Potty training. Those two words can break a mom or dad. It’s one of those things that goes either incredibly easy or incredibly wrong, and you never know which side of the fence your kid is going to fall on. We’ve been on both sides of the fence (on the “other” side twice), so I know firsthand how it feels not living up to some imaginary potty-training standard.
It’s confusing to figure out which method of potty training suits your family best or where to even start. All sorts of people feel the need to voice their two cents about it and succeed in confusing you even more. Some will convince you that “potty learning” should come when the individual child is ready, which is generally somewhere between 2 and 3.5 depending on the kid. Others are convinced “elimination communication” is the way to go – the earlier the better. There’s the odd person who will flash disgusted looks if the child appears to be “too old” for diapers. All their kids were potty trained before they were 2. Certainly they could have done better. You secretly feel it’s possible they are right.
James was a tough dude. Him being my first, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. We had a hard time communicating when he was young and I had a hard time being consistent. My exhaustion level had peaked and I would let things slide when I should have been firm and I was sometimes too firm when I should have let things slide. After 6 months of torture- peeing and pooping everywhere with absolutely no regard for where the stuff was supposed to go, him hiding to do his business and violently refusing to adhere to any sort of pottying schedule – not to mention the impressive volume of cleaning products we went through, he was finally peeing consistently on the potty just before he turned 3 and he was 4 months shy of 4 years old by the time he had finally decided he’d poop on the potty regularly. I think I was a bit traumatized after that and I vowed to do it differently with my daughter.
By the time my son was finally fully day-trained, just over 3.5, I started potty training my baby daughter (just over one year and a half) for the second time. I was so determined to potty train her and so convinced was I that the reason James was so “difficult” was because we started too late, that I started putting Julia on the potty at a mere 3 months old (hey, I never used to have the capacity to do things half-way). She was a pottying prodigy right from the start, pooping every time on the potty and occasionally peeing and finally “fully trained” by just over one year old. My confidence was restored. I was Super-Mom and all other moms would be in awe of my mad skills.
Then, the stomach flu hit us hard. Three days of being in diapers destroyed all our efforts and she had completely lost any recollection of how to go potty. After a few weeks of serious effort trying to get back into it, I decided for her mental health and mine that we’d take a break. Once Julia was 20 months, and I was 7 months pregnant with my third baby, we tried again. We had barely achieved success when I gave birth to my second daughter, Josie. Julia made an official declaration that she wasn’t a big girl anymore and stubbornly held to it. She was a baby and babies wore diapers. Shit. She was fully day-trained, again and permanently this time, when she was a month shy of her third birthday.
When Josie (the youngest) was a baby, I professed loudly and to anyone who would listen that I was absolutely NOT potty training her. Ever. She was going to be in diapers until she was eight and I didn’t give two hoots who cared. I had had it with potty training. Forget it- it just wasn’t happening. Of course, when she started running to me around 18 months, grabbing her diaper and screaming “poo poo” and started doing this consistently, I began to wonder if it might be different this time. Neither James nor Julia ever communicated that they were going to the bathroom or that they needed to go to the bathroom. It was only when they were able to do all the steps by themselves that they were finally house-broken.
Josie was 19 months when I decided to give it a shot. Just one day… just to see. That day I followed her around with a sippy cup filling her up with all her favorite fluids and set the timer for every 30 minutes. Every time she sat on the potty I gave her (and her tag-along sister) a few chocolate chips. Within a couple hours, she was peeing on the potty and we celebrated with a special treat. I decided to continue the next day, and she added pooping to her repertoire. After 3 days, even though I was still in total denial, I started setting the timer for every hour and she started coming to me when she needed to pee or poop. After a week, I let her go play upstairs and she passed the test by coming down and finding me when she needed to potty. She hasn’t worn a diaper during the day since then.
There isn’t any right or wrong way to potty train. There are, however, easier ways and harder ways. I’m no expert and I don’t profess to be, but from my experience my advice is as follows:
1) Start potty training for the right reasons. Don’t buckle under the pressure of peers or family. Do it because your child is ready. Don’t postpone it if you’re afraid or nervous. Do postpone it if there has been undue stress in the family (moving, new baby, etc.) or if there’s any other reason why you won’t be able to commit your full attention to the task at hand. Do plan your potty training strategy and don’t do it on a whim.
2) In my opinion, the child is ready when they can hold their urine for at least a couple hours at a time, are showing some interest in the potty and can communicate enough to say (or sign) “pee” or “poo”.
5) Start with the right expectations. Expect to spend a great deal of time at home for the first week. This is not something that can be done part-time if you want to be successful. Expect to be attached to your child’s hip for a week or more. Expect to create and enforce a strict schedule- for the child and for yourself. If you’re not a “schedule person”, you’ll have to change that for at least a couple weeks so start preparing mentally.
3) Fill them up full of as much fluid as you can, as often as you can. It’ll help their bladder mature faster (able to retain more fluids for longer periods of time) and the more times they pee during the day, the more likely they’ll have success.
4) Always start with half-hour intervals (don’t forget to set the timer!) and even then, expect accidents. Once the child is accident-free for a day or two, move to one hour intervals.
5) Start them off naked from the bottom down. Do not deviate from this when at home. Gradually you can start adding clothes, first underwear, then pants, then socks and shoes, then outerwear. Do not be tempted to skip any of the steps before the child is totally consistent with the previous step or they will start peeing/pooping in their underwear and pants and it can become habit. Not fun to break those, trust me. If you need to leave the house, use a diaper or training pants, but bring the child to the potty on a half-hour schedule until they are your able to fully trust they can hold it for longer. Oh, and don’t forget your potty seat.
4) Do a reward system. I did chocolate chips but if you’re against food rewards, stickers can work (but seriously, chocolate works better). Give the child a reward every time they sit on the potty, whether they actually produce or not. Gradually you can wean them off the reward.
6) Good luck!
If you have any advice or comments for parents who are potty training or your own potty story to share, feel free to leave them below.