Between 18 months and three years of age, a new milestone in the development of boys and girls arrives: leaving the diaper behind. This happens thanks to the maturation of their brain nerve centers, which will allow them to express their desire to go to the bathroom. Now they will be more attentive to their body’s signals and will begin to be able to tell when they need to pee or poop.
“Each girl has her rhythm since the sphincter control is a physiological process. Around the age of two, many little ones begin to show some interest in using the bathroom and wearing underwear instead of a diaper”, says Carla Pérez Martínez, Ph.D. in Perinatal Psychology, Founder of Psychology with babies.
To reach this point, the coordination of several muscles is needed, as well as signals from the brain to be able to control the output of pee or poop, “It is not, as we used to think, a skill that must be trained, but a process that needs to be accompanied,” emphasizes the specialist.
Therefore, the commitment of moms and dads is to accompany them in this process and support them with tools that facilitate sphincter control. They do not need training; each child will set the pace that the maturity of his body allows.
Some signs that indicate the little one is ready to leave the diaper behind are:
- He can follow simple instructions.
- He understands and uses words related to going to the bathroom (pee, poop, potty, toilet).
- He shows interest in the potty, observing how her parents or siblings use the bathroom; she wants to sit on the potty and wear underwear instead of a diaper.
- He keeps the diaper dry for 2 hours straight or more.
- He communicates when her diaper is wet or dirty.
- He can pull her diaper or clothes up and down.
- He associates the feeling of peeing or pooping with going to the bathroom.
Going along with the toddler
If you are living this critical stage in the life of your children at home, you can help in different ways, as Dr. Pérez Martínez suggests:
- Teach their body parts and functions, including the correct names for their genitals.
- Start when they are ready, don’t push them.
- Allow them to take an active role in this process by letting them choose their potty and underwear.
- Encourage them to become familiar with the potty by personalizing it and putting stickers on it, among other details. Ensure the toilet has a child adapter and a stool to support their feet. This will give them more security, and they can get up when they want.
- Let them play potty with their toys and let them watch how others use the bathroom. Children learn by imitation, and seeing the rest of the family will give them security and confidence.
- Read children’s stories that talk about this transition so that they become familiar with it and understand the concept of going to the bathroom. Educational videos and pictograms that explain “going to the bathroom” step by step are also handy.
- Take care of their diet by incorporating fruits and vegetables daily. This will facilitate the processes of digestion and expulsion. Processed foods like cookies, nuggets, or pizza can cause constipation and make this process difficult.
- Pick a quiet moment. It can be on vacation when they don’t have to go to school, and you and your baby are more relaxed.
- Keep in mind that there will be “leaks” or setbacks. Don’t get mad; continue with the process.
- Communication is vital. Don’t underestimate them, even if you think they are too small to understand! Talk to them and say what you are going to take away; they will be able to understand it.
- A great tip: follow schedules and routines. As far as possible, sit them simultaneously in their potty: when they wake up, after eating, before going to sleep. This will help them get into a routine, and it will be easier.
- If you have already decided not to use a diaper, do it all day. When you are at home, but also when you go out.
- If you see that it does not work, do not stress. Go back to the diaper and wait a little longer for your baby to be ready. Remember that everyone has his rhythm.
As your little one gains control of his sphincters, there will be accidents, like not getting to the bathroom on time or getting his clothes wet. Let them go, don’t get angry or scold him; this is part of learning about how his body works, “In the case of an accident, act naturally, don’t play down or give it too much importance. Clean up together and remind him he can tell you or go straight to the potty when he feels like it again”, recommends the expert in the emotional development of babies.
If he is going through an important event, such as the birth of a sibling, a room change, a separation or divorce, just starting daycare, or having a new caregiver, for example, do not pressure him. It is preferable not to introduce more than one change at a time.
Finally, demanding, comparing, or ridiculing to get out of the diaper are negative strategies that will only make the child feel insecure and distressed.
We also leave you some songs that will help make the process more fun.
Leave the diaper behind, Song by Jejé Kids
Learning to go to the bathroom by myself
Translated by: Ligia M. Oliver Manrique de Lara