Katherine Ryan on potty training early, baby sign language and not caring what people think

Katherine Ryan On Potty Training Early, Baby Sign Language And Not Caring What People Think
Comedian Katherine Ryan (Carla Guler/PA)
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By Hannah Stephenson, PA

Some may call comedian Katherine Ryan unconventional – but her parenting techniques could be the envy of us all.

This is the woman who, as a young mother at 25, was breaking into comedy and took her then four-week-old daughter Violet to gigs with her, potty-training her at least a year before most of us even start.


Today, Ryan, 38, has two children – Violet, 12 (from a previous relationship) and  eight-month-old Fred, with her husband, Bobby Kootstra.

She recently shared on her Instagram stories how she’s trying the same early potty training technique with her youngest chid. She posted: “I hate to even write this because I know I’ll get backlash but…

“Fred reliably wees on the potty at under 8 months and we can count the amount of 2022 soiled nappies on one hand. I didn’t know whether it would work with Fred. It does. Potty train babies before they learn to go in nappies!!! They can do it!”


Here, she describes some of her more unconventional parenting skills, as charted in her new memoir, The Audacity…

How did you get Violet out of nappies when she was just 10-months-old?

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“I was definitely uneducated, inexperienced and unconventional. I just parented by intuition alone. I considered her thoughts a lot. I imagined I would feel very vulnerable to have someone else change my nappy – I wouldn’t like it. I thought, let’s just teach her not to go (in a nappy).

“If you wait a little longer, children have been trained to go in their pants and they get used to nappies. Violet was really headstrong, even as an infant. I thought, ‘She’s switched on’.

“I had the luxury of being at home or near my daughter 24/7, so as soon as she started on solid foods, I could tell by the look on her face if she needed the toilet and quickly whipped off her nappy to hold her over the potty,” she continues.


Ryan would sit Violet on the potty to read her a story first thing in the morning, which usually resulted in a wee, and do the same hourly and always before bed.

You also adopted ‘attachment parenting’ – what does that mean?

“Yes. I carried her with me everywhere. She was held for most of the day, every day,” Ryan says of when her daughter was little. “It’s a philosophy based on empathy, responsiveness, closeness and touch.”

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Did you also sign with her as a baby?

“Yeah, a lot of people are doing that now. My mother always told me that babies know what you are saying but because of their brain development, they can’t yet form sounds with the muscles in their mouth.

“But they can sign from about seven months and they will sign anything that’s meaningful to them, like ‘outside’ and ‘help’ and ‘up’ and different animals and ‘milk’ and ‘more’ and ‘finished’. They love to sign. I’ve seen loads of babies do it and I hope to do it with Fred, but I’m really relaxed. What works for Violet might not work for Fred.”

Is it like signing with a deaf person?

“You could invent it yourself but I was doing British Sign Language and it wasn’t complex. I wasn’t spelling out countries – I was just doing ‘finished’ or ‘cold’ or ‘hungry’ or ‘tired’. Certain people say, ‘Oh, does that mean they don’t talk?’ But they do because you say the words out loud as well.”

You toured with Violet when she was just three weeks old. How was that?

Katherine Ryan and daughter Violet at four-weeks-old (Katherine Ryan/PA)
Off to a gig with Violet, who was then four-weeks-old (Katherine Ryan/PA)

“I wasn’t fortunate enough to have my own tour when she was three weeks, but I took her to gigs, I was still a jobbing comedian. I would take her everywhere because she was happiest with me and I wanted her to be with me and she was breastfed. It worked for us.

“Then, when I was lucky enough to be touring under my own name in the UK, she was in reception, and I would take her with me and always book a support act who was usually a woman that we know – one of our good female comic friends like Allyson Smith or Harriet Kemsley – and they would sit with her during my time on stage. We’d stay in hotels and it was so much fun.”

How did others react to you taking her with you?

“I don’t know because I’ve never minded that much what other people think. Other comedians were really cool about it. They loved Violet’s company and she was so well behaved and fun to be around.”

So, there hasn’t been an issue with juggling motherhood and career?

“The beauty of having children when you’re 25 – which seems very young now although at the time it felt very natural to me – is that I didn’t know any better. I hadn’t been spoilt yet, I didn’t have any nice things. I never had my nails done or went for lunch with my girlfriends.

“Having Violet was like having this little small friend to come everywhere with me. Everything was challenging but in a positive way.”

Is motherhood different second time around?


“Yes. I feel like this baby, Fred, is less portable than Violet was. We have him in a routine at home, in his bed for his nap times and for his bedtime. Violet wasn’t like that. She would just sleep in the buggy when she was with me. She was very free range compared to Fred. I’m less adventurous with him.

“But in many ways it’s easier because I have my husband who is a stay-at-home dad. [He] looks after Fred and gives me loads of support. I’m already signing to Fred, even though I don’t expect him to sign back yet.”

The Audacity by Katherine Ryan is published by Blink Publishing, priced £20 hardback. Available now.

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