How I Potty Trained My 17 Month Old

First thing is first, I have to point out some very important verbiage in the title.  Did you notice that I said “How I Potty Trained MY 17 Month Old”???  I didn’t say my cousin’s, or my neighbor’s, or anyone else’s.  Nope.  I just referred to potty training MY child.  Because I get it.  As an early childhood educator turned mom of two, I know that all kiddos are different. So naturally, their potty training timeline and what works/doesn’t work will look different also.  Heck, my firstborn didn’t even potty train until he was two, and I was thrilled with that!

But my second child…  She potty trained early and easily.  And while I know that some of it was just her personality and persistence, I can’t help but think that some of the decisions I made early on helped her to be so successful at it too.

This fall will mark one full year since my youngest has worn diapers, and when people find out she was potty trained at the ripe young age of 17 months, I often get asked – “How?!?”  I usually lie and say something like, “She did it all herself.  The only thing I did was buy the underwear!”  But we all know that’s not true.  So I’m here today spilling my secrets.  And whether you are just about to embark on the potty training journey or are a brand new mom clueless as to where you would even start, I hope that at least a few of these tips and tricks will help you along the way…

How to Potty Train at 17 months. A photograph of a young child holding a stuffed animal and sitting on a toilet.

1. I used cloth diapers.

Now, I realize cloth diapers aren’t for everyone.  And I certainly don’t think this is a make or break when it come to ultimate potty training success.  But my daughter wore them since the day she came home from the hospital, and I’m confident it helped prepare her for potty training from that very first day.  How, you ask?  Here’s the long and short of it…  Most disposable diapers are designed to pull moisture away from the skin so that they constantly feel dry {even when totally and completely soaked}.  And while I can certainly see the benefits of this, babies who wear disposable diapers will never feel that uncomfortable sensation of being wet.  So often, my friends will tell me, “My kid just could care less whether or not they are walking around in a wet diaper.”  But in reality, the child might not even realize it’s wet with all of the stay dry materials built in! On the flipside, babies who wear cloth diapers will learn from a very young age that a full bladder > urination > wet diaper.  My daughter never liked being in a wet cloth dipe and would communicate very early on when she needed a change {both non-verbally and then verbally}, and I feel this was momentous in helping her potty train so early. 

2. I started prepping for it early.

As in from the time she was just a few months old.  If I noticed she was…ahem…doing her business, I would point it out in a very nonchalant way to help her start learning the cues and teach her what was happening with her body.  And on the same note, I never made my time in the restroom a secret either.  As long as we didn’t have company over, the doors remained open.  As she started to walk, she was welcome to come in the restroom with me and ask any questions that her precious little mind might dream up. {Most of the time that sounded like “Mama tee-tee?”}  Oh, and we also have LOTS of books about going potty.  My favorite is Everyone Poops!  {Yes, that includes you.}

3. I did NOT make restrooming {or the products of it} a negative thing.

You know when your baby takes a massive poop, and your natural inclination is to make a big fuss and say things like – “Ewww.  That is disgusting!” or “I can’t believe you pooped that much.  GROSS!!!”  What you might not realize is that you are making your child feel embarrassed and shameful over something that is completely natural and healthy to do.  Even at the ripe young age of one.  Instead, I made a very deliberate attempt to keep it positive and to be proud of their poopies.  I’d say things like, “Wow!  What a big poop you made.  You must have eaten some healthy foods to help your body work so well!”  As a result, restrooming has never been a scary or negative thing in our home.  It’s something to be celebrated!

4. I followed the cues.

After all of the talking and prepping, my daughter started to take a very strong interest in the potty at just shy of 17 months.  She insisted on spending more and more time in the restroom, and she began to cry and scream when I would lay her down to put on a diaper.  {After all, she was seeing all three of her other family members wearing underwear and using the restroom – so why would I dare thing to put a diaper on her?!?}  So I followed her cues and began sitting her on the toilet just to see what she would do.  Lo and behold, after just a few times of sitting with no results, she actually went!  I encouraged her and celebrated the accomplishment, but I’ll admit – I still wasn’t convinced she was ready.  So I decided to forgo any potty training boot camps or crazy three day methods, and all I did was simply follow her cues.  No sticker charts, no bribes, no big deal.  She knew her body best, and she was potty trained within a month.

5. I tossed the diapers.

As soon as I knew she was serious about using the potty, I put away any and all diapers in our house to ensure there was no turning back – for either of us.  Instead, I let her pick out special big girl panties to wear, and of course – she chose Minnie Mouse.  I’d be lying if I said she didn’t have an accident or two in those early days, but she was able to feel and see what was happening when she did.  Then, during naptime and nighttime, I would put her in Pull-Ups since they look and feel so much like underwear {and also happen to come in fun Disney characters – including Minnie!}, but they saved me the trouble of having to wash sheets when she did have the occasional accident while she slept.  Since she was still so young, her body just wasn’t developmentally ready to hold urine for 10+ hours at night, and remember I was taking the “no big deal approach” – so I didn’t push it.

I can hardly believe we are celebrating ONE YEAR of being diaper-free this fall.  As I am sitting here writing it all out, it feels like it was just yesterday. But I know that so many of you are just now embarking on this journey or have maybe even been fighting the good fight for months on end.  So for those of you out there, I encourage you to tuck away the tips and tricks above and take a deep breath. As those who are older and wiser always remind us, they won’t go to college wearing diapers..and it’s so true!

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Kelly is the founder of Houston Moms Blog and has lived in this beautiful city nearly all of her life. She has a degree in education from Texas State University and was honored to teach special education for eight years to some of the cutest little kiddos you could ever meet. While teaching, Kelly met Cody – a tall drink of water and country boy to the core – and together, they fell in love, got married, and decided to start a family. In March 2011, they welcomed Hayes into the world, a silly but smart little boy with a story you have to read to believe. And in April 2013, their family was complete with the addition of Hadley, a super gregarious and oh-so-cute baby girl. Now, Kelly devotes her days to caring for her own little ones…and would not trade this new job of hers for the world! In her not-so-spare time, Kelly loves meeting up with her girlfriends for margaritas, failing miserably at Pinterest projects, and exploring this big old city with her two favorite little side-kicks in tow.


    • Great question! The theory is that cloth diapers speed up the process since they aren’t super absorbent like disposables, so the child can feel immediately if they’ve wet themselves and are uncomfortable walking around in a wet cloth diaper. Whereas disposables soak up the urine and have a “stay dry” feeling – so the child is never able to really get that sensation of feeling wet.

  1. I used rewards for all three of my kids, usually jelly beans, 1 jelly bean for #1 and 2 for #2, all my kids were really easy to train this way, my oldest son was trained at 25 months, my daughter was 21 months and my youngest son was 23 months, just gotta make sure you introduce it early enough before they become defyant, and make it as fun as possible, do the happy dance, make up a potty song, works like a charm!!

  2. Hey Kelly, I’m just wondering if you ever used a potty or just the toilet for your daughter?

    This is so crazy my daughter is old enough to start using the potty soon! She’s growing up! 🙂

    • I used a training potty and the toilet for potty training! The potty helped for my youngest because she has little legs, haha. We also used it as a stool when we saw that school trained them on the toilet. After that, we switched to toilet only to train her how to use that. Good luck!! The most important thing is to follow their cues!

  3. Hi! So after your daughter showed an interest in using the toilet, when did you put away the diapers? My daughter has been showing an interest in using the toilet for 2 months now and goes every morning after waking up, periodically throughout the day, and before bed; but I have to take her, she doesn’t just go in on her own. I noticed last week she was going in to the bathroom and then would have a wet diaper when I got in there, so I assumed she had made the correlation and was either peeing in her diaper and then running to the bathroom or was running to the bathroom and peeing before I could help get it off… so on Friday we ditched the diapers and it has been an epic fail! We’re talking like 10% success rate best case scenario after 3 days.. do you have any suggestions? I don’t know if I should push it, back off, put her back in diapers, never mention the potty again, or what lol. I’m defeated and at a loss 🙁


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