, “gradually” or without real commitment, we are not setting our children up to succeed. We are doing the exact opposite. Would you want your child to fail at anything so important? Without our committed guidance, our dedicated and loving teaching, our steadfast respect for what they need, we are burdening our children unnecessarily. We are expecting too much from them. When we put nappies on, this wasn’t a choice they made – they adapted to it and we took control. We must accept our role in handing that back.

learn how, the gentle way

If you are ready to stop using nappies now and would like support with Potty Training, we have lots of fantastic resources for you! You can join our Potty Learning support group,  try our Potty Training eLearning or book a Private Consultation with me.
If you have a baby and would like support with Baby Pottying/Elimination Communication, why not try my new multimedia eGuide?


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