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Meagan lives in St. Joseph, MI with her husband Jon and kids Clara, Owen, William, Isaac, and Jacob; who range in age from four to fifteen. Meagan celebrates the art of sane + satisfying family life at her blog The Happiest Home, and shares her ideas on being a happier mom in her book The Happiest Mom: 10 Secrets To Enjoying Motherhood, both of which have been hailed as down-to-earth, funny, wise, and helpful.

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Wait ‘em out: Why I potty-train the easy way

By Meagan Francis |

There's really no hurry.

A few days ago my daughter Clara came to me and announced, “Mommy, I think I have to go pee.” I rushed her to the bathroom, ripped off her diaper, popped her up on the toilet…and then did a mad celebratory dance while she beamed with pride. It was the first time she’d gotten the idea to use the toilet all on her own, after months of my making gentle suggestions.

That was Wednesday. Today is Saturday, and Clara has gone from all-diapers-all-the-time to all undies during the day with a precautionary Pull-Up at night (which has remained dry the last two nights.) There’s been surprisingly little stress, no resistance, and just a few puddles and midday clothing changes.

Sounds too good to be true? Well, considering all five of my kids have potty-trained in much the same way, I’m here to tell you it really can happen like that.

There’s just one trick: for potty-training this stress-free, you have to wait until they’re ready.

And by “ready” I don’t just mean “exhibiting signs of interest in the toilet.” (Clara got interested in the toilet around age 14 months, but it turned out she just wanted to throw things in it.) I don’t just mean “Will sit on the toilet when asked and eventually pee (maybe).” My personal definition of potty-training readiness is “So ready they practically do the job for you.” With each of my kids, that hasn’t happened until about 3 years old (sometimes longer.)

I don’t have any issue with moms who start earlier. But after a few frazzled false starts – full of tears, frustration and a lot of mess for both child and Mom – when my oldest kids were little, I adopted the philosophy that potty-training is a lot easier and less stressful when it’s the kid’s idea. In the words of my friend Micki: “You can either potty-train the hard way for a year, or the easy way for a week.” And my experience has definitely born that out.

Of course, that means that I have had to wait past an age that can make things inconvenient. Having a child still in diapers can be limiting. No free drop-off child care at IKEA, no Vacation Bible School.

And not everyone is going to understand your wait-it-out approach. Your mother might lay on the pressure. Your grandmother might look askance at your “big kid” still wearing a diaper and will try to tell you that all of her kids were potty-trained by one year of age.

Yes, when your very articulate two-year-old walks up to you in front of a room full of people and announces “There is poop on my butt!” it can raise a few eyebrows. I’ve heard people (well, mostly nasty Internet trolls) call moms who put off potty-training everything from lazy to coddling…to even abusive.

Abusive? I beg to differ. Lazy? No doubt about it.

On my personal “mom meter”, diapers have always registered as a mere “meh,” while grocery-store emergencies and crumpled up wet undies on the floor raise my blood pressure a good ten points. And the toddler years are stressful enough for me (#1 on my list of kid stages I could do without), so it’s just never made sense to throw an additional complication in the mix during that intense time.

And when push comes to shove, I’d rather deal with diapers and the occasional critic than wet clothes, carrying potty chairs and changes of clothes, and having to leave a full cart in the aisle while I darted for the bathroom with a toddler under my arm. So yep, putting off the potty wasn’t just to make things easier on my kids, but on me, too.

But why should choosing the path of least resistance be a no-no for moms? The way I see it, sometimes “take the easy way out” should be part of a happy mom’s philosophy. Let’s face it, there are some things you just can’t phone in or put off. Slacking off on stuff that isn’t such a big deal leaves me more emotional and physical energy for dealing with life’s biggies.

Maybe you hate diapers more than puddles, and are eager to get your toddler sitting on that toilet ASAP. You won’t get any arguments from this mama. But if you’re a mom like me who would rather wait it out until your child practically take care of the matter herself – or you just want to put off the potty until a time that you feel more ready to tackle it – then I say “good for you.”

Hold your head high and try not to feel sheepish about the fact that the other kids at playgroup have been using the potty since they were sixteen months old. I promise, they’ll never notice that your kid is a diaper holdout. And the chances are very, very slim that your kid will start diapers in Kindergarten. (I’ve never personally known a developmentally-typical kid to hold out past 3 1/2.)

And who knows? You may just become the envy of your mom’s group when your child walks up to the potty one day, climbs up, and “trains” herself.

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About Meagan Francis


Meagan Francis

Meagan Francis is a mom of five who loves everyday adventures and is in pursuit of a big life with her big family. Her love of family, food, home and travel fuel her writing here and on her blogs The Happiest Home and The Kitchen Hour.
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23 thoughts on “Wait ‘em out: Why I potty-train the easy way

  1. Cate says:

    This is exactly how my daughter potty-trained herself at 2 1/2. One day we bought her some underwear, and just like that…she never wore a diaper again. She still wears training pants at night, but wow, was this easy! Honestly, I don’t even really think it’s lazy to potty train like this. If your kid’s not ready, they’re not ready…and that just leads to a lot of frustration for everybody.

  2. Catherine Connors says:

    Yep. We did it this way, too. No fuss no muss.

  3. Mandi @ Life Your Way says:

    AMEN! This is our approach too. It drove the grandparents nuts the first few times (after all, they potty trained us when we were 18 months old!), but no one’s even asked me when I’m going to potty train our soon-to-be-3-year-old, so I think they’re used to it now.

    So much easier to just wait and get it done without frustration or accidents!

  4. Jennifer Chelini says:

    We did the same approach and our son was pee pee potty trained a week after 2 out of his choice, it took another year to decide pooping was ok too and he did that and night time at the same time just after his 3rd birthday. The only thing I did not do (my own personal opinion) is I avoided pull ups and training pants. They are more expensive and I think they can become a crutch, but as I said it is just my opinion, too each his own. My philosophy is “Do what works for your family, everyone else should mind their own”. Mom’s should do more sharing and supporting and less judging.
    Sending love to all the mommies.

  5. Lori says:

    This is encouraging to a discouraged mom. I do feel lazy that we’re not more pro active and risk takers when it comes to having our 3 year old daughter using the potty or wearing underwear. I’m just not up for that grocery store scenario you described above! I can’t make her do this and wish she’d just take it upon herself to want this for herself. I hope it’s true that child most often don’t hold out past 3 1/2. We still have 4 more months before than!

  6. Jenny says:

    Yes, this exactly! We spent six months trying to “train” our two year old son and all it resulted in was anxiety and tears for everyone and a chronic case of constipation. Almost immediately after we stepped back and let him take the lead, he started using the potty. I am definitely taking this approach from the get-go with my second child, and wish I had had the sense to do it from the beginning this time!

  7. Stoich91 says:

    Totally true! I’ve worked in preschools for years and seen it done both ways; always better to wait for the kids and give plenty of encouragement than to force and bribe!

  8. Cheryl says:

    Potty training was never an issue for us — I always let my boys run naked at a very young age (embarrassing photos for sure for them) and they “got it” early on. One girls decided at 22 months to be like her big brother and insisted on using the toilet from then on. It was never a stress on our family, and they all trained early (latest was a bit after two, earliest about 18 months), but I would certainly never judge anyone for having a child in diapers at an older age! If a child isn’t ready (or a parent for that matter), then it would be a bad thing to insist and could very possibly set any progress back for months and cause greater problems.

    I’m glad you have a method that works wonderfully for your family. I guess my only peeve would be about a parent who would ignore the older child’s BM (stronger smelling) in public and then the whole world gets to deal with the unpleasantness of the odor — have smelt too many of those! Otherwise, not my concern! Do what you, the parent, feels is best for your child and family. I support you fully!

  9. TracyDK says:

    My son will be 4 in December and he’s pretty good about going to the bathroom to pee, but you can’t pay or bribe him to go poo in the potty. I figured he’ll get there in his own time. I’m not stressing over it. We do a pull up during the day while he’s up, because he’s pretty good about going to the potty. I can’t wait until he’s ready to go poop in the potty. He’s anxious to go to “school” and we’re trying to convince him that they won’t take him if he has to wear a pull up or a diaper, but so far it’s not working. *L*

  10. Angela Parson Myers says:

    I’m the grandparent, and I potty trained my kids the same way after trying to potty train the first at a year like my mother said I should. I just added the element of bribery. : – ) When my kids were about three, had demonstrated that they had some control over bowels and bladder, and wanted something they didn’t really need (cowboy boots or panties with lace on the bottom), I just explained that only big girls were allowed to wear those. And big girls didn’t poop or pee in their panties. In both cases, the major part of the job was accomplished in a week.

  11. Lynae says:

    I just read an interesting article on Babble by a pediatric urologist who advocates waiting until after three. It’s worth a read:

  12. Therese says:

    I would love to wait forever but we have a preschool deadline in early September! :-/. My daughter just turned 3 & we are trying potty training for the 1st time this weekend.

  13. Kelli says:

    I love this article & totally agree! My daughter pretty much trained herself between 2.5 and 3. No problem. I’m now taking the same approach with my son. I also like the comment that says, ” My philosophy is ‘Do what works for your family, everyone else should mind their own.’ Mom’s should do more sharing and supporting and less judging.” Everyone’s parenting style is different. The one thing that seems universal to me is that a frustrated parent is going to do more harm than good. So, be calm and consistent with your parenting, and know that doing what gives you peace while still keeping the children out of harm’s way = setting an excellent example for them to follow as they grow up & find their own way through life.

  14. Teresa says:

    THANKS!!!! I just read this to my husband over lunch. Now he is armed when he and our daughter go visit his mom in a few days. She has been not so subtle lately about this issue! We knew we were on the right track with not making it a huge issue. I also read a great article by a urologist not too long ago who wrote that he sees a lot of the early trainers in his office with complications from holding.

  15. Michelle Horton says:

    This is exactly what we’re living right now. I was feeling a lot of stress to get my son potty-trained once he turned 3, but I know my kid — and he will not do something until he’s good and ready. Weaning him off of anything has been a challenge, until one day he decides he’s ready. And it’s done. I figured it might be the same with potty training — and I was right. Last week my son decided to sit on the potty (we’ve had multiple potty seats, big-toilet potty seats, potty books — lazy I was not) and he went. And then right after that he went #2. And now he’s fully in underwear without much of a problem (he’s 3 years and 4 months). This method worked out fantastic for me, but that being said, I think it might largely have to do with the child and parent as well. I know some that swear by potty-training before 12 months, and it works for them. Me? I much prefer this method.

  16. Amanda says:

    We are currently working on potty training our 19 month old. One day getting ready to take a shower, she wanted to sit on the potty and got the toilet paper herself. Are we out of diapers yet? No. Are we going every time? No. But she is happy when she sits and we give her praise for it. Yes, potty training at a younger age is a longer process, but personally, I don’t want to be wiping three year old butt more than I have to. Whatever works best for you and you are okay with three years of diapers, have at it. :D

  17. Nan says:

    I’m a grandma now, but I was doing the same thing when my boys were small. My whole “thing” with toddlers was, “It’s your pee, it’s your poop, it’s your responsibility.” That meant that if you needed a fresh diaper, I would be happy to help you out, but you had to bring me the diaper and the wipes. And after I helped you get changed, it was your responsibility–with help–to flush away the poop, wash your hands, and otherwise clean up after yourself. It worked pretty well. One weekend, when the older one was long since trained and the younger a bit past two, we took them to see one of the Star Wars movies. Next morning, the baby came into the room completely bare-bottomed. “Where’s your diaper?” I asked. He drew himself up and said, “Mommy. Jedi Masters do NOT pee in their pants. They use the potty.” I was stunned. He went on to say, “I’m a Jedi Master, and I am going to use the potty. I want a pair of big boy pants.”

    We went and got a pair of his brother’s, went shopping later that day for some of his own, and that was the end of that. Took about six months longer for him to stay dry at night. I have always wondered if this made me the Yoda of potty training.

  18. Lisa says:

    After being told by strangers and family alike that my Samantha was too old for both soother and diapers; after researching and buying countless books on the subjects;after being made to feel that I was somehow failing as a parent; after trying bribery, cajoling and negotiation I finally threw my hands up in defeat. What happened? At 3.5 years she came to me with a very mangled soother and said she was “done”. At 4.5 years she spotted the “cool” zebra print undies I bought for when she was ready, whipped off her diaper, put them on and never looked back. We need to rethink standard training methods and let our kids train US in these areas.

    To any parent struggling with potty training-Let Go and Let Child(tell you when they’re ready).Life will be Much easier when you do.:)

  19. Cat says:

    The reason it’s called abusive is it’s cruel to make an innocent child sit around in their own filth. No other animal makes a child sit in their own waste for any time at all, yet humans do because we’re “civilized”. Plus, diapers end up in landfills which aren’t really designed to hold human waste, which seeps into our soil and eventually waterways and food. Human waste can harbor E. Coli, along with other nasties. And if you think it’s OK to make your child sit in their urine for hours on end because diapers are so absorbant they can’t feel it, I recommend putting on an adult diaper, peeing in it and sitting in it for several hours yourself. In fact, parents who don’t change their kids immediately should be forced to do that themselves to see how they like it.

    1. Meagan Francis says:

      Hmm, it seems like a pretty big jump to go from “delayed potty training” to “making an innocent child sit around in their filth for hours.” I can assure you that I didn’t do that with my bigger kids, just as I didn’t with my infants.

  20. ella says:

    My two-year-old daughter went potty last night. Before her bath her diaper was dry so I thought I’d give it a try. She reached for the toilet paper (that and flushing are what her focus is right now), but I told her she had to pee first. What do you know? She did it. It was two minutes. Like you said there’s really no rush. There really are more important things. She’s very bright and does everything else very well and amazes me at her progress. This will no doubt become a no-brainer for her as well.

    Great post!

  21. Kate says:

    “The reason it’s called abusive is it’s cruel to make an innocent child sit around in their own filth. No other animal makes a child sit in their own waste for any time at all, yet humans do because we’re “civilized”. Plus, diapers end up in landfills which aren’t really designed to hold human waste, which seeps into our soil and eventually waterways and food. Human waste can harbor E. Coli, along with other nasties. And if you think it’s OK to make your child sit in their urine for hours on end because diapers are so absorbant they can’t feel it, I recommend putting on an adult diaper, peeing in it and sitting in it for several hours yourself. In fact, parents who don’t change their kids immediately should be forced to do that themselves to see how they like it”

    Cat, make your point here on this one, just because someone allows their child to be in diapers until 3yr or so doesn’t mean they are sitting in wet diapers for hours on end, I’m wondering exactly what type of parenting you do that you would assume that just because a child isn’t potty trained that he/she is rather sitting in a nasty diaper for hours, I can tell you as a mother of 2 under 3yrs of age that I go through a ton of diapers/pull ups and and just because my oldest isn’t potty trained doesn’t mean she is in a wet diaper for hours on end, matter of fact she is always getting changed as soon as she had a “accident” which is what I am calling it right now being that she is almost 3 and not potty trained, but I resent that fact that just because a child isn’t potty trained you are assuming that parents don’t change them.

  22. Sara says:

    3 years or long? To me that seems like laziness on the parent’s part. Yes, I agree that it is best when they show interest. What was wrong with 14 months? To much trouble for you? I am doing EC with my daughter. We have been doing it for a six months now and she will be one on the 22. She knows what the potty is for, welling to use it, wants to use it, and enjoys using it. She lights up when she goes potty in her potty. She will even crawl over to her potty to pee or poo in her diaper! Once she has master walking better and can stand up on her own, without pulling herself up, I will start putting undies on her.

    Yes, I do understand boys are different, but my aunt was able to teach three of her sons the say way, and one of them was deaf! The parent has to be persistent, if not, then the child will not care.

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