Potty Training our 21 Month Old

how to potty train before 2



Original Post —- May, 2015:

We started potty training Ellie a week and a half ago, coincidentally on her 21-month birthday. I thought I’d share about our little mini-journey: the steps we followed and guidelines we’re still following. Looking back I think it’s almost more about when the parents are ready than the child. There are going to be messes, frustrations and your patience will be tried. But your kid is bright – and they’ll get it!

Showing the signs

We think Ellie has been showing signs that she’s about ready to potty train for a couple months (see previous entries here, here and here). Even when it wasn’t on our radar, she seemed to be leading the charge. Which is kind of typical of our life with her. Any time there’s been a major transition that we’re dreading and delaying, Ellie’s been totally fine and ready – like she was just waiting for Mom and Dad to get on board.

Some of the signs she has shown us recently:
  • Showing a lot of interest in the potty and going pee-pee
  • Able to sit on the potty and pee consistently
  • Telling us when she has a poopy diaper
  • Not liking to get her diaper changed (isn’t this every kid!?!)
  • Going in a corner (or under the dining room table) when she’s pooping
  • Not pooping during naptime or nighttime for a few weeks

Following her lead

I know she’s young but if she’s ready, I want to give her the opportunity to do it. If not, NO PROBLEM, easier on me if she’s in diapers! Her daycare is certain she is ready and they’ve done this with a lot of kids so I trust they know what they’re talking about. And hey – if there’s a chance we could save some money and keep some diapers out of landfills, it’s worth a shot!

potty training

The day before

We talked to her about how she would be wearing underwear instead of diapers tomorrow and that instead of going pee-pee in her diaper, she would be going pee-pee on the potty. I gave her the pack of brand new Dora underwear and she unpacked each one, looking at them, ooh-ing and ah-ing. Every time we changed a diaper, we talked about the plan for the next day.

(side note: these are the training undies we are using)

Here are the steps of the process we are following:
  • Give LOTS of fluids – especially during the first 3 days
  • Set a timer (this is key in the first days) for every 15 minutes. When it goes off, it’s time to sit on the potty. By day 4 or 5, we moved to every 30 minutes, now it’s more like 45 minutes – or sooner if she’s had liquid recently.
  • Wear loose clothing the first couple days – for Ellie that meant long dresses and undies. She’s more likely to feel the accident when it happens – and it’s quicker and easier for us to remove when needed!
  • Make potty time routine. From the directions we give, to the books we read, to the celebration song we sing, consistency is key!

On the morning of Day One, I walked into her room and greeted her holding a pair of her new big-girl underwear, thinking that it would be exciting for her. Nope. “No, I don’t wanna wear underwear!” she said immediately. Uh oh, didn’t expect that. I took her diaper off and she still didn’t want anything to do with the underwear. Finally after dressing two of her stuffed animals in Dora undies – and seeing me put my underwear on – she was sold, and pretty entertained. Proof that with her, if all else fails, just make it fun.

By 9:30am, we were on our 4th pair of underwear. Miraculously all accidents had been in places other than the carpet (like all over me while I was reading her a book). And each time she peed, she said “uh-oh, Mommy, I pee-peed.” Everything is about this process is ONLY supposed to be positive so I would made sure to say in an upbeat voice “that’s okay! Good girl for going pee-pee. Next time we’ll just do it in the potty!”

The rest of the day was better but there were still a few accidents, and she was pretty traumatized the first time she started pooping in her undies. The first day or two is really about building the routine of going to the bathroom and sitting on the potty as much as possible. In my experience, kids are so open to routine – if you build it, they will (most often) follow.

Here are the general guidelines we are following:
  • Make potty time fun and 100% positive. We sing songs, we ready a book, we keep it totally positive, no matter if there was an accident, no action or resistance. Keep it light, keep it a happy thing.
  • Have a BIG celebration once a pee-pee is made! Complete with singing and dancing and lots of “Yay Ellie’s!!!” We haven’t needed to offer her treats for going potty – the celebration is motivation enough. Most of the time she runs out of the bathroom yelling to the other parent “Come look!!! I go pee-pee!”
    Celebrating after going peep and poop in the potty!
    Celebrating after going peep and poop in the potty!
  • Stay on topic. We read potty books throughout the day (her fave is Dora and she reads that one ON the potty) and constantly talk about how proud of her we are that she is wearing underwear and going pee-pee on the potty.
  • Practice patience. I’ve cleared my morning schedules for these 2 weeks, no rushing to get anywhere. It’s on her time. Going pee on the potty isn’t the quickest or most convenient thing, but rushing it (or skipping it) isn’t an option.
  • Keep disinfectant nearby. I used a homemade version (15 drops Purify + 5 drops lemon essential oiland water in glass spray bottle) and it follows us around the house.
    potty training disinfectant
    I wipe accidents with a wet towel and this (non-toxic) spray
  • Don’t get discouraged. This is the hardest one for me I’d say. I have a problem expecting too much from Ellie sometimes so when on day 8 she had 3 accidents I wonder if we started too early or if this is too hard for her. When really as a whole, she’s doing great. I have to keep reminding myself she’s only 21 months old! Most accidents are due to us forgetting to bring her to the potty in time (must use that timer)!
    A little accident after laughing too hard playing with her Autie
    A little accident after laughing too hard playing with her Autie
  • Be smart about your outings. Most articles I read about potty training said to plan to stay home for 3 days and staying close to home for 2 weeks. For the first three days, the only places we went were daycare, where they are potty training pros, and swim class, where accidents go undetected ;). On Day 4, we went to the library in the morning and out to dinner that night; each outing was 1.5 hours and were accident free. Over the next couple days, we went to the park, the farmer’s market and to a BBQ at our friends house. All went FINE. The park visit was quick (1.5 hours), we brought a potty in the car for after the market, and we brought the potty to our friends house where she thought it was super cool that there was an “Ellie potty” at Uncle Chris’s house. I was proud of her – and us – that we could continue life as long as we were prepared and smart about our outings. Keep them short, go potty directly before and after, no fluids while out, and bring the potty along – and a change of clothes!

We’ve still got a little ways to go in the process. Does anyone have any potty training experience or advice to share?

ONE YEAR UPDATE — May 19, 2016:

sunset family photos
Weeee! No diapers!!

Ellie is now 3 months away from turning 3. Life in diapers feels far away (except that I have a baby due in 5 weeks, here we go again!) Actually, Ellie still wears a pull-up at night and pees in it about 50% of nights. Since she’s still in her crib, I haven’t pushed her to night train just yet. She understands that sometimes she pees in her pull-ups and sometimes she doesn’t and I’m sure if we moved to undies, she would be done peeing at night within a few days.

After we started potty training, it took almost three months for her to get to the point where we didn’t have to constantly remind her or ask her if she needed to pee. By her 2nd birthday, we were finally able to trust that she would take herself potty when she needed to go.

I’ve heard a lot of little ones have trouble with the pooping part of potty training. For most, it takes a little longer that the peeing. We definitely had 4 or 5 pooping accidents before Ellie was traumatized enough to not let it happen again.

7 months after we started, Ellie told us that she didn’t want to wear pull-ups for naps anymore. Ok then, undies it was. I’m honestly not sure that she’s had a single nap time accident since then. Apparently she was ready.

She can hold her bladder now for a scary amount of time, which is great but also causes a problem when it’s been an hour or two and we need to leave the house and I want her to go again. She insists she doesn’t have to but inevitably she’ll probably start panicking in the car later: “I have to go pee-pee Mama, I have to go pee-pee!” That being said, we definitely still drive around with a potty in the back of the SUV and we use it quite a bit. She’s also peed on the side of the road without a potty in emergency situations – yep, when they gotta go, they gotta go!

Our go-to favorite undies now are from Zoocchini and are the softest, stretchiest, cutest undies ever – PLUS they’re organic.

What we’re working on now is going poop in the BIG potty (using the removable seat from her little potty) so that cleanup is…well, not necessary. I actually JUST bought one of these so hopefully we can phase out the little potty altogether soon. Also, the wiping…she’s trying to do it herself but isn’t quite there yet. What are the chances she’ll get really efficient at it in 5 weeks by the time baby sister arrives? 😉



3 thoughts on “Potty Training our 21 Month Old

  1. This was another great post!! Haha, I’m in the thick of it right now. 🙂 I feel better knowing you started even earlier than I did. People have told me it’s too early but I don’t think it is. She’s definitely ready from things I’ve read!

    1. Good luck! Yea, Ellie showed enough signs to go for it – I didn’t want to miss the window and make it harder down the line potentially! Diapers are “easier” and yet its so great – for them AND you – once they really get the potty thing down! A year later and I still have to ask sometimes “do you have to go peepee? Are you sure?” but I’ve gotten used to those convos!! ?

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