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So I begin this blog post by letting you know that I am not a potty training “expert.” While I do have a lot of experience with children – both working in a childcare facility and with my own, I have only successfully potty trained TWO humans – the ones I gave birth to. I also understand very well the old adage that “every child is different,” so I realize that what worked for my household will not work for everyone. That said, I am often asked how on earth I potty trained my [very different] boys so quickly, so I thought I would just give a quick overview of what worked for us. I hope some of these tips work for you, too!
First off, I highly recommend going in with a plan. It’s funny, because Parents magazine recently published an article with tips from a highly educated pediatric urologist, including not giving your child any “deadlines, pressure, or expectations.” Now I’m not discounting the experience of this obviously super-smart doctor, but this made me roll my eyes. As far as deadlines, we have those anyway, whether we tell the child or not. Many day care facilities hold children in a younger room until they’re potty trained. And certainly when a child begins school he or she needs to be fully potty trained to participate fully in the activities of a schoolday. What about pressure and expectations? For one thing, I don’t like the connotation used in the article. Like, ooohhh, pressure and expectation, the boogeymen of parenting. Since when is it a bad thing to set forth expectations? It doesn’t have to be a bad thing. As parents, there are certain things we expect from our children in exchange for, you know, keeping them alive for 18 years. Potty training – at the right time, with a lot of help and encouragement – is something we expect. Nothing wrong with that.
I am always really surprised when I talk to someone with kids about my boys’ ages and I ask, “So what method are you using to potty train?” and they respond, “Oh, nothing really, just putting him on the potty sometimes,” or something equally vague. If you go into the process of potty training with a not-really-sure-what-we’re-doing attitude, that’s exactly what you’ll get from your child. You know your child better than anyone on the planet. Read a few books, do some google searches, and come up with a plan of action that you know your child will really grab onto. M&M’s as rewards? A sticker for a poop? A pizza dinner for a successful day of no accidents? Prepare for lots and lots of encouragement. LOTS AND LOTS. When it comes to potty training – and I think all kids are alike in this – encouragement is everything. Even when he or she has an accident, set up encouragement for the next potty trip. More on that later.
I checked out several books from our library when we started with Boy #1 at 30 months. And I bought one e-book that really grabbed my attention and seemed to best match my parenting style and our household’s routine/capabilities, called Oh Crap! Potty Training by Jamie Glowacki. She’s witty and sharp and snarky and she curses. Even if cursing isn’t your thing, I highly recommend you give this book a shot. Her advice, method, and tips were gold in our family. We cobbled together our own “method” from this book as well as random tips I found online. And that’s the way it should be – you know what will work for your child and your family, so you make the plan.
What potty will you use? We went with the Baby Bjorn, but later I found this Summer Infant potty for way less money, and it’s just as good! The basis for my decisions was selecting the most PLAIN potty out there. A potty is not a toy. It does not need songs and music and buttons. It’s to poop and pee in; that’s it. Additionally, I do not care for the old advice out there to “put the potty out so your child can get used to it.” I just don’t understand that. Your kid’s seen your toilets all around the house, right? Same thing.
The first, and perhaps most obvious, step in potty training is recognizing the signs that your child is ready to go on the potty. For mine, I put a lot of stock in the “privacy” they began to crave when it was time to go. Hiding behind furniture or going off to a corner to poop are telltale signs that your child may be ready to begin potty training. Want privacy? Why not go on this wonderful potty I bought you?! Beyond that, it is a basic human need and desire to have clean underpants. Don’t laugh, I’m serious! Once your child realizes that having poop against her behind is not pleasant in any way, she’ll be ready to try to dispose of it in another way.
For the first three days of potty training, we did 100% naked days. From wake-up to bedtime, each kid was nude around the house all day. I asked every 15-20 minutes if he had to pee, or poop. I placed him on the potty at random intervals just in case. I gave out lots of sippy cups with water, milk, or juice. After a while, I would just sit him on the potty randomly. The golden moment is when he pees in the potty for the first time – really super-duper encourage that moment. Throw a ticker-tape parade, order a pizza, call the President. Make a big deal out of this moment. He now knows what it feels like to relieve himself and still be clean. This is monumental!
Some say that it’s impossible for their family to do this for three days. Maybe both parents work or it’s a single-parent home. If this approach doesn’t work for you, find something else. This is just what worked for us. And we started with both on holidays or pre-planned 3-day weekends so we could trade off potty-watch duties. For those three days, have lots of activities planned at the house and just bug the holy crap out of your child about going to the potty. Make a big to-do when he goes. Catch him if he starts randomly peeing and run him to the potty. Go outside! What a great place to deal with “accidents.”
It turned out that Boy #1 had pretty much no idea what I was trying to do with him (at 31 months), and after two days of total chaos, we went back to diapers for the time being. The weekend of his third birthday, we began again – to overwhelming success. With Boy #2 we were right on target, I think because I was more prepared to look for the signs. My boys were and are very different personality-wise, and that certainly applied to potty training as well. Boy #2 was potty trained, day and night, in two days at 31 months. He had two poop accidents – one of those being when he was ill so he couldn’t really control it. That’s it.
Boy #1 was very, very afraid to poop in the potty. It turns out that this is common, but I had no idea. He would poop in the potty, but he would cry and scream and be totally inconsolable for half an hour afterward. It was really torturous for us all, but I knew he was ready, so I pressed on. I did not get angry with him or punish him in any way, I just waited for it and comforted him. I praised him for the amazing job he was doing and cheered and clapped for every poop, even though he was upset. It took about four weeks for him to be okay with pooping in the potty, and that may have been the longest four weeks of my life. He had a lot of “accidents” – which I put in quotation marks because he knew what he was doing in avoiding the potty.
This brings me to two pieces of advice I’d like to offer you:
1. Don’t ever – ever – punish your child for an accident. Ever. If you’re frustrated with the process, ask another adult to step in for an hour. Put your child in a safe place and step outside for five minutes of fresh air. We all understand being frustrated. But punishing your child with a raised voice or, worse, physical punishment, sets him up to be scared of this whole process. This is an experiment in physiology – nothing more, nothing less.
2. That said, don’t say, “It’s okay” when your child has an accident. I loved this piece of advice, and I tried to get my husband in on this as well. When your child has an accident, choose your words very carefully. I would say, “Oh no! An accident. Well, you’ll make it to the potty next time.” “Oh darn! Let’s get you cleaned up. Remember where poop goes?” I did not say, “That’s okay,” because it’s not okay. Do you understand what I mean? It’s a fine line between using verbiage that sounds like punishment, and saying, “Oh that’s okay!” Make sure she doesn’t feel ashamed or guilty, but don’t make it sound like she can pee all over your kitchen floor whenever she wants.
Be consistent. Don’t go back and forth between underwear and diapers. This weighed heavily in my decision not to use the pull-up style of diapers. “Training pants,” they call them. In the method we used, the boys went from naked, to commando (no undies, comfortable cotton shorts), to underwear. If your child is wearing something against his skin, it feels like a diaper, and he’s liable to just pee randomly. Think about it. This is a whole new experience. It has to feel different. And, unless you’re just totally sure that you’ve misjudged the appropriate time and you’re going to go back to diapers for a while, don’t ever, ever, switch back and forth from diapers to undies. If you’re pressing through accidents, go for it. If you have a day care provider, make sure they’re on board. Send plenty of changes of clothes. But once you’ve made the switch to potty training, make the switch. Don’t confuse your child by “just wearing a diaper for today.”
Night-time routine was a toss-up for us, so I don’t have a lot of helpful advice to give there. 🙂 For Boy #1, we put him in pull-up training pants for about 4 months, thinking he was not able to hold his pee all night. One day we felt froggy so we let him go without anything on his bottom half, waterproof mattress cover in place. He ended up having a couple of accidents, but we wondered in the end how much earlier we could have done that! When we trained Boy #2, he did so well that we thought, hey, why not just go straight to night-time nudity? We did, and he had not one accident in his bed. Ever. I’m telling you, that was luck. I won’t even brag, because I know we were just blessed with that one. My best wishes that you also get an easy-to-train one at least once in your parenting journey!
These are the tips that worked for us. Please, go out and grab some books on potty training. If something doesn’t feel right, toss it. If it does, read more. Google. Ask parent friends who have households similar to yours, or kids with personalities similar to your child’s. Also ask advice from parents who are not like you – you could learn from each other! Cobble together the advice and tricks that you know will work best for your child and your household. As great as other parents and authors are, they don’t live in your house.