I am past my days of potty training.
(Let me just say that again, and this time I’ll sing it and do a little jig.)
I AM PAST MY DAYS OF POTTY TRAINING.
Before these days get any further behind me, I thought I should write down everything I learned about this most glamorous parenting task. If nothing else, I want to be able to show it to my own children when they come to me 20 years from now, frustrated that little Shannon Junior isn’t complying with their potty demands. I will give them a gentle hug, point them to this post, and then walk away, smirking (just an bit) when I think of all the carpet cleaning bills I’ve paid over the last decade.
But I also want to write this down because I remember how hard a job it is. Potty training can be overwhelming, and even when it’s going well, there are setbacks. If YOU are a potty training momma, then Honey, you just get yourself a Diet Coke and come sit next to me. Let me tell you what I’ve learned.
1. Don’t do it until they’re ready.
Every resource on this subject is in agreement: wait until they’re ready. The trick is in defining "ready". I’m in the camp that thinks "ready" means they are fully communicative, initiating interest, understanding of cause-and-effect, and willing. In fact, only partly in jest, I decided I wouldn’t potty train my last child until she ASKED me to. And you know what? She basically did. Just after her third birthday. No months of tears and pleading and anxiety. Just…done.
I know some parents are eager to get going on the process because diapers are so much trouble. But I will assure you that months upon months of accidents and tears and frustration are way more trouble than diapers. This isn’t a race. If your child is potty trained at 18 months, you don’t get a medal. Further, pushing a child before he’s ready will lead to starts and stops in the process, and this just sends him a confusing message. He wonders if you’re really serious about all this pee-pee business. Which leads me to my next point…
2. Don’t do it until YOU’RE ready.
This is a big committment of your time, energy and sanity. Gear up for it. Look ahead at your calendar and block off some time for it. And DON’T START IT UNTIL YOU AND YOUR CHILD ARE READY TO FINISH IT. Be absolutely certain of your child’s readiness, and then be done. Again, false starts are very confusing to a toddler.
3. Treat them like big kids.
I recently saw a mom lean down to her little two-year-old and say (in her best baby voice) "Wittle sweetie want to go poo-poo on da potty?" That seems a little counter-productive to me.
Potty training is about more than just using the potty–it’s a big milestone in a child’s life. Use this as a chance to celebrate their growing up. Very often when you treat a child as if he’s older, he’ll start acting as if he’s older.
As part of your training, encourage your child to do as much as they can for themselves. A three year old can wipe herself, pull up her pants, and wash her hands (with supervision, of course). This is a great chance to encourage independence.
4. The specifics are up to you.
There are a dozens of "systems" out there to help you train your kid. Some of them make more sense than others. Don’t get suckered in to thinking that you MUST try such-and-such method because it ALWAYS works. It’s just not that simple. Educate yourself on the various methods, and find one that best fits with your parenting style. Let me say this just as clearly as I can: as with most parenting issues, there is seldom a "one-size-fits-all" approach. Every child, every family, every situation has specific things to consider. Look critically at any particular potty-training "system", and make a choice that suits your entire family.
For what it’s worth, around here we just took the naked-from-the-waist-down approach. We let them run around like that all day (usually when it was warm outside–thank goodness for privacy fences). Especially with boys, I think that having that visual is helpful: "Let’s see, I’m feeling a sensation and then, woop! Lookie there…"
5. Keep it positive.
Of course, if you can keep things lighthearted and funny, your kids are less likely to feel anxious. I made up a ridiculous "tinkle dance" that I would perform only when my daughter had a success. I looked like an idiot, but she and I laughed together heartily. It was a good reward for her, and it was good stress relief for me.
That said, I don’t think it’s wrong to use some gentle but matter-of-fact observations to urge them along, especially with older toddlers. In our house, when potty training time came close, I stopped calling them "diapers" and started referring to them as "little diapers". There was no mocking, no disdain, just matter-of-factly: "Honey, come here so we can put on your little diaper." It proved to be a good verbal cue for them that diapers are for little kids, undies are for big ones. It seemed to be an effective way for them to ingest the lesson without my harping on it.
6. Don’t sweat the nighttime potty training.
It’s a different creature altogether. I’ve read that a child will take six months longer to stay dry at night. In my experience, that number is low. Plan for a year, don’t panic if it’s two, and be pleasantly surprised if it’s less.
7. What about regressions? Or really stubborn kids?
This is the worst, and it happened to me. My second child seemed ready at a young age (right at 2). I jumped at the chance, seemed to be making great headway, and then suddenly he regressed right back to the beginning of the process. In my case, I think we had simply jumped the gun too early. We stopped, went back to diapers, and then tried again closer to his 3rd birthday. Then? It was a non-event.
As for the stubborn kid, I had one of these too. It’s not the end of the world. If your child is over three and isn’t yet trained, take a deep breath. She is old enough that, chances are, she’s going to start feeling the social pressure from her little potty-trained peers soon. (If she doesn’t have potty-trained peers, FIND SOME. Schedule a play date with a pottying friend, and when you see the friend dash off to the bathroom with her mom, applaud that little potty-er! Your child will pick up on your praise, and she’ll want it for herself.)
And, along the theme of using potty-training as a chance to celebrate growing up and independence, here’s another great idea: find a special "big kid" privilege (non-potty-related) and tell your kid your saving it for the day when he’s BIG! For example, you could choose chewing gum, or being able to drink a soda at a restaurant, or getting a bicycle with training wheels, or watching a certain "special" cartoon–whatever it is, communicate to your child that "This is a special big-kid privilege. When you’re going to the potty like a big boy, you will also get to [insert special treat here]." Creating milestones is a good thing!
8. Don’t compare yourself–or your kid–to others.
I cannot stress this enough. Maybe your cousin’s plumber’s next-door neighbor had a child who could use the potty at 11 months. Good for them. You have absolutely no idea what their circumstances are, and there are a million factors to consider. Maybe they are an unusually compliant kid, or an especially communicative one. Maybe they have older siblings they’re trying to emulate. Maybe the mom has some extra help. Maybe little green martians came down from Mars and implanted a potty-training chip in the child’s brain. (Hee. Just wondering if you were still reading.)
You’re the mom of your child. That’s the one that is your responsibility. No one else’s particular set of circumstances matter–only yours. Use this as a chance to build your child up, both to his face and behind his back. If your mother-in-law or your best friend are giving you grief for pottying issues, just smile and say firmly, "You know what? He’s a great kid, and a smart one. He’ll get this when he’s ready. I believe in him." No one can really argue with that.
9. Limit the use of disposable training pants.
Sometimes you will have to use them–there’s just no way around it. But while you’re in the middle of training, steer away from them as best you can. They look and feel too much like diapers, and that’s bound be to be confusing to a toddler. If you must leave the house–if you can possibly bear the thought–pack an extra change of clothes and just be prepared for wet pants! A grocery-store accident actually might be a real motivator for your child, if they want to avoid that in the future.
10. (And I almost forgot this one, but many thanks to Stretch Mark Mama for reminding me) I’m not a fan of the potty chair.
My advice? Go straight for the big potty and skip the potty chairs altogether. Little potty chairs are cute, but they aren’t real potties. And if your little guy only uses a potty chair but REFUSES the real deal, then that means you cannot leave your house. And I am a fan of leaving the house.
The bottom line is that they really WILL get it. And I know, it drove me nuts when older moms would say, "Oh, don’t worry about it. You never see a kindergartener in diapers." I just growled inwardly and knew that, oh yes, MY kindergartener very likely WOULD be in diapers.
But the reason you hear that from moms is that it’s true. It’s hard to believe when you’re in the hardest part, but they really will get it. If you’ve been at it for weeks and weeks with little success and constant setbacks, then maybe it’s just not your time. Better to pack it away and make a fresh start in a few months, rather than creating endless battles with your child and make yourself crazy.
Go easy on yourself. Your kid can do this. You can do this.