1. WAIT UNTIL THEY ARE READY
I know my kid. Potty training may scare you, but don’t let it scare you away from that one truth. My kid was going to do this his way, no doubt about it, and all the gimmicks and begging and pleading didn’t fix that. You can’t force them to do this if they don’t want to. Hell, that’s why it’s so frightening! They will poop all over your house if they want to. They will learn to take off their diaper if need be. I hate potty training.
Anyway, I did buy a little froggy potty ages ago, when Ben was about a year and a half. He actually started using it, wearing underwear, making it without an accident! I was totally blown away. But then he decided that wasn’t fun anymore and the show was over. He knew what to do and how to do it but he just didn’t feel like it. We did a few stops and starts between then and now (he will be three in a month) and they never stuck. I kept it under a day to feel him out each time. I wasn’t ever going to tell him he couldn’t use the potty. I didn’t want to set that precedent. But if it didn’t look like it was a go, I put a diaper back on him and just moved on with my life. I wasn’t going to deal with a half-hearted process that lasted over a year. It was a go, or it was a no-go. Forget the in-between. I was ready to wait until he was nearly four, if it would make the process easier.
2. Haha, Just Kidding. MAKE THEM DO IT!
Oh, wait, never mind. We found a preschool that was within our price range. A miracle in California for anyone who makes under a million dollars! Just kidding. Sort of. But to go, he needed to be potty trained. Which, at three, was not really asking a lot. So, that was it. We didn’t wait for him to decide. We pulled out froggy potty, whipped out the underwear we had bought awhile back (get LOTS) and got started. I think I started after nap. It was good to only have to do half a day at first. And he loved it of course, for like two stinkin’ minutes. Then that was over and on day two he was totally done.
He stopped peeing, pooping, anything. He threw tantrums, he had accidents every single time he had to go, it was terrible. I totally lost it on him, I was the WHAT NOT TO DO person, completely. If BabyCenter had seen me, they’d think he was scarred for life. I wouldn’t let him off the potty, he could see I was angry, so I was honest about it. I took some breaks so I wouldn’t yell at him but it was pretty clear that this was a power struggle. I put him in a diaper. I apologized for being such a stress case (in toddler language) and I put him down for a nap and took a time out.
I googled this thing to death and all I could find was, “If they’re not ready, they’re not ready. DON’T be a big bad mommy jerk like you’re being and throw in the towel already. Relax and give it up, let him lead you, wait until he decides, etc.” Well, trust me, I didn’t want to be in this mess at all, but where was the, “He is totally ready and I have to send him to preschool, which, come on, will make him deliriously happy, he is just being a punk, does not have the mental capacity for forethought at this age and we need to get past this roadblock!” advice??
So. When he woke up, I kept calm. I was kind, I was validating. Most important, both of us were rested. I stopped withholding his favorite things and using them as rewards and I decided to ignore any kind of structure. But I did not put a diaper on him and made him wear the underwear. He threw a tantrum, but no diapers were to be had (during wake time at least). I was quiet, loving, and firm. There were still more accidents, and I just kept trying to keep it together and reminded him to stop and go to the potty when he had to go. And so we muscled on.
3. BE CONSISTENT
When he goes three times in a row, I get tired of hand-washing, too. And he hates it to begin with. But kids are gross, bathrooms are gross and he is going to get the “go back and do it” response at preschool, so every single time, I make him do it. I know this seems obvious, but I’m telling you, he latched onto hand washing and made it into a big ordeal. Three weeks later, the peeing and pooping in the toilet by himself part is easy, but he will destroy the bathroom unless I am there watching him wash his hands. I drives me crazy.
But I also realized early on, that this was a lot for him. He had a lot of steps to learn, plus body cues and it was just plain overwhelming. We spent an entire hour taking each of his toys to the potty and going through the motions (his idea). I was so over it after toy number three but I tried to soldier on as long as I could, because he was trying to commit the routine to memory and needed help. Plus he thought it was fun, and when something about potty training is fun for your child, you put on your big kid panties and play along. Also helpful for cementing the routine was the Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood (PBS) song about going to the potty. Google it. It’s helpful. Ben sings it constantly, especially to himself while he’s in the bathroom.
4. APPEAL TO THEIR INDEPENDENCE… unless they hate independence.
Early on, I talked about how great it will be when one day he will be able to just go potty and wash his hands, really quick and need no help from anyone. Someday there will be no diaper changes and we won’t be looking over his shoulder and how fun will that be, buddy?! For both of us. But really, I think the independence part of it is only just starting to dawn on him. I try to make it a big deal, that he can go all by himself and Baby Sister can’t follow him in there (shut the door, dude), and that whole aspect. Now he goes by himself, aside from the hand washing debacle. Sometimes he will do that, too and then I just feel like YAY! But that’s rare. Lately he is obsessed with going in our bathroom (joy) mostly because there is no stool or seat on it, and so he needs our help and gets our full attention while he is in there. It’s sort of a treat, because if I am busy with the baby, forget it, he is going in his bathroom where he doesn’t need the help. I still get the feeling that he would give up the joy of doing it himself just for my undivided attention. Why can’t my kids enjoy independence? Maybe he just hasn’t truly hit three yet. He still begs me to feed him his breakfast.
5. MAKE IT EASIER ON YOU
When I say he goes by himself, that is once I take his pants and underwear off. He can’t seem to quite manage the pulling up and down and maneuvering onto the potty with that stuff around his ankles. I figured that could be another level, and just started taking them completely off in the living room, sending him to the potty, and then putting them back on when he was done. Because it was easier. It would have been even easier if he used the little froggy potty at home, but he insists on sitting on the big potty.
We didn’t go out much for like two weeks. It was pretty stifling, but oh, so much easier for all of us.
He has been getting the hang of this whole thing lately and has even started asking to go when he already has a diaper on for bedtime. After originally saying I was going to use the diapers we had and forget the fancy, expensive pull-ups, I am over it. We went out and bought those fancy things and it’s great. I think it might even help him figure out the pulling up and down thing. Shocker.
We take the froggy potty with us everywhere. I have yet to try to deal with him in a public potty. Froggy stays in the back of our van, or it fits in the back of our double stroller, and we whip it out whenever necessary. I throw pee covertly in the bushes, I wipe it out again. Someday we will have to graduate to a public bathroom scenario, but I’m not doing it now.
This photo was taken in the children’s section of the San Francisco Zoo. After he pooped in his pants. We had an entire wardrobe with us, though, and plenty of wipes. It all worked out.
He also loves peeing in the bushes in the yard (fine, do it) and peeing in the bushes when we are in road trips (I hide him behind the van and let him at it). It’s the only time I let him go standing up. Now of course, he would rather go in the yard then on the potty. I just do whatever is easiest. There will be plenty of time for additional boundaries. This is the trenches, I do what I have to do to keep my sanity.
6. YOU MIGHT SCREW IT UP
We started training right before our weekend trip and we delivered Ben to his grandparents with underwear and the froggy potty and I was greeted by a blank, bewildered Grandma. After lots of thank-yous and encouraging smiles and more thank-yous, we were leaving and I turned to my husband.
“You didn’t even tell them?!” He, in all truthfulness, responded that he hadn’t gotten a chance. Potty training, plus the baby, had us occupied around the clock. They were amazing and just soldiered on. We see them so often that it wasn’t like they were going to escape the potty training frenzy, but still. A warning would have been a start. We owe them for that one.
I’ve already told you that I got angry, and frustrated, and snappy, and punished and put him on time outs and told him he couldn’t have his milk, right? We got through it.
I still just want to break glass when I find that he has been using the sink as a swimming pool and still his hands aren’t washed, but we get through it.
Speaking of the baby, potty training is so absorbing that I nearly forget I have another child until she comes sliding into the bathroom on her belly, and reaches up and pulls everything out of the trashcan. Or until Ben pees all over the bathroom at the preschool, and I have to figure out how to clean it up with an enormous baby strapped to my chest. And then pretend I’m not so exhausted from this whole draining adventure that I just want to cry. We get through it.
How? I just start over trying to be the mom I want to be every time I’m not. Which is plenty.
7. BRIBERY IS ENCOURAGED
I really enjoyed reading most of Punished By Rewards by Alfie Kohn. It’s a brilliant read. I would have read the rest if not for, you know, life. And other people who are skeptical of our punishment and reward cultural machine, worry about potty training. Basically that moment when we fall to our knees and promise our toddler that he can drive the car if he will just put it in the potty for Gods sake!!! But even Alfie Kohn understands. He mentioned potty training in his book and declared it exempt. Bribe the hell out of them, basically.
That being said, my toddler will not be bribed. The little stinker doesn’t care for enticement or withholding. It just has no effect. If I withhold milk (his favorite thing above all things) he will simply make my life unlivable, become dehydrated and then easily quit peeing and pooping anyway. If I offer him chocolate cake as a reward, he will eat it up gleefully after one victory, and then calmly decline after the next. Maddening. If your toddler responds to bribery, you have my earnest congratulations and a life of prosperity ahead of you.
8. ITS ALL MAGIC ANYWAYS
All this to say: I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m telling you, I’ve been here the whole time and I still don’t quite know how it happened. He’s going, he stopped having accidents, I never have to remind him (in fact, he gets extremely miffed if I even ask) and he is even dry through some naps, although he still wears a diaper just in case. This wasn’t in two days, or three, it has been three weeks. I can tell you in this list what I remember, but when we crossed the threshold from “I hate this, it will never happen” to “I almost don’t mind this at all”, I can’t tell you. We are just here suddenly, and I know that next month, when he starts preschool, it will be fine. He won’t have to overthink it and he will know what to do and he can focus on school and new friends instead of all of it at once. And that, is worth it all. But all the methods and the techniques and the tricks and gimmicks didn’t seem to do much. The one thing I remember helping a lot was knowing in my gut that he was ready, and not just giving in when it got hard. But seriously, it still feels like magic to me.