Whether this is your first baby or your second or third, one thing is certain: potty training is not for the faint of heart. And like every parenting method, there are approximately 80,000 different ways to potty train, all of which naturally conflict with the others. Let me tell you about some of the things I learned and share some tips of the trade from potty-training success stories.
They won't go to college in diapers; chill out.
This is a comment I got on social media when I lamented about our potty-training woes. Of course my knee-jerk reaction was to think, "Yea, well your kid is probably potty trained! JERK!" But my second thought was that this is, in fact, true. So, what's the rush? They'll just start using the toilet when they are ready.
It's easiest to teach them when they are young.
Oh well, then I guess that's the rush. Some of my friends swear by potty training early, basically under the school of thought that unless you force the issue, kids will continue to do what they are allowed to do.
Is there a middle ground?
It's no secret that I am not a laid-back go-with-the-flow kind of parent, but I also think that a child should be physiologically and mentally capable of using the big-person potty before it's forced upon them. So I went with a combination of the two approaches.
Here are some things I think most kiddos should have in place before the potty-training torture begins:
- Self-awareness. If your child is walking over to you and telling you that they No. 2ed and is handing you the diapers and wipes, he may be ready to lose the diapers. Additionally, a good precursor to this phase might be that your toddler is indicating (by pointing or walking up to you) that he needs to be changed.
- Communication. While being able to verbally communicate isn't a must, being able to communicate and understand is definitely helpful when going down this road.
- Desire. This one is tough. Some kids, like my strong-willed oldest daughter, had to be tricked into having the desire to be potty trained. I bribed her with Doc McStuffins undies, lollipops and a bike to get her to want to be potty trained. If they aren't motivated, it's going to be more difficult for everyone. Some kids look at a sticker chart with a picture of a train station at the end of seven squares, and they are ready to give potty training a shot.
Here are some things I think most parents should have in place before the potty-training torture begins:
- Patience. Goodness gracious, PATIENCE. Definitely one of my more trying times as a parent was day 2 of potty training. You have to have patience. If you're naturally an impatient person, parenthood has likely amplified or course corrected that characteristic. Prepare yourself for it — the accidents, being stuck in your house for several days (or not, depending on the method you use), the crying (from your child and likely you as well), the manipulation ("if I get on the potty but I don't need to go, can I still get a lollipop for trying?"). All of that.
- A plan. This requires a little bit of research on your part to decide HOW you are going to do this. Are you going to follow a specific method? Maybe a combination of several methods? Whatever your answer may be, you need to start with a plan and stick to it. Until that plan doesn't work, then move on to a back-up plan. It's OK! As the saying goes, "the best-laid plans…"
- Time. With my research, I have found that the actual training of how to go potty on the toilet is an event versus something that is a process over the course of weeks or months. This might mean taking a couple days off work (I know, I was aggravated by this notion, too) or staying at home over an entire three-day weekend.
- Wine. Maybe an entire bottle. Oh, I'm kidding, you should probably just go ahead and get a couple of boxes. I say this only half joking. As a parent who is potty training, you need to have a light at the end of your pee-filled tunnel. Maybe it's wine, maybe it's ice cream, maybe it's Netflix or maybe it's a jog outside if you're one of those perfect people (I'm shaking my fist at you while juggling my wine glass in one hand and ice cream in the other). You need to have something either enjoyable or stress relieving to break up the madness.
Precursors to potty-training success
What about the time leading up to potty training? There are some things that you can do to help your kiddo out.
- Give your child something to call "No. 1" and "No. 2." For my older daughter, it was "tee tee" and "poo poo." For my youngest daughter, it is "tee tee" and "stinky." I say these to her every time I change her diaper, and now the youngest one (even though she is far from being at the age that I would train her) is saying those words to tell me what's going on down there.
- Read books about bodily functions. One of my favorites is "Everyone Poops" by Taro Gomi. There are many like it though. You know, just some harmless subliminal suggestions during bedtime story time. No big deal.
- Don't let your kid become accustomed to sitting in a dirty diaper. I'm not saying go through 20 diapers a day, but if you let a kid sit in a wet diaper until it's leaking through her clothes, the feeling of wet underwear may not bother her when it's time to train.
Our potty-training story
So you may be wondering how it all went for me and my daughter. I'll tell you, although just like everything having to do with kids, everyone's story will be a little different. I gave it a go the first time (yes, I tried this twice) about two months before my daughter turned 3 years old. I had a horrible attitude. I wasn't sure how to motivate her, and I was afraid of her having accidents because her little sister was 12 months old and mobile. My daughter was just as confused as I was about the whole "plan." The last thing I wanted was bodily fluids tracked all over my house and all over my kids. I lasted one day before I told my husband "I have to take a break from this or you're going to have to institutionalize me."
Then over the summer, I had my daughter in swim class. Just let me tell you how annoying swim lessons are when your kid is not yet potty trained — it's horrible! You are always worried the swim diaper will fail and your kid will be the one who causes the whole pool to have to be evacuated. Not to mention that it's another piece of clothing that you have to put on and take off. So as I do best, I made friends with the other moms watching their kids get swim lessons, and I was shocked to learn that everyone in my daughter's class was potty trained — and there were 2-year-olds in her class, too! That's it. That was all the motivation that I needed.
It had been four months since my first attempt, but this time I did things differently. I created hard-cut rules and regulations for the potty-training weekend. I told her it was coming and that we only had three more diapers that were ever going to be placed on her little bum again. The visual preparation, I think, was helpful. I created a manipulation-free reward system (lollipop if pee/poop in the potty). I rolled up the rugs, cleared our plans for the weekend and got out the towels and cleaning solution. Days one and two were pretty horrible. I am not proud of the things that I said on day two in my moments of parenting weakness. But then something just clicked. Because we had many accidents, she started realizing when she needed to go (that self-awareness she had about having a dirty diaper transformed into the realization that she needed to go). All in all, the experience was much less horrible than I thought it would be.
Five helpful potty-training tips
While I was going through my experience, I got a lot of really helpful tips. Here are my favorite five.
- Take the diapers away. If they aren't there, neither one of you will go back to them as a crutch. Even on outings. Just take a bunch of changes of clothes.
- Don't give up. If you are doing a three-day method (this is the method I mostly followed), day two peaks in horribleness. But don't give up!
- If you really do give it the good ol' college try and it just isn't happening, just stop completely and give it a rest. Start back up when you think something has changed and everyone is ready.
- Get a mattress protector for your kid's bed, but double wrap that bad boy. That's right. Put on two mattress protectors. That way, when your kid pees in the bed and it's 2 a.m., you just have to take off the sheets and the top mattress protector, throw a blanket back on the bed and say good night.
- Tell your child that they he is not going to go to the bathroom in his underwear. I know this sounds silly, but I swear it helps.
As with most things parenting related, I feel much less stress about potty training the next one now that I have one undie-wearing princess transitioned out of diapers. If there is one take-home lesson about potty training that I learned, it would be to do research on how you want to train your children and dedicate yourself (and your family) to a plan. Good luck!
Tara Boyd, North Texas mother of three, to Beulah ("Boo"), Lucy ("Lu") and little brother Jacob, dishes practical advice on marriage, motherhood and munchies with humor and southern charm in her blog, Boyd Meets Girl.