Follow the zing of toilet training

Parents have been requesting a post about potty training. There is certainly a plethora of   diverse and contrasting articles and books out there on the subject. I am happy to add to the collection. First let me just say that while every child, family, and situation is different, there are some basic developmental stages and approaches to potty training that are backed by research.

Research and global trends indicate that children (both boys and girls) should be ready to participate in potty training at around 18 months. By the time children (both boys and girls) are 12 months old, reflex sphincter control can be elicited and the myelination of the neurons necessary to ready the body to control the bowels and bladder is completed. This myelin acts as an insulator (kind of like wrapping electrical tape around a live wire), and makes the neuron send the message more quickly.  This keeps it from getting confused with impulses from neighboring neurons. What does this mean? The child is now able to feel the impulse to control her bodily functions and needs to learn to execute that control.

Hence, the child is in her toilet training zing sometime between 12-24 months. Look for the signs. Your child’s zing may be indicated in an obvious or subtle way. Remember, these zing moments are temporary and if missed becomes remedial teachings. Developing new skills is most effective when in the zing, not after the fact when teaching takes much more work, backtracking, and sometimes even force. Like other areas of child development, the child is often there and ready (in their zing) before the parent is aware or ready.

This is where the adult’s keen awareness, positive support, and matter-of-fact attitude come into play. Family psychologist, Dr. John Rosemond, often warns that parents approach toilet training with great trepidation, insecurity, and anxiety, thus elevating the likelihood that they will not clearly communicate their expectations to their children. This sets the stage for lots of frustration on the part of all concerned and greatly increasing the chance of failure.

So, how do we prepare the environment to facilitate successful toilet training?

  • Make the choice to begin the process and BEGIN. If you are hesitant, your child will be too.
  • Maintain a tone that is matter-of-fact, confident, and encouraging through the process.
  • Place small potties in the bathrooms so the child can sit independently, as needed.
  • Allow your child to see family members using the toilet.
  • Periodically mention to your child that she will no longer be using diapers and will use a toilet soon. Begin these conversations prior to the change to allow the child to begin to absorb the idea.
  • Find a period of time that can be devoted to this project, that both syncs with your child’s zing and your own ability to be around home more for a week or two.
  • When that time comes, put away the diapers for good and set your sights on this goal.
  • It is helpful if the child can be naked or nearly naked to feel or see the trickle of the urine and associate it with the feeling that preceded it (muscle tension and full bladder).
  • Prepare yourself and your house for many puddles. After all, making it to the potty is less hit and more miss at first.
  • From the beginning allow your child to participate in the clean-up.
  • See other fun tips here

Child beginning to show interest and putting doll in training potty.

This process is described clearly in the wonderful book, Montessori from the Start:

“The goal is not dry pants but a child who feels appropriately in control of herself and her life. Let her be as independent as possible in getting her wet pants off and putting them in the pail of water in the bathroom. If they are soiled, have them hand them to you for preliminary cleaning by rinsing them in the toilet. The child can soak up her urine from the floor with the small mop and cloth, and she can wipe herself with her wash cloth and towel.” (p.155)

Parents say (myself included) that successful “toileting” comes if the child is in underpants or naked both day and night. I’m a big proponent for doing away with all diapers (including nighttime) once you know your child is ready.  It’s a bear for a week or so, but if you are giving the message to the child that he is ready, then it is appropriate to acknowledge that he is  ready day and night.  Otherwise, it can be confusing to the child that sometimes it’s okay to rely on diapers and sometimes it is not. Plus, it’s to your advantage to use this new heightened sensitivity of a full bladder or the trickle of pee to help along the nighttime routine.

Unfortunately, when this process is challenging, many parents abandon this mission and put the diapers back on. When you begin to second guess this or are discouraged by skeptical, unsure, or jealous friends, remember that in the 1950s studies indicate that 92% of children (both boys and girls) were potty trained by 18 months. Parenting has changed in the past 50-60 years, but children’s developmental capabilities have not.


Filed under Parenting with Zing!, potty training

10 responses to “Follow the zing of toilet training

  1. Thanks for sharing this useful insight. I love to read your blog posts surely. I get some good knowledge from here. Visit me at Toddler Crafts Susan

  2. coffeehouse mom

    So, I wonder why it is that kids were potty trained earlier back in the 50’s; I’ve heard that too. I realize parenting may have changed, but how so that it has affected the age of potty training? My boy was doing just fine, then one day three months ago started pooping in his pants again-and now does it all the time. In what way do I need to be like the 1950’s parent in order to help him?

    Thanks for your posts on this subject! And…


    …Rhonda, a fellow mom

    • It seems to be that the ways that parenting has changed, with giving the children more power and in some cases relinquishing power to children, is directly effecting the age of potty training. Waiting for the child to express interest works for some children, but not all. Since we know when the body is ready, see Follow the Zing of Toilet Training, we know when we can get started. Preparation for the event is the key to success!
      I don’t know that you need to be more like a parent from the 50’s to help at this point, but please read the post: End Toilet Training Regression Now to help guide you through this tricky and frustrating time. I’ve been there too!
      Please come back to ask more questions or tell us of your successes!

  3. Shana

    what do you do when you miss the zing? my daughter was ready at 15-18 months, but I was pregnant, everyone told me she was too young, and I figured I would just start in a few months once my oldest started school. well, when I went to do that, as you guessed, we had missed the zing (she was about 80% potty trained on her own by that point) now, we have nothing.

    • emilygeizer

      I am sorry. That sounds frustrating! Kudos to you for recognizing your daughters readiness at such an early age. It’s not always easy to do. I just posted an article to answer your question. You’ll find it here.

  4. emilygeizer

    I agree this makes things more complicated. I also worked f/t when it was time for my oldest daughter to move out of diapers. We definitely had to prioritize it and adjust our schedules. We started on a long weekend and then changed our schedules to allow an adult to be home. Some families choose to have grandparents visit to help or hire babysitters for this process. However it works best for your family. Where there is a will, there is a way.

  5. Anna Van Dis

    Great information/ perspective. As far as not doing both diapers and underwear, this is pretty much impossible for me as I work f/t and I am not with her during the week days. They work on it at school, and she actually seems the most motivated by watching other KIDS use the potty (vs us!), but we are not able to devote days to being at home in undies . Any advice for this situation?

  6. emilygeizer

    I do think she was showing you her early signs of potty Zing previously. If you are interested in really buckling down and beginning the process (i.e. you can make time for it in your life), then talk up the potty in an encouraging and supportive manner. Be confident and assure your daughter that you know she can do it. If you empower her that way, she will feel empowered. Remember, you set the tone. Enjoy!

  7. Sabrina

    I have a question about the “zing”. My daughter will be 18 months next week and we’ve already bought her a potty. She has, in previous months, gone through periods of both telling us when she’s pooped and wanted to sit on the potty. At both times, my husband and I have praised her and taken appropriate action (changed the diaper, let her sit on the potty, etc.). She knows when we go potty what it means and like the idea. Recently, however, she has stopped wanting to sit on the

  8. “I’m a big proponent for doing away with all diapers (including nighttime) once you know your child is ready.”

    I would go so far as to say, get rid of the diapers BEFORE you think they’re ready. Otherwise it’s a lot harder to “know” that they’re ready. And they might not even GET to the ready phase, because they’ve been trained that the diaper is where they’re supposed to ‘go’ so why should they do anything differently? Some kids do show an obvious ‘readiness’ even after being diaper-trained, but many do not.

    When they’re diaper-free, you yourself can ‘help’ the process along, by observing them when they go… maybe you see physical signals before they pee, or a certain timing. Then you can be proactive and put them on the potty when you see their signal, to help them make that connection.

    IMO babies are “ready” right from birth, to make that connection — then sometime between 12-24 months they simply achieve the ‘readiness’ to take independent control of the process.

    I wrote an article about diaper-free if you’d like to check it out here:

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