Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

Stuck at home during coronavirus: It could be the perfect time for potty training

If you have the time and energy to really focus on your child, go for it!

With so many of us stuck at home amid the coronavirus shelter-in-place order, it could actually be the perfect time for … potty training!

Diaper Stork, a Seattle-based cloth diaper service, has converted its potty-training programs to online classes for parents who want to take advantage of this newfound “bonus” at-home time. Classes are available for parents of toddlers (with a focus on the 18- to 30-month-old range) and also for parents who want to start younger in the vein of the “elimination communication” (EC) method.

The classes are popular and are filling quickly.

Diaper Stork is part of Ditch the Diapers, an environmental and equity-based project with a goal of lowering the average potty-training age by six months to reduce diaper waste as well as the burden of diaper need on low-income families.

Carrie Pollak of Diaper Stork and Julia Sandler, sustainability blogger at Re-Think Green, teamed up to launch the initiative in 2019. Both had had success letting their infants use potties from very early and wanted to help others.

The initiative received a “Zero Waste Communities” matching grant from Seattle Public Utilities in 2019.

Ditch the Diapers points out the benefits of potty training: each six months of not using diapers can save a family $500 in diaper costs and avoid an estimated 335 gallons of trash. It estimates that Seattle families generate more than 8,000 tons of diaper waste each year.

Sandler offered more details via email about potty training while quarantining. Here are excerpts:

Seattle’s Child: Why is the current “shelter in place” situation ideal for undertaking potty training?

Julia Sandler: The short answer is that staying home and focusing on your child is the fastest and most effective way to potty train a child under age 2 1/2, and the shelter in place order is already forcing most of us to do that.

There are two common ways to potty train. One is a gradual, very casual approach. The other is an intensive approach where you totally discontinue diaper and pull-up use when the child is awake, keeping them bottomless or naked for the first few days (or as our families have found, sometimes up to 10 or 12 days if it’s a younger child). We advocate this second method because it makes it clear to the kiddo that going potty is not a game or an optional fun activity but rather a life skill that they need to master and start doing. We are finding that kids as young as 20 months are doing well with this due to the intensive support their parents can give them at home these days. It’s helping us understand how it was that kids were trained on average at 18 months in the 1950s when young families spent much more time at home.

SC: On the flip side, are there any ways in which potty training could actually be more difficult right now?

Sandler: If parents are under a lot of stress or are working from home and relying on screens to keep their child occupied, they probably don’t have the bandwidth to get this done. A lot of parents are struggling in this situation right now. On the other hand, families can save a lot of money by ditching the diapers, so if parents can take a week or two off of work to lay a foundation and they have other caregivers who can work together with them, it could work. We had some families in this situation who were able to work with grandparent caregivers and get it done.

SC: When is a child likely to be ready for potty training? How can parents tell? Or, alternately, is child “readiness” even the right question to be asking?

Sandler: It is not developmentally appropriate to expect a toddler or 2-year-old to make a decision about whether they want to make this kind of change. It’s more about whether the child is capable of learning to use the potty and also whether the parents are ready. We can see that a child is probably capable if they are interested in the toilet, hiding to poop, staying dry for 2+ hours, or communicating what they want (via gestures, words, signs, or tantrums), and preferably starting to learn how to pull their pants up and down. Parents need to be able to handle a little extra stress for about a month, have the time to pay close attention to the child all day for at least the first few days, have the equipment and knowledge they need, and be able to stay home or work closely with other caregivers who will be on the same page.


About the Author

Julie Hanson