The Case for “Laissez-Faire” Potty Training

Image Source: Michelle Horton
Image Source: Michelle Horton

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“I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’ve never seen a kid go off to kindergarten still in diapers,” said the director of my then-3-year-old son’s preschool during our parent-teacher conference.

“Relax, he’ll be potty trained eventually,” my son’s teacher added with a sympathetic nod.

That’s not exactly the attitude I expected from a preschool, given that these people had to change the adult-sized feces in my child’s diaper, too. I thought they might pressure me to hurry up and potty-train already. I thought I’d hear familiar lines like, “Babies in other countries are potty trained by age 2,” and, “I potty-trained my kid in a weekend … just do X, Y, and Z.”

But that’s the thing — I had tried everything.

I saw “signs of readiness” when he was barely 18 months old, and so out came the small plastic potty. I bought all the potty books, so he fully knew about Elmo’s toilet preferences and that everyone does, in fact, poop. I gave him fancy training pants and enticed him with the promise of “Big Boy” underwear. I tried a sticker chart and adorably thought it would work. (He covered himself in stickers and laughed.) I even put a few drops of blue food coloring in the toilet water, hoping that his urine would turn the water green, his favorite color.

And yet I couldn’t get that kid to do anything but sit and read on the damn thing.

He’d sit there for what seemed like forever, cycling through the entire Pete the Cat collection, even reading and singing along. But not once did he use that toilet as more than a nice spot to catch up on some light reading. Then as soon as I put on his diaper? Bam! Wet.

“BUT I YIKE MY DIE-PAWS, MAMA!” he’d yell through his tears. “I YIKE MY POOPIES!”


I worried about it … a lot. Wasn’t he too big to be wearing diapers? Was I doing something wrong? Will he ever be potty trained? And even now that we’re finally past this childhood milestone, I’m reminded by my friends’ frantic Facebook pleas from the potty-training trenches. They’re all looking for the easiest, cleanest, quickest training tricks (while simultaneously worrying that they’re doing it all wrong and their kids will never ever get out of diapers).

And so now, looking back, I’m taking the same position as those kind preschool teachers: Relax.

In fact, I’m now a huge proponent of the “laissez-faire potty-training method”:

  1. Set your kid up with the right tools (like books, potty seats, training pants, underwear, etc.).
  2. Wait until your kid is ready.
  3. Seamlessly transition into the Age of Underwear.

I’m well aware that every kid is different (my son has a “don’t push me” temperament that leads him to do things in his own way at his own time) but good word it was unbelievably effortless once he was ready. You know, after I gave up controlling and planning and pushing the potty-training process. One day, when he was three-and-a-half years old, I put a plastic ring on the actual toilet (rather than having him sit on a miniature potty) and he climbed up and peed. A couple of hours later, he pooped.

And that was it.

Because he was older, he had the bladder maturity and bowel control to avoid the kinds of accidents that typically plague the potty-training process. (In fact, he was staying dry through the night almost immediately.) Because he was older, he could follow directions and actually communicate with me better than an infant or young toddler, and he understood the ramifications of wetting his pants or bed … and he didn’t.

After years — I’m talking years — of stressing and worrying and struggling, he was trained. Clearly my son wasn’t ready to get out of diapers earlier (he said it with his body and also his words) and all I had to do was listen.


Kick my feet up and know it would come in time.

Of course that’s easy to say in hindsight (it seems “worrying” is woven into the fabric of parenting), but it’s true. Relax and know that your kid will be toilet trained eventually — even when it seems unlikely and impossible and hopeless. It will happen, it just might take a little longer than you’d like.

Patience, weary mamas. If I could get my reluctant toilet user to ditch his “die-paws,” so can you. And sometimes, if you wait until the right time, it turns out to be way easier than you expected.

Starting your potty training journey? Visit the Pull-Ups® Big Kid Academy for tools, activities, and resources to make potty training fun for you and your toddler!

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