Emily Oster

2 min Read Emily Oster

Emily Oster

What Method of Potty Training Should I Use?

Q&A on what works fastest

Emily Oster

2 min Read

I know, from your prior posts, that one of the things that impacts potty training is the age of the child. But what impact, if any, does the method have? Is there an effective alternative to having my toddler run around without a diaper for a few days? It seems like everything I read recommends this, but I just can’t wrap my head around the possibility of my toddler peeing (or worse, pooping) on my floor/furniture/etc.

—Potty Paranoid

When I wrote about this in Cribsheet, I started with the statement “There is virtually no data on which method works better.” There was one study of 20 children at a child-care center that compared various interventions (using underwear, making the child sit on the toilet, rewards) and found that none worked especially better than the other. A second study of 39 children in the U.K. showed some efficacy of a “wetting alarm,” which alerted the child with an alarm when they peed. I don’t know where you’d get one of these, although I guess your screams when they pee on the floor would be a form of alarm.

The one randomized trial I found at the time suggested that taking an intensive approach — something like the “take their diaper away” — was slightly faster than just encouraging them, but this study is old and small.

I was curious if anything had changed since Cribsheet was published. Turns out, no, it hasn’t. I found this 2019 paper, which says, “Parents should be counseled that no training method is superior to another.” It goes on to say that parents should use whatever system works for them.

I did find one trial of a program in a child-care center that used intensive child and parent training and showed faster success than without it. But this is more about getting child-care and home practices on the same page than it is about some particular method.

Bottom line: there is not one right data-based method. If you do not want to let your child pee on your floor, you can do a more pull-ups-based approach. Or wait for the summer, take off their pants, and let them spend the day outside.

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