How I Potty-Trained My One Year Old (and you can, too!)

How I Potty-Trained My One Year Old (and you can, too!)

Yep, you read that right!  Not only is it totally possible to potty-train your child before age 2, but it's actually easier than you may have imagined.  In fact, I've done it three times now--my oldest two were done with daytime diapers at 18 and 19 months, respectively.  Read on to learn what we did with our third baby, who is now daytime trained at 16 months!

Elimination Communication

Our potty training experiences all went very smoothly thanks to Elimination Communication (EC).  EC is the practice of learning and responding to an infant's need to pee/poop and offering the potty instead of a diaper.  Newborns are born with an instinct to not soil themselves and will readily go in a toilet instead of their pants if given the opportunity.

Baby A uses the potty at one month old.

We started each of our children on the potty as newborns and took a laid-back approach.  All of them wore drop-flap diapers as a backup and we mostly focused on catching poops and "easy" pees.  This simple, mess-free method was easy to build into our routine, and when the time came to officially quit diapers altogether, our kids had a solid foundation for potty-training.

What's the difference between EC and potty-training?

Potty training and EC are technically not the same thing.  There are two main differences:

  • Age.  Most experts consider any potty use before 18 months to be EC and any potty use over 18 months to be potty-training.  However, parents who do EC commonly have diaper-free children before 18 months, and many other parents wait to potty train until age 2, 3 or even 4.
  • Diaper Use.  Most parents who do EC use a diaper as a backup, at least before the infant can walk.  The focus is less on catching every pee and poop and more on gently building a connection between the potty and elimination.  To potty-train a child, however, usually means getting rid of diapers completely and using the potty 100% of the time.  Although, many parents split the potty training process into "day" training and "night" training, with night training coming later.

If you want to introduce the potty to your child before 18 months, start your EC journey here.  Even part-time EC will give you a generous head start when it comes time to ditch the diapers completely.

If your child is over 18 months or if you're ready to wrap up EC on a younger child, read on to see how we did things with 16-month-old baby A!

How we knew she was ready

After being EC'd since birth, baby A was showing readiness to be done with diapers by 16 months old.  We noticed all of the following:

  • She often patted her diaper or brought us the potty to tell us she needed to go.
  • She almost always woke up from her naps dry.
  • She frequently woke up dry in the morning (stayed dry all night).
  • Almost all poops went in the potty, and lots of pee… so why were we still bothering with diapers??

We picked a week where nothing much was going on and maintained a laid-back attitude.  I knew that if things didn't work out, I could re-diaper her and try again in a month or two.  But, I really felt like she could handle this, so we went for it!

Potty-Training Step One:  Naked Phase

The first step in potty-training is the naked observation phase.  It's quite simple:  Strip your child naked and spend the entire day watching her.  As soon as she starts to pee or poop, put her straight on the potty.

Goals for YOU:

  • Learn the child’s timing . When does she usually go?
  • Learn the child’s cues. What does she usually do right before going potty?

Goals for YOUR CHILD:

  • Gain awareness of bodily functions.
  • Start to associate the potty with going pee/poop.

Once both of you gain these new skills, the following will happen:

  • You can begin prompting your child to use the bathroom based off timing and cues learned during the naked phase.
  • Your child will begin self-initiating, although she may not consistently self-initiate for quite some time.

Do's and Don'ts

  • DO NOT offer the potty "by the clock" at first, especially if you've never done EC.  Your child will have no idea why she's sitting on the toilet if you put her on there every 30 minutes for seemingly no reason.  When you wait until she starts to go and THEN put her on the potty, she learns the cause (I peed) and consequence (mom put me on the potty).  That is how she makes the connection.
  • DO protect your floors.  Confine your child to tile flooring or keep her outside.  Or, line the carpet with puddle pads, towels, or use a washable rug.
  • DO NOT take your eyes off your child.  Every time you completely miss a pee or poop, you miss a learning opportunity.
  • DO prompt your child to use the potty IF you have already been doing EC and have a good idea of your child's timing and cues already.  But ONLY do so when you are 100% certain she has to go.
  • DO NOT punish or reprimand your child for accidents.  Simply say something like, "Uh-oh!  Pee pee got on the floor and made a mess.  Pee pee goes in the potty, not the floor.  Let's clean it up."
  • DO praise your child for going in the potty, if you desire.  Something simple like, "You did it!  Pee goes in the potty.  Well done."  Rewards are NOT usually necessary and should be avoided, if possible.

Day 1

During day 1, I prompted her when I normally do (first thing in the morning, for example) and watched her like a hawk the rest of the day.  I noticed that she had two cues:  squatting and passing gas.  Almost all elimination, poop or pee, was preceded by at least one of those two tells.

I also noticed that she needed to go about every hour.  We had two full accidents (none made it in the potty) and one partial accident (she started to go on the floor, we transferred to the potty for the rest).  You can read our full potty log for the whole week at the end of this article.

All in all, day 1 was a success!  We learned a lot.

Day 2

Day 2 was another Naked Day.  I could tell she was starting to "get it".  Not only did she climb onto the potty when I prompted her after I noticed one of her cues, but she also started showing distress when she had an accident.  She knows what to do!

Day 3

I almost gave up because she had a stuffy nose and slept like crap, but preserved with a third naked day anyway in a very laid back way. We only had one accident, so I was VERY glad we decided to stick with it.  The moral of the story:  Don't quit for a minor illness.  Don't quit on a bad day.

Potty Training Step Two:  Clothes

Move on to this step by putting clothes back onto your child when one or both of the following happens:

  • You are consistently able to prompt your child with success.
  • Your child consistently self-initiates.

Usually, it's a mix of the two, but you should feel confident that almost all pee and poop are making it into the potty in one of those two ways.  It usually takes 1-3 days to feel ready for this step.

Your Strategy

Put your child in loose clothing, like a dress or loose pants/shorts.  Have him go commando (NO underwear), because underwear feel tight like a diaper and can trigger an accident from muscle memory. 

Continue putting him on the potty with well-timed prompts or allowing him to self-initiate.  Start working on pulling pants up and down.

Day 4

We started putting her in dresses without undies and only had 2 partial accidents!   We moved to the potty both times and she finished going in the potty.

Potty Training Step 3:  Outings

Your strategy:  Start small, and start outside.  Outside is a great option because it won't matter if your child has an accident on the ground.  Outdoor suggestions include a walk to the park or a friend's backyard for a short visit.  

When you're feeling more adventurous, try a longer outdoor trip like to the zoo.  Or, test out an indoor outing at a supportive friend or relative's house.

Set yourself up for success by leaving for your outing immediately after your child uses the potty.  Bring a portable potty with you and keep it close, ready for use if you notice a cue.

Most importantly, you need to put trust in both yourself and your child that the process will still work away from home.  At this point, you know your child's timing and cues extremely well--there's no reason why you won't have just as much success while out and about.

Day 5

ZERO ACCIDENTS!!  We did a few outings on day 5, including leaving her and the older kids with the grandparents while my husband and I went out for dinner. We told them she’d had zero accidents so far (no pressure, right?).

When we left, granddad asked our oldest kid how to tell when she needs to go potty (he is 8 and sometimes takes her potty). She heard her grandfather say that and brought her potty to him and went pee! HUGE WIN!

Day 6

By day 6 I felt we were basically done potty training. By this point, we were catching almost everything with well-timed prompts or with her self-initiating. It took about a week to get to this point with my oldest as well (second kid was a little more complicated--a story for another blog).

How do I know when we're DONE?

You are done when you feel confident that you can catch almost all pee and poop in the potty either by prompting or self-initiation.  You can do this regardless of if your child is naked or clothed, if you're at home or if you're on the go, your child is with you or with another caretaker.

Note that I didn't say you're done when you never have any more accidents.  It's absurd to expect your child to perform any new skill perfectly from now on.  Even after he learned to walk, he still sometimes fell, right?  Even big kids sometimes still have accidents.  The idea is that you are catching almost everything, and that's enough.

This article covered how to potty train during the day; it's perfectly fine to continue to use diapers at night for a while.  I will write more blogs on other subjects, like nap/night training, tackling daycare, and a general potty training Q&A article, so stay tuned.  If you have any questions about the process that you would like addressed, don't hesitate to reach out.

Our smooth, drama-free potty-training journey truly highlights the advantage of introducing the potty in infancy.  Since we laid the groundwork for the potty from birth, potty-training baby A was simply a matter of increasing from part-time potty use to full time.  Baby A, being the fearless and determined little girl that she is, stepped up to her new expectations beautifully. 

Nothing stands in baby A's way!

If your child is too old to try EC--don't fret!  You can still have success potty-training your child by jumping straight into the method outlined in this article.  But if your child is under 18 months and you haven't committed to EC yet, I can't emphasize enough how much I recommend getting started right away.

If you're interested, our potty log below provides details of how things progressed from day to day.  You can also watch the video log of our potty journey by visiting our Instagram page and watching the story highlight "Potty Training".

Potty Log

You don't need to keep a detailed potty log like this--I didn't bother with my first two kids.  My only aim with this is to help others on their journeys.  If this is useful for you, then it was worth it!

Day 1

  • 6:15 am: woke up, we took off her diaper (wet), and she had big pee on the potty
  • 7:35 Breakfast, then potty again (pee).
  • 8:15am: Play time. Baby A squatted to play with blocks. Noticed her start to grunt for poop. Moved her immediately to potty. BIG POOP and pee in the potty. She was so proud!! We dumped it, flushed, and said bye bye to poop. Then she washed hands while I cleaned the potty.
  • 9:05: she saw her brother go potty and wanted to go too. Another pee in the potty! We worked on wiping our own self.
  • 9:48am: outdoor play. First accident of the day. As soon as she started to pee, transferred to the potty. None made it in.
  • 10:30am-1:20pm: nap without a diaper. Woke up dry, no accidents. Big pee on the potty
  • 4:23pm: Partial miss. Started to pee, immediate transfer to potty, most pee went in potty.
  • 4:57pm: full accident while I was cooking dinner 😬
  • 6:20pm: pottytunity after dinner. Full pee in potty.
  • 7:30pm: last potty opportunity before bed, pee in potty. Bed.

Day 2

  • 6:15am: Wake up with dry diaper. Big pee in potty.
  • 6:48: start to pee on floor, immediate transfer to potty, most pee in potty
  • 7:40am: after breakfast during playtime, she started tooting. I said “there’s your potty” and pointed at it. She climbed on herself and went pee!
  • 9:15am: prompted her to use the potty and she went pee!
  • 10:11am: started to get fussy in high chair, did not want more food. Then started to pee. We moved straight to the potty and she happily sat and peed more.
  • 10:30-1pm: diaperless nap. Woke up dry, had a pig pee and poop on the potty!
  • 1:58pm: pee on the floor during play time. She immediately gave me a worried look and I said “hurry go to your potty!” She went to the potty and sat, but none of the pee made it
  • 3:45pm: offered the potty, she peed.
  • 6:20pm: another successful pee prompt.

Day 3

  • Runny nose/cold
  • 7:15am: wake up (wet diaper) big pee and poop on the potty.
  • 10:18am: pee on potty when prompted after outside play
  • 10:45-12:50pm: diaperless nap, then big pee and poop on the potty.
  • 4:00-4:45: nap in car, woke up dry, then peed in potty.
  • 6:00pm: accident on floor
  • 8:00: last potty before bed (pee)

Day 4

  • 7:00am: wake up, wet diaper, pee on potty.
  • 9:10am: started to pee on ground outside, got upset, held it til we were on the potty and peed the rest.
  • 9:48am: started to pee on floor during story time. Put immediately on potty; peed and pooped a lot more! She was upset that her shoes got wet.
  • 10:30am: last potty opportunity before nap (successful pee)
  • 10:45-1:05pm: diaper free nap, no accidents. Pee on potty.
  • 3:00pm: successful prompt. Pee and poop.
  • 6:20pm: successful prompt after dinner (pee). Attempted pre-dinner prompt, but she was starving and not having it. She held it through dinner.

Day 5

  • 7:15am: wake up (dry diaper) pee on potty
  • 9:15am: successful pee prompt
  • 10:55am: successful pee prompt
  • 12:30pm: last potty before nap; pee!
  • 3:09pm: woke up dry, peed in potty
  • 5:30pm: told her grandparents she needed to pee by carrying her potty to them!
  • 8:03pm: last pee on the potty before bed!

 Day 6

  • 6:00am: wake up (dry diaper), pee and poop on potty.
  • 7:20am: small accident while dad was watching her and cooking
  • 8:35: patted her crotch and looked at me saying “eh, eh”. Offered the potty and she went!
  • 10:15am: prompt before leaving for park (pee)
  • 12:05pm: prompt after lunch at park (pee)
  • 3:00pm: woke up from nap MAD (peed the bed)
  • 6:34pm: took herself to the potty to pee and poop after dinner!
  • 8:07pm: last potty before bed--pee.


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