My kids eat dog food. They break into Mommy’s make-up bag and put mascara on their toes. I have caught my daughter pooping in my shoe and later peeing on her daddy’s foot–on purpose. My kids write on the walls and the floor with crayons and markers, and they spray bathroom cleaner in their faces. My daughter washes her hands in the toilet bowl with liquid soap, and my son rolls his three-month-old sister across the floor as if she’s a watermelon. I write cheesy titles for my blog posts. And my two kids are potty-trained.
Despite having me for a mother and whatever genes make them do the weird things they do every day, they managed to learn how to use the potty, and relatively early for that matter. My son was potty-trained a few months after he turned two, and my daughter a little before she turned two. Now, I am not an expert at anything (except for maybe creating an environment that encourages strange behavior in children), but I feel fairly certain that if my kids can learn how to use the potty, yours can, too!
There are a lot of books and videos out there that make promises to have your child house-broken, I mean, potty-trained in a certain amount of time. One week! Three days! One day! Well, I wasn’t so optimistic. However, if you’re in a time-crunch, pay your $30 to these experts, and let me know how it goes. As I said before, I’m not an expert, and I really don’t know anything. Therefore, I’m not going to charge you $30 to read this blog post, but I will give you some free advice based on my experience–the 3 R’s: Readiness, Resolve, and Reward
Without paying $30 for a book, I had somehow learned that children will show signs when they are ready to potty train. Both of my children began showing signs around 18-months. My son and my daughter had a great interest in the toilet, especially flushing it. They would let me know when they had wet or soiled their diapers, and sometimes, they would alert me when they needed to go to the potty. They would sit on the training potty in the bathroom before bath time, and many times, they would go. Before beginning any training with my kids, I had a pretty good idea that they had an interest in the topic they were about to study.
Whether your child is ready at 18-months or two-and-a-half years doesn’t matter. However, when they show signs of readiness, go for it. Sure, you can just wait until your child is three and possibly have a really easy time (although, I wouldn’t risk it. I don’t know what happens if you delay training past your child’s readiness!), but why would you? Stop paying for diapers, and train your kid! However, don’t force potty training on your child so that your kid looks smarter than those in your play group. You’ll just end up frustrating your child, possibly delaying his or her potty training, and frustrating yourself. Remember–just like the developmental milestones we all watched for when our kids were babies, all children develop at their own individual rates.
Okay, you’ve decided that your kiddo is ready to dump the diapers. Now what? Take a deep breath, get down on your knees, and repeat this prayer: “Dear Lord, Grant me the strength to make it through this next phase of my child’s life, the endurance to see his training to the end, and the stomach to handle all the poop and pee I will have to clean up off the floor, walls, and wherever else my child sees fit to leave his mark. Amen.”
Potty training is frustrating, and in no way, fun (although, there are many memorable and even cute moments), so you have to decide that you will not give up. Trial and error is a part of any adventure upon which you embark, but my hope is that my experiences will eliminate some of your errors and give you some strategies to use.
I had dabbled with the idea of training my son before he was two, but right around the time he was really ready to train, I had to go back to work full-time for a brief period as a teacher. I, therefore, chose to wait until summer break to fully embrace potty training. By this point, he was already aware of the concept of potty training and, probably, a little bored with the idea since I would quasi-train him and then back off. Having started this way probably delayed us a little bit. However, when I was 100% mentally ready to give it a go and not quit, I started when I knew we would be home for about three days straight, and I had my son ditch the diaper and Pull-Ups for good. He was allowed to sleep in Pull-Ups at night, but during the day, he ran around with a naked hiney.
I moved his potty onto the hardwood floor by his playroom, and I showed it to him. “If you have to pee-pee or poo-poo, go here,” I instructed him. Then I backed off and watched him. I did not ask him if he needed to go to the potty every five minutes because I didn’t want to aggravate him. Trust me–if I had told my son I wanted him to go to the potty, he wouldn’t have. It needed to be his idea. If he had an accident, I would hand him a paper towel to clean it up. I wouldn’t scold him, but I would remind him of where to put his business. Eventually, he figured it out. Was this part of the training a little gross? Yes. Did it work? Yes.
Two examples from which to learn: 1. I was afraid to take Caleb in public in his underpants, so I would give him a Pull-Up. Big mistake. How confusing of a message! It was like I was telling him, “I want you to go to the potty, but I am going to put a diaper on you. Even though for two years you have worn some sort of diaper and peed in it with no consequence, you are not allowed to do that anymore. I know you know that you can pee-pee in your Pull-Up, and the pee-pee will stay in there and not run down your legs, but, please, don’t do it.” I kid you not, the day I decided Caleb would wear his underpants out of the house was the day potty training sunk in for good.
2. I let Caleb run around the house naked for too long. After about two days of having no accidents while being bare-bottomed, I should have made the move to underwear. I almost had to retrain my son because he was so used to relieving himself without having to pull anything up or down. I remembered this mistake when I trained my daughter, and the transition from bare hiney to covered hiney was much easier.
I trained my daughter in much the same manner with one main exception–I took her to the potty every thirty minutes to an hour at first. She was 18-months-old when we tried potty training, and she was not making the connection between the pee running down her legs on the carpet and the pee that was supposed to go in the potty. After going with my help a few times, she began to make the connection on her own. With Caleb, I let him go on his own; with Hannah Grace, I took her to the potty. You know your child and his/her cognitive ability at the point you begin training. Try the method you think will work better, and then try the other if the first one didn’t work. If neither works, pay $30 for one of the potty training books. They’re the experts–not me!
My daughter did regress when her sister was born because she decided she was neither going to go to the bathroom with relatives, and when I came home from the hospital, nor with me. I didn’t push her. She was only 20-months-old, and I didn’t have the desire to monitor her toilet use while breastfeeding a newborn, so we gave it a rest for a while. Eventually, she decided she wanted to use the potty again. At that point, we ditched the diapers again and resumed training. Remember the first point about readiness–if your child is not ready, potty training will not be successful.
One final word on resolve–you have to decide that your child is going to be successful. Be consistent. If one minute your kid is in underpants but the next in a diaper because you don’t feel like dealing with a potential accident, you are going to delay potty training. Have an extra pair of undies and pants packed in your kid’s favorite backpack. Have your sweetie take those essentials every time you all get in the car. Sure, it’s inconvenient to clean up your kid after an accident, but it’s also inconvenient to change diapers for three years. And if you know you have a zillion places to go in the next couple of days, or a vacation to take, or a baby to have, don’t start potty-training!
Most likely, your kid doesn’t care if he’s potty-trained by two-and-a-half, but he probably likes candy. Even if you’re a health-nut like me (or especially if you are), give your child a good reward every time he or she goes to the potty. I tried stickers, but they weren’t nearly as exciting as candy, and my kids just stuck them all over the floor. Then I lightened up. One M&M for a successful pee in the potty and two for a poop were not going to set my kids on the path to an overweight adulthood.
The reward you choose doesn’t matter, but giving it consistently does! Praise your kids up and down! Sing silly songs! Have fun (or at least try)! Going to the potty is a big deal, a HUGE step toward graduating from baby to big boy or big girl. Celebrate with your child, and he’ll be more likely to want to go to the potty. You’ll also get a kick out of how much affirmation you get when you go to the bathroom. One of my favorite memories is when my daughter came in while I was using the bathroom. She excitedly proclaimed, “Yea, Mommy! I’m so proud of you!”
Let’s face it–potty training stinks. Literally. So the goal needs to be to make it as painless as possible. My hope is that the strategies I learned will help you as you tackle this obstacle. If your child isn’t progressing, check the 3 R’s: Is your kid really ready? Have you resolved to stay committed to the task at hand? Are you rewarding your child for a job well-done? If the answer to all of these questions is ‘yes,’ then, well, buy a potty-training book. If those experts can help you in a day, then they deserve all the money they make! As for me, I’ll try these same techniques with the next child and save the $30 for a night when delivery pizza seems more healthy than cooking in my kitchen.