baby proof: win some, lose some.

May 5, 2016

potty training | reading my tea leaves


I recently posted a photograph to Instagram and inadvertently shared the fact that Faye’s now sleeping in a toddler bed. I hadn’t really meant to share the milestone (as people say in babyland), but we’d made a fort, and she was mouse-ing it up in there and sometimes you just have to pause and snap a photo of your kid’s toes under an enormous book. Nothing’s as cute as toddler toes. Especially under picture books. Especially in a fort. 

A few internet pals asked me how the new bed arrangement was going and being in a peppy mood, I wrote back that it was going great! “Pretty seamless” were the words I used. And at that moment, that was very true. At 1:00 in the morning on the very same night, that was not true. We awoke to a little whimper and found that the tiny mouse had tumbled from her bed. Inconsolable (though utterly unharmed) she came into bed with us. Minutes after that she peed in said bed.  

All of this to say that I’ve taken to muttering the mantra win some, lose some under my breath and I find it to be very helpful. 

In my experience of parenthood, these things have been consistently true: 1) Nothing changes completely overnight. 2) Nothing stays the same for very long. 3) Everything takes more patience than you think it might but usually it’s patience you manage to find. 4) Keep chugging along for long enough and you’ll eventually get to pat yourself on the back for having a tiny human who’s taken to sleeping, or eating, or peeing in a pot. 

A lot of you guys have been asking about potty training. I feel like I might die of boredom if I go into full detail our “process.” Also, gag. But here are some bullet points that might be helpful. potty training | reading my tea leaves

+ We took the cold turkey/never look back approach. At 22 months or so, we stopped using diapers and presented undies full-time. Even at night. Even in public. Diapers be gone, etc. (Maybe valuable to add: Since infancy there’s been a ton of diaper-free time around our house and for a few months before cold-turkeying we’d kind of passively encourage at-home potty use whenever the mood struck. Let’s say we were all already well-acquainted with pee on the floor.) We stayed close to home for the first week or so. We survived. 

+ This week’s little snafu notwithstanding, nights were absolutely easiest for us. After a few first wet nights, we’ve had mostly dry nights since after the first week.

+ To try to mitigate those early middle-of-the-night clean-ups without a washing machine, we used a few of these pads in the very beginning. Sometimes they were great. Sometimes they were useless.

+ We’ve still somehow managed to seriously up our time spent at the laundromat. For those of you who are in the possession of a washer and dryer, caress it for me. Also: send more quarters.

+ We’ve used these very terrific cloth training underwear with a little extra cushion for catching pees. We have a whopping 18 pairs. It sounds excessive, but we’ve found the number to be just right. We still do a lot of hand washing in the sink. (Maybe I can justify this lil’ cutie?)

+ We bought this toilet seat to replace our regular toilet seat. It comes with a little built-in seat for mini bums and a slow-close lid to keep tiny fingers safe. It’s extremely handy and unobtrusive. (Hell, it’s wooden and a huge upgrade from the plastic lid we had before.)

+ We’ve also used a borrowed pint-sized-potty, which is very nice to have. Ours is a handmade little number that’s honestly a little cumbersome for a wee pee(er), but I’m too stubborn to upgrade, so no specific recommendations on that front. Feel free to chime in if you’ve had success with any one in particular.

+ After a mildly mortifying incident at MoMA, we often double-up on undies when we go out to make any potential accident less…dramatic. They’re less frequent these days, but they definitely happen. We carry backup undies, pants, and a dry bag with us, just in case. Also: waterproof shoes have not been unwelcome.

+ We use public restrooms when we must and we pop squats on curbs and side streets when we can. If it’s a spot a dog could go without damaging precious city flora, I say one-hundo percent fair game. 

+ We’ve come realize that a potty training kid is just going to love on her potty. She’s going to dip her hands in the toilet water. She’s going to pick up her own poop at least once. She’s going to gleefully clamp both hands onto the edge of a public toilet and exclaim, “Potty!” Wash hands; move right along.

+ We sing lots of songs about pee. We do dances about pee. We are generally just very enthusiastic about pee and poop at all times. Especially when they land in the potty.

+ It’s been very nice to have an extremely on-board babysitter to help with the process while we’re not home. (She’s potty trained about one million kids by my last count and she’s even written her own handy and hysterical guide to the art.)

+ As for age, or readiness, or length of time this is all going to take, I don’t have any particular wisdom or knowledge. I know that toddlers are extremely aware of their surroundings and probably deserve more credit than they get. I think a lot of early diaper-free time helps a kid grasp the concept of what’s happening with their bodies and makes the leap to no diapers a lot easier. (Please note: I have not conducted a scientific study on this matter.) I don’t think you will permanently scar your child by teaching them how to pee in the potty at whatever age feels right for your family. I know we have many fewer accidents than we did a month ago. I know we’ll still probably have occasional accidents months from now.

Lose some, win more.

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44 Comments

  • Reply Kimberly May 5, 2016 at 8:31 am

    So much laundry! We are potty training our twins and its insane how quickly it builds up . We also read a lot of books about potty training (mainly everybody poops) and watched the Sesame Street and Daniel Tiger episodes about using the potty 1000x. After a couple months, we are mostly accident free during the day…though i am sure since typing this guarantees an accident filled day. We still use diapers/pull ups at night – I am not sure we are ready to take that plunge. (FYI your link re waterproof shoes takes you to the toilet seat on amazon).

    • Reply Erin Boyle May 5, 2016 at 8:53 am

      Thanks! Fixed!

  • Reply jenn May 5, 2016 at 9:41 am

    i recently came back from a trip to Vietnam where some children NEVER get a diaper (yikes!)… but I was definitely shocked when I was told that the rule of thumb is babies are potty trained at 8 months. EIGHT MONTHS. the child can’t even say words or talk by that point, let alone get potty trained! then I began to see a very familiar scene while on our adventures: babies peeing in the streets. and babies pooping in the streets… I initially thought it was the most disgusting thing ever, until I realized that it’s actually no different than a dog doing the same thing. and lemmetellya, there are a LOT of dogs in jersey city (and NYC for that matter)…. if it means less time in diapers (especially throw away ones that are super horrible for the environment) I say go for it!! high five to you!!

    • Reply Erin Boyle May 5, 2016 at 11:30 am

      So fascinating! I know a few people who have done some variation on Elimination Communication—essentially paying attention to signs that an infant (tiny guys!) need to “eliminate waste.” We didn’t go whole-hog at all, but we definitely tried to help make Faye aware of what was going on from an early age.

  • Reply Jessie May 5, 2016 at 9:54 am

    Woohoo. We gave it a go when our son seemed interested, but then quickly lost interest. Really appreciate Janet Lansbury’s approach of waiting until they show an eagerness. It’s always great to hear real-life stories from other parents. And that toilet seat is brilliant (fellow tiny apartment person here!). I can’t work up the nerve to do diaper free time since 80% of our apartment is carpeted (grad-student housing is not FTW on this one). Again, thanks for sharing!

    • Reply Tarynkay May 9, 2016 at 5:44 pm

      This is what we did, just waited till he knew he was ready. The week before his third birthday, he woke up and asked for underpants. Then he went potty. Then he asked for a jellybean. Even though I said I would never bribe a kid for using the toilet, I gave it to him. That was it. He had very few accidents and went diaper free at night, too. He still gets up to pee in the middle of the night most nights. I probably could have trained him earlier, but it was so much easier and less stressful this way. This probably wouldn’t work for every kid, but my friends who waited till their kids were older generally report similar experiences.

  • Reply andrea May 5, 2016 at 10:05 am

    hmmm…you started WAY sooner than I did. My boys were over 3 when we “trained” but we went from zero to 100 in a day, day and a half tops with 1 public accident lifetime. It is a year more of diapers but zero investment in all other “accoutrements” (no potty seats, no training pants, no extra laundry) and no pee on the floor because that just might be my Waterloo-parenting moment. Win some, lose some for sure.

    • Reply Erin Boyle May 5, 2016 at 11:25 am

      Fascinating. Not totally sure we’re embracing the same spirit of the phrase win some, lose some, but glad that your path worked for you!

  • Reply Erica May 5, 2016 at 10:15 am

    Literally laughing out loud – especially at the note about caressing your washer/dryer. Great post!

  • Reply MA May 5, 2016 at 10:18 am

    Ah potty training…its like the first unicorn of parenthood. Also I am forever changed by my son’s interaction with the facilities in public bathrooms from the age of 2.5 through 5. He’s 9 now and I’m happy to say we both survived. Maybe he even has a super immune system…

  • Reply Alexandra May 5, 2016 at 10:46 am

    My son is just a couple months younger than Faye, and while we are not potty-training yet, we do diaper-free time at home a lot and often wear training pants during that time to minimize the pee on the floor in the event of an accident. I have the Gerber pants linked and some by Under the Nile and I have noticed a significant difference in absorbency between the two, so I thought it was worth mentioning, since you talked about “doubling up” in public.

    They are significantly more expensive than the Gerbers, and would be pretty cost-prohibitive to buy 18 of, but I can imagine that once we are venturing into public diaper-free, I will probably use the Under the Nile pairs as “public underwear” and the Gerber pairs as “at-home underwear.”

    http://underthenile.com/collections/toddler/products/copy-of-training-pants-with-wave-print
    As far as coping emotionally – nothing will probably ever beat a horrifying experience I had with my then-3-year old stepson in a porta potty. I had to pee, so he bundled in with me, which was pretty crowded but okay; then he wanted to pee too, so we did that. All good. He threw some toilet paper into the abyss of the hole and it stuck to the side rather than falling down into the, uh, pool – glued in place by something I don’t ever want to think about. My step-son said, “Oh no!” and reached in to pick the toilet paper off the interior wall. Then he realized that it was stuck in place by “dirt,” so before I could even react to any of this, he swiped his hand along the wall to scrape the “dirt” off. (Later, he would tell me that he did this because it was “dirty” and he wanted to clean it up.) Keep in mind that, this being a porta potty in a field in roughly the middle of nowhere, there were no sinks and there was not even really any room to, uh, get as far away from that sticky hand as I possibly could.

    I feel like I am unlikely to encounter that level of nightmare again so I’m probably prepared for whatever comes…?

    • Reply Erin Boyle May 5, 2016 at 11:26 am

      Oh DEAR! Glad you guys both survived!

  • Reply Christie May 5, 2016 at 11:03 am

    We potty-trained both of our boys at 22 months, too. Our oldest took it quickly. After about two months, he had no more accidents. Our second, well, that’s been a little more rocky. It wasn’t until maybe the last month he stopped having multiple accidents a day (he is 27 months now). Now most days he doesn’t have any accidents, and it is rare when he does. That’s a great feeling. We also went cold turkey and I recommend it for anyone, but you do have to be patient with accidents for a bit.

    • Reply Erin Boyle May 5, 2016 at 11:22 am

      Agreed! Will be so fascinating to see how it continues to unfold.

  • Reply Alexis May 5, 2016 at 11:05 am

    My son is five and it’s only been a few months since he’s been able to go pullup-free at night. Daytime has been no problem for years, but nights….gah. Girls are apparently easier on this front than boys, so hopefully it’ll happen sooner for you.
    The best piece of post-potty training advice I can give any parent is that eventually, your kid will be 100% trained. Sometimes it seems impossible, but one day it will all be over.

    • Reply Erin Boyle May 5, 2016 at 11:21 am

      Such great advice!

  • Reply Anna May 5, 2016 at 11:46 am

    We’re still in the bit where our child doesn’t want to wear diapers all the time, but has taken a dislike to sitting on the potty. I did a little more research and found someone who suggested that you offer your child a choice: underpants or diaper, with the understanding that underpants=time on the potty. She’s been mostly opting for diapers lately, with occasional diaper-free time. She’s just not quite ready or interested in stopping to use the potty yet, even though she’s 2 1/2. But it does mean that she’s not peeing on the floor as frequently, and this is a very good thing, since our suite is mostly carpeted. I know we’ll get there eventually but right now it’s a little frustrating.

  • Reply Lulu May 5, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    Hi Erin, such a beautiful post even about toilet training . everything is a phase and they move from one to the next constantly, My daughter had a regression around age 3.5 , and began wetting the bed again after being toilet trained, (which turned out to be related to a sleep issue that we’ve since resolved) BUT rather than go back to full-on diapers, we ordered a few super-undies from Amazon, and it became a great way to contain the accident without having to change the sheets everytime. They usually contain all the pee!

    • Reply Erin Boyle May 5, 2016 at 1:05 pm

      Super undies! Love the sound of those;)

  • Reply Heather | Cedar & Bloom May 5, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    Both of my girls were potty trained by eighteen months and I’m so glad we did things that way. My youngest is now twenty months, and, yes, there is an occasional accident, but the freedom from diapers is so worth it!

  • Reply Kari.M May 5, 2016 at 2:25 pm

    Just have to say that your posts are always the best, no matter the subject. The perfect blend of reality and humour.

  • Reply Mary Kate May 5, 2016 at 3:33 pm

    Bonus of being one of the last people of your age group to have kids is that you have SO much good advice from the people who went first. Though seeing those little toes does invoke a bit of yearning inside of me.

    We used to live in a tiny washer-less apartment in Brooklyn Heights as well and last year left it all behind for the space, washing machines, parking spots, and cheaper rents of Jersey City. I miss the Heights from time to time but in general I haven’t really looked back. If you’re ever considering a change 🙂

  • Reply Jessica May 5, 2016 at 4:04 pm

    Hi! I only recently started following your blog and I love it! I’m expecting my first baby in June, and one thing that is making me nervous (since my husband and I are also living sans washer and dryer) is the amount of laundry a baby will bring. I’m beginning to feel like a quarter hoarder.

    • Reply Erin Boyle May 5, 2016 at 5:20 pm

      Ha! Have to admit that potty training has produced a lot more wash than the newborn days, but despite my jokes, it’s really not that bad! You’ll be just fine!

  • Reply Lara May 5, 2016 at 4:30 pm

    I waited until my kids asked to stop wearing diapers to potty training. They just wanted to be diapers free and the whole thing was quick and no-drama. One day with diapers, next day with underwear, almost no-acidents. My oldest was 3 and starting kindergarten, my son was 2 and started taking out the diapers for his own, and the little girl was almost 3. We can’t decide it for them, these small humans have their own pace and time. I am pretty sure that if you ask her if she wants to sleep with diapers or to go out to the museum with diapers she will seriously think about it and accidents will be less and less. She has to want to be “diapers free” or it will not happen.

    • Reply Erin Boyle May 5, 2016 at 5:19 pm

      Glad you had such a great experience. We’ve been having a good one too! Lots of enthusiasm for undies around here. Just a small human who also sometimes has accidents.

  • Reply Caroline May 5, 2016 at 6:16 pm

    We’re doing the whole potty training thing too. Still doing diapers at night and naps and I tend to give in to requests for diapers when B’s having a rough day and we are going out. When he does wear diapers out though, he has done well. We use the Ferber training pants too and have found them to be significantly cheaper through Target than Amazon, at least in the 3 packs.

    Also, tons of laundry here too, even with success because the splash guard is less effective than you’d like with boys.

    • Reply Erin Boyle May 5, 2016 at 8:24 pm

      Fascinating re pricing! I just did a recount and realized we have 15, not 18. We started with 12 and when I bought the second set of three I swore the pricing was different than I remembered! This makes sense! xxo.

  • Reply Lisa May 5, 2016 at 6:20 pm

    Great post. Honestly Erin, I’m so grateful for your baby proof series I can’t even tell you. I’ve read all the posts at least five times and when I get cold feet about becoming a parent (38 weeks pregnant now) you’re the person that I think of to calm myself down (ha, you’re probably one of my few role models as an adult, come to think of it). The beautiful photos of your home not filled with colorful plastic crap, your ‘bare bones’ approach to stuff like diaper bags and gear in general has saved my sanity in the onslaught of ‘oh but you must buy….’ coming at me from all directions. Your lists of choices for different aspects of parenthood are hugely, hugely appreciated. Thank you, sincerely.

    • Reply Erin Boyle May 5, 2016 at 8:27 pm

      Oh gosh! Day redeemed! So glad you’re finding them helpful! You got this!!!

      • Reply Dani May 30, 2016 at 6:19 am

        I usually don´t comment but have been a happy reader since I found your blog 1 year ago (through the Pure Green Mag podcast). So same here, I agree with Lisa 100% – we are going to have our first one in just a few weeks and every time I start to panic about anything I get back to reading your baby proof posts. They are so incredibely helpful and show that a simple approach can also be done with kids, even though it is a still unknown and completely new field. So, thank you so so much, you are really helping us out here!

        • Reply Erin Boyle May 31, 2016 at 3:34 pm

          I’m so glad to hear that! Warmest wishes in these last few weeks (and especially for the ones after that!)!

  • Reply danielle May 5, 2016 at 6:35 pm

    Wondering how the waterproof mattress liner worked? I need to buy one for my son, not for pee but for the occasional bloody nose. Love this post though-have been there twice but both boys; I think maybe boys are harder to potty train? Mine were.

    • Reply Erin Boyle May 5, 2016 at 8:25 pm

      Works so well! Love it!

  • Reply MissEm May 6, 2016 at 12:33 am

    I’ve potty trained two little ones and was so nervous about it both times. But it’s really gone just fine. Our first week is pretty much cold turkey, too, and my main practice now is planning a week with few activities, really simple meals, and low expectations. Makes all the difference. Also, for night training (which we’re doing right now), we use a wool “puddle pad” b/c it can handle a pee without feeling particularly wet, you don’t need to wash it, you just air dry it if it gets wet and re-use it the next night. I sandwich it between two sheets so if there’s an accident I just strip off the top sheet, change pjs, and put my toddler back to bed. Also, the more relaxed and understanding we are about regressions (with a simple, friendly reminder that the potty is the place for that business now), the faster our kids recover their “abilities”. For the falling out of bed thing (we have the same crib-turned-toddler-bed) you can tuck in a long stuffed animal under the blanket with your daughter, or tuck a tightly rolled up throw under the fitted sheet on the open side to act as a bumper.

    • Reply Erin Boyle May 6, 2016 at 11:41 am

      Agreed! Not something to be afraid of!

  • Reply Jen May 6, 2016 at 2:21 pm

    So happy to see a mama sharing this, because it’s so become the norm in the U.S. to wait until 3+, and toddlers are so very capable much earlier — and what’s often overlooked it how it gives them such a great sense of confidence when they do it themselves. Just a quick bit of personal experience that may be of help. I used the book Oh Crap Potty Training which also has you go cold turkey, but the author Jamie, who’s like a potty whisperer, shares so many insights and tips to move through the blocks that most kids go through while honoring how every child is different in learning this. We also started with my daughter at 22 months, and I literally flew cross country with her and her little brother (alone) when she was 25 months with no incident, thanks in large part to the confidence I gained from that book. One huge tip Jamie brings up in the book is how undies feel like a diaper to a child (muscle memory) until potty training is really set in (meaning regularly peeing and pooping in potty without lots of accidents a day), so she recommends going commando for the first couple weeks until it’s really clicked for your child. I found that tip to be golden with both my kids. Also, night training is a whole different animal than day training. You may find yourself in way less laundry if you do a sleepy wakeup 3 hours after she falls asleep. I just finished night training my son, who’s 3, and while it requires a little work on your part (minding the clock) and people will say “how can you possibly wake up your child”, you’re not really waking them up. It’s a sleepy squat on a little potty next to their bed and then it moves to being dry through the night. In my experience, if you try to let them go from bedtime to morning time, they can’t physically hold it and if they learn to get used to the wetness it can work against you night training later. May the force be with you! Also, I can’t recommend the Potette potty enough (comes with silicone insert, fits in a wet dry bag). I used to live in Brooklyn and while I guess I’m different in that I wouldn’t be ok with having them pee in the street, I’m guessing you may come upon a time when traveling when you just need a potty fast and there’s no curb to be found.

    • Reply Erin Boyle May 6, 2016 at 2:31 pm

      Thanks so much, Jen! So nice to hear your success. We do so much commando around here; totally agreed that it’s super helpful! As for nights we’ve found them to be even easier than the day. Last week’s bed incident was an exception, but generally we’ve had dry nights since after the first week. So fascinating how different this looks with different kids! Thanks so much for the kind encouragement!

  • Reply Hannah May 6, 2016 at 10:28 pm

    You may consider a Beco potty for it’s eco angle. We have one and love it. I also think it’s kinda sweet (weird?) that when my little is done with hers we can just bury it in the garden and move on!

    http://www.amazon.com/BecoThings-BPY-002-BecoPotty-Blue/dp/B002M9ACUU

  • Reply Ashley M. May 8, 2016 at 7:36 am

    It is always fascinating to hear how other people do things! Sounds like you’ve found something that works for your family. We tried at two, but I didn’t have the patience for all the cleanup and such. I suppose that was my own selfishness. The crazy thing, though, is that at 2-1/2, our daughter was just ready and not wetting her diapers anymore. I feel immensely lucky because — beyond those early days — she didn’t have a single accident! I’m due with number 2, so I guess we shall see how “easy” it goes this time around — lol. Ah, the unpredictability of parenthood!

  • Reply Mun May 23, 2016 at 7:14 pm

    So useful. I’m not a mom yet and I’m already thinking about potty training and all the “fun” things that go with it. It’s nice to read about real life accounts and remind myself to just take a chill pill! haha!

  • Reply Elizabeth in Paris May 26, 2016 at 9:07 am

    Dear Erin, When I read this post, my first thought was “Oh, crap!”* Our son will son be 3, and was still in diapers as of May 5th. Fortunately, we live in Paris, and May 5th was a holiday and the beginning of a 4-day weekend…which meant that we still had time to get a move on potty training. I’m also a really quick reader, so I quickly read the suggested blog post about potty training, and bought the book Lourdes recommended. (*That book suggested starting between 20-30 months, and I was worried that we had missed the window.) We had one week of mild, wet accidents while our son was in garderie, and then everything seemed to click! By the 19th, he was using the potty on his own for all his business, and waking up with a dry diaper from both naps and bedtime. We even graduated to (the cutest Petit Bateau!) big boy underwear this last weekend on a trip to Florence! Thank you for this post! I think the biggest thing is believing that your child *can* use the potty and making it just one of the things you do.

    • Reply Erin Boyle May 26, 2016 at 4:25 pm

      haha! oh crap! so glad it’s been working for you!

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