Does your toddler use the potty sign to escape?

How To React When Your Toddler Signs ‘Potty’ To Escape

Shortly after your toddler learns to sign ‘potty’ they’ll realise just how useful it can be!

Not only are you delighted (and you will be delighted) but you respond to them every single time they do it! To your toddler, that chest slap means both ‘potty’ and ‘get out of jail free’.

Just wrestled her into the pushchair for the school run? ‘Potty’ she signs, still screaming and straining at the straps.

Just settled him into bed after the story? ‘Potty’ he signs, pulling off the covers and heading out of the door.

Halfway through lunch and those grapes are taking a bit too long for her liking? ‘Potty! Potty! Potty!’

Fed up with being in the car seat? ‘Potty!’ you see in the rear view mirror.

Never before have they had such control – and they’re going to push their luck because, frankly, who wouldn’t?

So what do you do?

You know you need to protect the potty sign; You have to react decisively every time because you might not have much time and you want your child to know that you’ll help.

And yet – bedtime is still bedtime. It doesn’t need 10 trips to the potty in quick succession. School runs and car trips and lunch aren’t going anywhere. And you’re starting to feel like you’re being played. (Which you are – but fair play to your child, they’ve earned a few days of that!)

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5 Tips To Get That Potty Sign Back On Track

Here’s my advice on how to deal with a toddler who cries ‘potty!’:

  1. Make sure that every potty sign ends with the potty. They don’t get a free pass to escape and then beetle off to play. All escapes should only get as far as a potty (or bramble dangle or toilet or whatever). Let them run off afterwards, by all means, but don’t let them skip the potty sit altogether.

  2. Let them have their way for a few days. They understand exactly what they’re doing and this is sophisticated stuff! Enjoy watching their brain develop 😉

  3. Decide what your limits are and then apply them. I used to allow two trips to the potty at bedtime, and that was it. You might decide that one is enough. Just because they can squeeze out four drops of wee every time they sit, doesn’t mean they needed to go. Apply a bit of common sense, but also give them autonomy where you can. (If they didn’t need to lie to you to get out of bed, they wouldn’t be in this mess.)

    It’s also worth nipping in the bud because a child can become genuinely upset if they think they need to wee, but can’t. Their body is trained to try to wee when they sit on the potty, but if there’s nothing to come, it can get confused. Then they come back to bed feeling like they need to wee again even though there’s nothing left. You’ll know if this is happening to your child, because they’ll be upset and anxious. If they’re having a riot of a time upping and downing to the bathroom, you’ve no need to worry.

  4. Always give them the benefit of the doubt. If you’re not sure whether this is an escape or a genuine request – treat it as genuine. If you get hoodwinked, so be it. Chuckle to yourself and move on.
  5. Improve their signing vocab! Give them lots of other signs to use so that they can ask for your attention in many different ways.

    If they’re saying ‘potty’ to leave the table and get a story – teach them to sign ‘finished’ and ‘book’ instead. You’ll still honor their request, but it’s less of a panic and everyone knows where they stand.

Ready, Steady, Sign!

Signing ‘potty’ is conceptually difficult. Recognising what’s going on, making eye contact with you, doing the sign – it’s tricky stuff. Even if your toddler isn’t signing in advance of their wee or poo, they’re still showing pretty advanced communication skills.

Throw as many signs at them as you can handle!

They already know that signs are language – they’ll pick them up as fast as their dexterity allows.

This book saw 7 years of solid use. Then it fell apart.

This was our favourite book for animal signs. It saw SEVEN YEARS of solid use (mostly on the potty) with my four kids. Then it fell apart.

Once you get into the swing of it, you sign something once and your toddler will pick it up and start using it immediately. But, in the early days, you need to be more consistent with your signing – and that’s where signing your way through books can be very helpful.

For example:

  1. Learn the sign for book. (Flat hands, palms together, open your hands like a book. It’s a mime, basically.)

  2. Sign ‘book’ every time you say the word ‘book’.

  3. Say ‘book’ every time your toddler attempts to sign ‘book’ because you’re their voice. Let them know they’ve been ‘heard’ by repeating their message back to them.

  4. Pick a book with lots of animals and youtube the signs for all of them.

  5. Read that book on the potty and practice signing with your child.

  6. Then, when you’re out and about, spot the animals from the book (on posters, on t-shirts, in real life) and point them out to your child using the signs you both know.

That should get you up and running!

More Resources

Watch these videos to find out:

In Summary

In America, they call baby-led potty training ‘elimination communication’. The communication side can be so much more than simply talking about potties.

Run with it – and enjoy every minute!

Good luck!


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The Comments: Your Turn!

You know more people read the comments than the article, right? Get stuck in!

  1. You wrote really the truth. I have seen when I use potty for my baby then she feels bad, she wants to escape from the potty in few’s really bad feeling for my baby. After reading your post I knew what’s the matter.
    Thanks for your good informational Post.

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