Infant potty training:
A tested method for babies who can sit up by themselves
© 2008 Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., all rights reserved
This infant potty training method was
invented by a mother of three infants and tested by
developmental psychologists and pediatricians in the 1970s. You can
adapt the method for home use.
However, please note that you should NOT attempt this method unless your baby can sit up--straight and steady--on his own.
Never place a baby in a potty chair until he has mastered the ability to sit up by himself.
a more general discussion of infant potty training, including methods
for infants who cannot yet sit up by themselves, see my article on
infant potty training.
Besides "how-to" information, it also discusses infant bladder physiology and infant potty training attitudes around the world.
If you're wondering how the timing of potty training might effect your child, see this article about on the benefits and disadvantages associated with training at different ages.
For a review of toilet training methods for older children, see this article on
potty training techniques.
How it works
Paul Smeets and his colleagues tested this procedure for infant potty
training on four children, aged 3-6 months (Smeets et al 1985). Infants
were trained by their own parents. To accommodate busy parents,
researchers accepted that infants would skip training on some days. A
“training day" was defined as a day when parents spent at least 2 hours
training their infants.
Before training began, parents observed
their infants to learn what body signals precede voiding. Then they
progressed through three phases of training.
The goal of Phase I was to teach the baby to associate his own body
signals with using the potty.
Parents kept babies within visual range of
a potty chair throughout the session. When parents judged that babies
were ready to eliminate, they tapped the potty chair to get their babies
attention, then sat their babies on the potty. If babies eliminated
within 3 minutes of being placed on their chairs, parents showed their
enthusiastic approval. Otherwise, parents removed their babies from the
chairs and tried again later (when the babies showed more signals).
babies had accidents, they were changed without a show of emotion.
Parents continued these sessions until their babies had at least 18
bowel movements in the potty chair and had experienced at least 8 out of
10 training days without bowel accidents (Smeets et al 1985).
After graduating to phase II, babies were kept within 30 cm of potty chairs throughout the day (by placing baby and
potty chair in a playpen, for instance). When the babies showed body
signals of elimination, babies were prompted to touch or grab the potty
chair. If babies didn’t touch the chair after they were verbally
prompted, parents gently guided their hands. Then babies were placed on
the potty chair as in Phase I (described above). Babies were also placed
on the potty chair if they spontaneously touched or grabbed the chair,
or if they showed no signs but were overdue for a voiding.
continued until babies started to reach for the potty without prompting
for more than 50% of the trials for 4-6 days running. Babies were also
required to have a low rate of accidents—no more than 10% of the total
Training continued as in Phase II, except that the potty chair was
moved farther away (up to 4 meters, depending on the baby’s crawling
skills) and parents were told to “keep the number of daily prompts to a
minimum" (Smeets et al 1985). Training ended when babies had completed
15 out of 18 consecutive training days without an accident and at least
80% of reaching/grabbing responses were followed by eliminations.
noted above, all four infants completed this infant potty training
program before they were 12 months old--before any of them could walk.
Moreover, no negative side effects were reported.
References and more reading about infant potty training
The technique described here was tested by this group:
Smeets PM, Lancioni GE, Ball, TS, and Oliva DS. 1985. Shaping
self-initiated toileting in infants. Journal of applied behavior
analysis, 18: 303-308.
For background on toilet training in the non-Western world, see my Parenting Science article and this blog post:
Dewar G. 2013. Can babies be potty trained at nine months? BabyCenter Blog. January 30, 2013. http://blogs.babycenter.com/mom_stories/vietnamese-parents-have-babies-out-of-diapers-by-9-months/
Photo of infant: matka_Wariatka/ istock