• On (Not) Potty-Training

    07.22.2014 / personal

    caution wet floor sign

    OK, potty-training. I’m doing it wrong, for sure. Because here’s how potty-training was explained to me:

    “It’s totally no big deal. You just hunker down for three days, OK? Do it in the summer so your kid doesn’t need to wear any pants, then set the timer for every ten minutes. Give them a Skittle every time they go successfully. Done! They’ll be potty-trained in no time.”

    And then. Here’s how it worked for me:

    DAY ONE. I get really excited about the possibility of potty-training. Bee’s interested in the toilet, and I’m interested in never changing diapers again. I get overzealous and buy big girl underwear and declare THIS DAY to be day one of our potty-training adventure. I forgo the Skittles, because for Bee, flushing the toilet (whoosh!) is reward enough. She loves that thing. Also, sugar-fueled toddler and three days of hunkering don’t equate in our house.

    So, things are moving. Two successful trips to the toilet (“It’s working!” she says) and only three messes to clean up. Bee wants to go outside, but I’m terrified of bugs crawling in her… crevices? I do not understand why potty training is easier in the summer for this reason alone, so I make a note to ask my friend later. The phone rings; it’s a neighbor. She invites us to a cookout with marshmallows, so I don’t say no, obviously. Diaper on.

    DAY TWO. So now, day two is day one. We start our day with lots of messes, mostly because I’m distracted and on a deadline and I keep saying “just a sec” to the ten minute timer until twelve minutes pass and Bee pees in the dog bowl. I have to finish this email, so diaper on. I realize how much easier it is to say “Diaper On!” then the frenetic back and forth of bathroom trips and bathtub clean-ups, so we stick with the diapers for the rest of the day.

    DAY THREE. I woke up with allergies, so let’s be honest, I gave up in the first hour. Diaper on. For the duration of the day, I second-guess the decision to potty-train in the first place. I mean, she’ll learn eventually. Shouldn’t my unwavering commitment be best channeled elsewhere, like attending summer festivals and eating four million blackberries? There’s nothing life-threatening about diapers, and hey, it’s summer. Let’s coast a bit.

    And that, friends, I realize is my thing with potty-training. Unless someone is behind me on the high dive, I do not jump. And with potty-training, you have to just dive right off. You just decide to do it, whether you’re ready or not.

    Of course, here lies the life lesson for me (oh, you knew it was coming). I’ve never been entirely comfortable calling the shots or deciding what’s best for others. My gut is a confusing place to live, and my head and heart are rarely on the same page. I’m not – in most cases – one of those intuitive mothers where I just know it’s time. And as a result, so many of my parenting decisions are reactive. Like the time Bee learned to climb out of her crib and OK, now I totally understand the big girl bed thing. Let’s do it!

    But with potty-training, there’s not really anything to push you off the high dive. There’s no big moment to react from. You just sort of jump in and try, and fail a bunch, and then succeed a little. And if you’re prone to second-guessing your decisions, it’s a rough road. Am I rushing her? Will this take forever? Will it stick? Will we scar her for trying too soon? Will we scar her for attempting too late?

    Silver lining sidenote, of course: this is the part of parenting where a husband like Ken just sparkles. For any non-immediate or non-life-threatening kind of change, I’m prone to sort of float around aimlessly, waiting for a sign (neon and flashing and not at all subtle, preferably) and Ken comes sweeping in and just makes it happen. He can teach anything. He’s like, Mister Rogers in a cooler cardigan. (Who am I kidding, there is no cooler cardigan than the one Mister Rogers wears, am I right?)

    So, anyway new strategy. Potty-training 2.0, if you will. Take a cue from King Friday Ken and just make it happen. Bite the bullet and commit. Three days, right? That’s like a blip.

    I’ll let you know how it goes.

    In the mean time, how did potty-training work for you? Help a sister out!

    • It takes time! I used stickers on a chart for my boys – no sugar, and what kid doesn’t love stickers? I will admit, number one went a lot faster than number two, but there were lots of puddles on the floor (thank GOODNESS for hardwoods) before we were through. If she’s interested, let her try it out. Just keep lots of cleaning supplies on hand.

      If motherhood were easy, guys would do it. :P:P

      • Ha, thank you for the stickers tip! I’m being dramatic, but ohhhhh the patience involved. :)

    • OK, so for starters whoever said it’s “no big deal” is lying. Potty training is the absolute worst. I have a 8yo girl and a 4.5yo boy so I’ve done it twice with both genders and I hated it equally each time. We did stickers, we did character underwear, we did m&ms, blah, blah, blah whatever it sucked, it took longer than three days but then it was done.

      So after all that positive encouragement (HA!) I will say that yes, eventually she will get it and then it will be done and a distant war story memory and you will have a kid who uses the toilet like a real person and it will be glorious. :)

      • Haaaaaaa amen, Monica! Thank you for your honesty!

    • Emily

      Yes, stickers! We let our son sticker the entire bottom of the refrigerator. He was VERY proud. Yes to keeping her without pants for as long as it takes for her to start to identify the sensation before there’s a puddle on the floor. For our son, that was nearly a month. I hear that girls get it faster. Yes to positive reinforcement…within reason. We learned quickly to choose our words carefully. Hearing, “It’s okay” parroted back to you when it is decidedly NOT okay that we are cleaning up yet another puddle made us re-think our word choices. We emphasized over and over and over again that the only appropriate place for pee and poo was the potty. End of story. Instead of “It’s okay,” we said, “Ooops, that’s NOT okay. Pee-pee belongs in the potty.”

      Pee is certainly easier than poo. We had to dramatically up our game to get poo into the potty. You have to figure out what motivates your child. We bought about a dozen small diggers and lined them up on the mantle. When there was a successful poo, he got to choose one until they were gone. That plus stickers got us about 75% success rate. To get the last 25% (month 2.5…seriously, boys take longer), we used negative reinforcement and took away high value items/playtime (all things baseball related) if there was an accident. That got us to about 98%.

      Now at 4 months into potty training, he can go for 2-2.5 weeks and then there’s likely an accident. Advice: Buy the big girl underpants and let her tell you when she’s ready to wear them. Leave them in a super-accessible place. One day my son woke up, ran over to his drawer, pulled out his Thomas-the-Tank-Engine underpants and said, “These Mommy. THESE. No diapers.” And so we were potty training. I would not have chosen that time. Seriously, I would NOT have chosen that week/month. But, I was determined to meet his motivation. I had a scorched-earth policy — once he declared himself ready, no diapers during awake hours. Period. There was no going backwards. It was a new day. It didn’t matter how many loads of wash I did or how many puddles I cleaned up. I was determined not to undermine his motivation. It was NOT an easy road but it mostly seems to have worked.

      Best wishes!

      • Ohhhhh your advice is so, so helpful. Thank you for these thoughts! Bee’s already asking for her big girl version, so I suppose it’s a sign. Next week, maybe? ;)

    • jenni o

      oh boy, we are here right now too—with twin girls. I was so psyched when they were telling us *before* they pooped in their diaper—I thought, they’re ready! And then the toilet chair arrived and they were scared to death of it. They love love love the “Potty” board book, and now will at least will sit on the potty chair. So 2 steps forward, one step back over and over is the name of the game I think. I’m trying to be chill about it and wait for their inevitable urge to be like the big kids at daycare. All my experienced friends tell me NOT to rush it. I’m going to wait for the neon sign. They won’t stay in diapers forever, right?

      • Ha. You’re SO right, Jenni. This is my philosophy entirely!

    • Jennifer

      I totally get the wavering thing. Liam is only 19 months so I worry it’s too soon but his pediatrician said as long as he’s interested then go for it. Plus now we have another one of the way so only wiping one bottom would be fabulous. I’ll admit, I half-chickened out and bought pullups when really I should just go with the big-boy pants. Also we just bought new furniture so I’m a little concerned about where the..um.. sprinkler is going to go off. That’s what the Bissel is for, right? ;) I feel partially responsible for you writing this post by pestering you a few weeks ago. I’m sorry! Could you and Ken come out this direction and just potty-train mine too? I’ll buy you a whole bushel of blackberries. LOL

      • Haaaaaa, don’t feel bad in the slightest, Jennifer!!! I’m happy to hear others are wavering!!! It’s a full-on commitment, that’s for sure. :)

    • With each of mine I began putting them on the potty just before I turn on the bath water. Every night. I noticed (with my first) that she would always go just after waking up, so we added that on to the times she went. With my second, she always goes after breakfast, so I hold off after she wakes up. I would suggest you begin at least with the bath time scenario, as the water is sure to help them along. My oldest began telling me every time she had to go right away, my second will go when I put her on, and is just starting to tell me for “#2,” but not for the other. Routine helps, whatever your routine becomes, I find it works.

      • Ohhhhh I’ve heard about the bath tip! Very, very smart. :) Thank you, Jade!

    • Rachael K

      We are in no hurry at all. It’s 6 weeks until my due date and 3 weeks until little is officially two-and-a-half, and now is NOT the time for me to be changing our hygiene situation. Unless she comes up to me and says, “No more diapers, Mommy,” we are just going to give it some more time.

      • Ha – that makes so much sense! Thanks for sharing, Rachael!

    • With girls, let them train themselves! She’s such a smartie, don’t over think it. (Though Ken has this all figured out, I’m sure!) Old school grandma’s say kids should be potty trained by 2, but girlfriend, you are still in the pretty early stages. Just chill and enjoy the diaper time, especially when running off to a summer festival where there’s only port o potties. That means no public bathrooms to worry about, and that my friend is where diapers are amazing! ;-D

    • Susan

      I wait until they’re almost 3. Well, you know, the first time I started at 2. And that turned out to be a long and useless year. About the time she turned 3, like a light switch, we were done. Same with my second kid. You know all the things that were magically easier when you were old enough to really do them? Like I remember the first time I threw something toward the trash can from across the room and actually hit it. I was shocked. I was 8. And then later some class they talked about hand-eye coordination shifting at 8. That was just the time for it to happen. At 3 they understand what’s up. At 2 – just let her be interested and investigative and it’ll come together when she’s ready. Until then you might just be torturing both of you.

      • Ohhhhh YES. This makes so much sense! Thanks for the advice!!!

    • Definitely having King Friday Ken to hand is KEY!! Brilliant work. My son was three when we did the potty training – we had every excuse in the world up until then. We had been travelling to more than 20 different cities, living in more than 10 different houses, and there is definitely never a good time when you are travelling. But, when I was 35 weeks pregnant I knew it was now or… arrghhh! I didn’t want two in nappies, that’s for sure! SO we bit the bullet and did the three days at home. But we made sure we had loads of fun things to do as a family that we didn’t usually do – and instead of sweets we had bags of little toys that we could hand out for each and every wee in the potty. As a result we now have a house filled with his then favourite thing – bugs and beatles. (They still surprise and terrify me when I discover them in the places he has hidden them – under the sofa or in cupboards – as part of his archaeological adventures!!) Definitely this was the way to go. We tried stickers, but they only worked for those first three days – the toys were an immediate reward that he was super excited to get. Every child is of course so very different, so it all depends on what your brilliant negotiator decides is the winning ticket. However, what with the party potty mood in our house, the constant flow of joyful toys and our surrendering to a few days at home, we had a pretty fun time of it. After that, it’s just a matter of taking two or three changes of clothes every where you go and never ever getting them into their car seat without having first visited a toilet. Good luck and have fun (really truly, have fun – the number one rule always!.

      • Oh, these are SUUUUUUCH great tips, and Suzanne, your home sounds like SO MUCH FUN! What a great mama you are!

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