Award-winning author, L.R.Knost

3 Simple Steps from Diapers to Potty


[Reprinted from Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost. Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline also now available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]


I have an adorable little diaper-bottomed 26 month old who will never be potty-trained. She will, however, in her own time, move from diapers to potty as easily as she went from rolling to scooting, from scooting to crawling, from crawling to walking. As a mama of six from 25 years down to 26 months old, I’ve supported my little people through the transition to pottying plenty of times, and I’ve learned to go with the flow. (Sorry. I have mentioned that I like wordplay, right?)

So, what does ‘going with the flow’ mean in the diapers-to-potty stage?

It means no charts, no stickers, no rewards, no punishment, no pressure, no ‘training’ of any kind.

It means I don’t drive myself nuts looking for signs of ‘readiness’ or getting frustrated by accidents or worrying about what anyone else thinks.

It means my children and I are on the same team, period. I don’t set my little ones up for a power-struggle, don’t shift our relationship from connected to contentious, don’t push them to develop according to some arbitrary schedule.

It means letting my little ones learn about what their bodies can do simply and naturally on their own time-table.

And it means not ascribing ulterior motives to normal behavior.

Humans have a God-given, in-built instinct to seek privacy when emptying their bowels, a vital protection against the spread of disease in ancient times. Modern parents, though, often believe a child who seeks a little alone-time to poop is “hiding because they know they’re doing something wrong.”

That attitude from parents gives children the message that normal bowel functions are somehow shameful and disgusting. That often not only pushes children to seek even more seclusion while pooping, but can also lead to ‘holding’ behaviors with their resultant medical issues and can actually delay the transition to pottying, the exact opposite effect the parents are trying to achieve!

Also, when asked if they are pooping, small children will frequently deny it and even run away. Parents tend to interpret that as lying and often will punish the child, creating an even more challenging environment for little ones to try to navigate their way from diapers to potty. Again, it is a normal human instinct to regard bowel habits as a private issue, and children are in the unfortunate position of not having the ability to articulate their need for privacy with anyting more than a “No!” and a quick getaway.

Parents who recognize that the diapers-to-potty transition is a normal progression of early childhood just like learning to crawl and walk and talk will take the same approach they did with those milestones:

    1. Let the child determine the time-table. There is a huge range of ‘normal’ when it comes to timing of developmental milestones, including pottying.
    2. Encourage, don’t push. Just as with rolling, crawling, etc. offering lots of praise and applause without being insistent allows the child to develop at their own pace in a stress-free, supportive environment.
    3. Model the desired behavior and offer the opportunity to experiment. Sharing our own experiences with our children is our most powerful teaching tool, and experimentation is the foundation of true learning.

Remember, the connection we maintain throughout these transitions in our children’s lives builds the trust and communication so vital to a healthy parent/child relationship.

Here’s what the transition from diapers to potty looks like at our house:

$3.99 Ikea spice rack as a bathroom bookshelf!

From the time my babies can walk (sometimes even earlier) they regularly join me when I go to the bathroom. They sit on a little potty that’s always available or they walk around, familiarizing themselves with this new play-space, and we read books or chat or sing or just hang out.

I occasionally ask if they want to take off their diaper and sit on the little potty, and sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.

Eventually, the day comes that they pee-pee (we call it ‘peep’ 🙂 ) in the potty.

Then, of course, we sing the pee-pee song, “Pee-pee in the po-tay! Pee-pee in the po-tay!” and dance through the house and everybody else joins in and it’s a great time.

Sometimes, that one event is kind of an ‘ah-ha’ moment for my little ones, and the potty games are on! They start asking to go more and more and are usually out of diapers, accident free, within a couple of weeks. No pressure, no stress, and very little mess.

Sometimes, though, it’s a one-off and my little one happily continues in diapers, visiting the bathroom with me off and on, sometimes hanging out on the potty, sometimes not. Then, when they’re ready, they let me know and their own potty game is on!

The thing is, barring developmental issues, children always, always eventually make the transition to using the potty and end the diaper-bottomed season of their life. In our home they just do it in their own time. It’s as natural and joyous of a developmental milestone as crawling, walking, or talking and, for us, just as celebrated!

Note: There is a rather intense debate in the parenting community over the use/misuse of praising children. While throwing a “Good job” or “Awesome” at a child just to brush them off is…well, a brush off, honestly sharing your excitement and pride in your children is never a bad thing. In our family, we celebrate all ‘firsts’ with our children, praise their efforts and offer encouragement and help when they’re struggling, and admire their accomplishments when they succeed. You can read more about praise here.

Related posts:

Toddler fighting sleep? Here’s help!

Practical, Gentle, Effective Discipline

The Problem with Punishment

12 Steps to Gentle Parenting

200 Ways to Bless Your Children with a Happy Childhood

Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood ; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.

16 Responses

  1. Kreeeestamama

    Ah, wish I could have read this a couple years ago…

    My now 4 yo son still tinkles a little bit in his underwear, and I feel like it’s because I pushed him into potty “training” too soon. (A couple months shy of 2yo for gosh sakes!) I had read an article in “Parents” or “Parenting” magazine about the signs of “readiness” and since he was “showing” most of them, off I went. Still don’t know why I took parenting advice from that magazine – I’m more of the Mothering magazine type.

    At what age did your little ones end up making the transition naturally?

    August 7, 2012 at 1:29 am

    • L.R. Knost

      Your little guy may just be waiting a bit too long to head for the bathroom rather than having residual problems from early training, mama. A couple of mine were ‘last second bathroom runners’ until 5 or 6 years old, lol. Just too many interesting things to do in the world to waste time going potty! If he is having problems (i.e. resisting/refusing to go, hiding rather than going, having multiple nighttime accidents, etc.) then that’s a different story, though, and you might want to talk to his pediatrician about it to rule out constipation, food allergies, or other issues. My little ones transitioned to the potty as early as 18 months (Her idea entirely! Big brother got to go on the big potty, and she didn’t want to be left out, lol.) and as late as 3.5. My littlest is 27 months now and pretty uninterested, which is fine with me. She’ll get there when she gets there. They always do!

      August 7, 2012 at 8:30 pm

  2. Donna

    Where to start? My youngest is 2.5yrs old and not really interested in toilet training, and I’m ok with that. He’s my last, so I don’t mind dealing with diapers for a while longer!
    the thing I had to comment on, was where you said ‘My children and I are on the same team, period.’
    This is a foreign concept to me. Most days it feels like my kids and I are either in an armed truce… or on bad days, full-on war! I’ve just started doing a parenting course using material from Danny Silk, which is all about heart-to-heart connection, and I’m just lost.
    I love the idea of it, I love the sound of it, and I want it… but I don’t know how to get it. I wasn’t parented like that, and I haven’t parented like that. But I want to. I want that connection with my kids, and I don’t know how to be that person – the warm, loving mother. I’m more like the sergant-major!

    August 7, 2012 at 10:05 pm

    • L.R. Knost

      Aww…((Hug)) I love that you’ve decided to end the ‘war’ and work on getting on the same team with your children, mama. Parenting is a journey, not a destination, and when we change directions we’ve got a lot of undoing as well as a lot of renewing to do. I’ll give you a couple of links at the end of this comment that will give you some practical tips, but the thing to keep in mind is that small, incremental, intentional changes are easier to stick with than huge, sudden, spur-of-the-moment changes. Read through the ideas. Decide on one or two small changes you can make right away and one or two you’d like to work your way toward. And enlist your children’s help. Be honest with them (in age-appropriate language) about your struggles and dissatisfaction with your present style of parenting and how you want to make changes that will benefit everyone. Let them be part of the new ‘home team’ from the beginning, kind of an all-for-one-and-one-for-all mentality building exercise, if you will. And listen, listen, listen, mama. Then listen some more. Work on really getting to know and enjoy the person each of your individual children are now instead of focusing on the people you want them to become.

      August 7, 2012 at 10:58 pm

  3. Sarah

    Can I ask what worked the best for you with the transition from diapers to underwear? It seems like if we stay in diapers the drive to go to the potty is less but if we switch to undies then it feels like ‘accidents’ matter more. We do some days of each, which ever she requests but everyone keeps telling me that I will confuse her. Thoughts?

    September 1, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    • L.R. Knost

      With my little ones I let them lead the way entirely, including letting them decide when they want to wear panties. Some move on to panties and stay there, others switch back and forth, experimenting with their own abilities and comfort level. It sounds like your little one is in the experimentation stage and feels comfortable enough to let you know what she needs, which is awesome! She’ll soon spend more and more time in panties and one day you’ll realize she hasn’t asked for diapers for weeks, and her transition will be complete…no stress, no pressure. And what a lovely gift of self-confidence you will have given her by letting her trust her own body and develop at her own unique pace!

      September 1, 2012 at 10:46 pm

  4. Elizabeth Pondelik

    Reading this article breaks my heart. 🙁 I have a three and a half year old who hasn’t gotten the hang of the potty yet, but we are both really struggling with the frustrations of potty training. I have let her take the lead all along the way and tried lots of different ways to make it fun (putting a train car on our paper “potty train” each time she goes, sticker charts….just so she can see all of the stickers she has gotten, dancing to the potty, etc.) and backed off when she seemed to need a break and we have never gotten upset over an accident. She has frequent poop and pee accidents though and she becomes so frustrated by the accidents that it affects her behavior in other areas too. Her ped is in the process of running tests to check for food intolerance to help explain the frequent urgent poop issues. We are back in diapers right now and I feel like I have my sweet easygoing kiddo back, but I’m dreading the day when she asks for underwear again. 🙁

    September 3, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    • L.R. Knost

      Awww…((Hug)) I hear you, mama! I remember how frustrated I was with my first little guy as I tried to encourage him with stickers and jelly beans and songs and books, etc. It wasn’t until later that I realized that I’d been actively trying to train him using positive reinforcement which was putting pressure on him to accomplish something he just wasn’t developmentally ready to do. Backing off and simply making the potty available, occasionally offering to let him join us when we went but being fine if he didn’t want to, and taking the pressure (positive pressure, to be sure, but still pressure 🙁 ) completey off of him allowed him the time to grow and develop at his own unique and perfectly normal pace. That said, if you’re seeing digestive issues (constipation, frequent tummy upsets, etc) then it’s a good idea to get your little one checked out.

      September 5, 2012 at 3:51 pm

  5. Cristy Russell

    Our DD will be 3 in November. She started going to the toilet to do a wee at the beginning of the year (which was when she was ready). It was really easy and she has hardly had any accidents. However, when it comes to doing a poo she only wants to do it in her nappy before bed. She has done a poo on the toilet once and didnt like the sensation. We have not forced the issue and gently ask if she would like to do a poo in the toilet when she tells us she is going to poo. We talk about pooing in a positive way, she often comes into the toilet when we are going and talk through the process. Do you have any ideas for us??

    September 5, 2012 at 2:08 am

    • L.R. Knost

      Time is the best idea, mama! Many, many children are peeing in the potty well before they start pooping in the potty. The time it takes to sit there and go is longer, it can be uncomfortable, and the smell is stronger, which can put some little ones off. Also, pooping (or even peeing) on the big potty can be difficult for small children because if they feel at all off balance they will automatically tighten the very muscles they need to relax to go!

      September 5, 2012 at 3:55 pm

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  7. Rebecca D

    My DD is 17 months – would you recommend that I get a potty now and have it around? She’s already telling me when she wants a clean nappy so is becoming increasingly aware of going to the toilet. Thanks. 🙂

    April 17, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    • I typically have a potty in the bathroom from the time they can walk, or even before if they seem interested, mama. It sounds like your little one is showing interest, so this may be a good time to introduce the potty. Just don’t be surprised if her interest fades after the novelty wears off, lol. She may be ready to make the transition or she may not be yet. Either way, having it available will set the stage for when she is ready. She’ll let you know when that time comes! 🙂

      April 17, 2013 at 5:50 pm

  8. Christy M.

    Some pre-schools/activities for children around age 3 require them to be “potty-trained.” If someone has a child who isn’t potty-trained by 3 do you just recommend steering away from those types of activities, or is there any way to “speed up” the process?

    April 21, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    • I’d honestly be wary of any program or school promoting itself as toddler/preschool friendly that then pushes little ones to do things they aren’t necessarily ready to do, mama. If they aren’t willing to work with a child’s natural development in one area, they are often not based on a healthy and supportive child development philosophy in general. 🙁

      April 21, 2013 at 6:23 pm

  9. Rivka

    This was such an eye opener! I wish I had read this 5 years ago!

    July 9, 2014 at 8:26 am

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