As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

My Potty Training Case Study - Tips and Tidbits after Six Children

My daughter is 22 months old, and we just started potty training her a couple of weeks ago.  She was not showing any signs of readiness (understanding of the potty, keeping dry diapers, desire to use the toilet, etc.)  But I just happened to have a week with nothing planned and thought, "what the heck?"  Since this is the sixth time around for me, I've developed a pretty good case study for what works and what doesn't in our household - and age is definitely at the top of the list.

With my three oldest boys, there really was no plan.  I was a working mother then, and felt so held back by time restrictions (and the fact that I could not leave potty training to the babysitter, though I'm sure she would have willingly done so, but I didn't feel right about asking.)  They were all three years old before I started, and we hit road block after mental road block.  It took well over a year for these guys to master their toiletting skills, and it was such a frustrating ordeal for all of us.  When my daughter (child #4) was approaching her second birthday, potty training was nowhere on the radar for me.  I had just brought home a brand new baby a few weeks earlier, and did not have any desire to start the potty training process with a newborn in tow.  However she had different plans, and decided to stop wearing her diaper.  Being the good mother I am I decided I could not let her run around naked, and so potty training happened on her timing, and not mine.  It didn't take long at all for her to be trained, and I chalked it up to her being a girl.  But a friend lent me a book during this time, which suggested among other things, that earlier training makes an easier process.

So when number five (a boy) was just about two years old, I decided to try.  What did I have to lose?  I read many things in the two years between when my daughter was trained and my son was ready to train, and I can't remember which sources to attribute this advice to anymore (sorry!) but it is not my own.  The basic philosophies are:

- Keep the child in a small area (gate off the living area upstairs, for example) to keep the child close to you.

- Give them lots and lots to drink (so they have to pee a lot)

- Expect accidents - a lot (my kids went three full days peeing on the floor before they finally understood that they needed to go to the potty when they felt the urge)

- Praise, praise, praise and NEVER get angry.  When my kids pee on the floor, I pick them up, shuttle them to the potty, and praise them for being a big boy (or girl).

- Teach them to clean their own messes (even if you have to go behind them and clean it after).  After they've finished on the potty, even if there is nothing in it, I praise them and get them to go get a cloth, wipe up the floor (I spray and they wipe), put their cloth in the hamper, put their dirty clothes in the hamper (if they were wearing anything when they had their accident).  This teaches them that mistakes are their responsibility to clean up, and gives the incentive that using the potty requires less work.)

- When they use the potty, they take the pot to the big toilet and dump it themselves.  This gives them a sense of accomplishment (my guys love to flush the toilet afterwards!)

- When it comes to clothes, less really is more.  I hated the idea of letting my kids run around naked, but when they're little and getting used to everything, it really was the easiest way for them to be successful.  They were less likely to have an accident if they could just run and sit down without worrying about any steps in between. I use a loose fitting top so it covers their privates, but doesn't fall under their bum when they sit down. I aim to try loose-fitting shorts that are easy to pull down as soon as possible after they've mastered using the potty, because I hate to have them running around with nothing on (especially with other siblings around!)

Why younger works better in my house:

1) Their will is not as strong at two-years-old as it can be at three.  A two-year-old is much more likely to respond to the desire to use the potty (especially if they don't like the feeling of having an accident) than a three-year-old, who is more likely to reason, "I have to pee, but I'd really rather stay here and keep playing, so I'll just do it here and carry on."

2) They are more enticed by rewards.  My three-year-olds were completely unresponsive to treats beyond the first couple of times, so I felt like I had no incentives with them.  But as soon as my two-year-old sees a bag of M&M's, she wants to sit on the potty so she can have some!

3) Smaller child, smaller messes.  Nobody likes the idea of pee (or worse) on the floor.  But at two years old, these messes tend to be much smaller, and definitely not as hard on the head.

4) They still stay close.  It's a lot harder to quarantine a three-year-old for several days to give them the attention they need to learn to use a potty, because they are so much busier and independent.  They might resist your attempts to keep them in one room, which will further frustrate your potty training attempts.  Chances are at two, your child is still used to being with you most of the time, and you won't need to lock them anywhere because they'll already be with you anyway.

5) It's easier to be patient with a smaller child.  As parents, we tend to have higher expectations of our children as they get older.  When I look back on potty training my older boys, I can see that I had such unrealistic expectations about how quickly it "should" happen based on their age and intelligence (if I could go back and change anything, it would have been to be more understanding of the process and patient with them - maybe it wouldn't have taken so long if I had been as gentle with them as I was with the younger kids). But when a child is really small, we don't have those same expectations, and patience comes a bit more naturally.  The more patient and positive we are, the more likely a child is to take to it willingly.

Common potty training myths busted:

1) Girls are not easier to train than boys.  When I trained my son at two-years-old, he was just as capable of mastering it within a few weeks as my girls were.  And I think that had I applied the same techniques to training my older boys at three years old, they likely would have been the same.  I think it has more to do with my method and mental disposition than the gender of the child.

2) You do not have to be home all the time in order to potty train.  This is one of the biggest things that held me back with my older children, because I was working at the time.  I think time is important, and maybe it would be wise to start potty training when you have a week of vacation planned and you know you're going to be home.  But as long as you have a good couple of days together right at the beginning (a weekend where you plan to stay home) you can easily fit potty training to your schedule.  When I trained my fifth child using this method I was home most of the time, because I had a newborn.  But with my daughter the only reason I began was because I knew I was going to be home for the next couple of days.  It took three full days of accidents before she got it, and then right after that we went on vacation for three days, and then came home to a house full of guests for the weekend.  We had to put her potty training on hold for more than a week, but the first day we had home after things got back to normal, we went right back to it.  It took her the better part of that day, but by the end of the day she had made the most progress she had ever made.  My approach now is to not wear diapers ever if we're at home, but to not sweat it if we're going to be out and about.  We can't plan our life around potty training, and I'm seeing that we don't need to.  If we use the hours that we have at home wisely, she'll get it.

3) You don't necessarily need to wait for signs of readiness.  I think this was another reason that I waited so long with my older boys, but as I mentioned my youngest daughter was not showing any signs when we started this time.  I actually think she learned how to hold her pee because we started potty training, because she hated to have an accident.  It didn't take her long to figure out how to hold it, or how to use the potty, and it didn't matter that she wasn't interested before that.  When I took off her diaper and started making accidents her responsibility, she learned pretty quickly what to do.

My biggest mistakes:

1) Disciplining accidents.  This is one of the worst things I ever could have done, and I think added to the adversarial tone that potty training took with my oldest children.  When I see how well the younger kids responded to the 100% positive approach I took with them, my heart is so sad for how difficult I made it on the older ones, and how often I blamed them for something that really had a lot to do with me.

2) Setting too high expectations.  Potty training is a long and gruelling process, and when people claim their kids are potty trained in a weekend, they don't account for accidents.  Even when we think our child is there, we should always expect a few accidents, maybe even a few each day, along the way.  It's a big deal to go from diapers to underwear, and we have to remember that even if a child uses the potty once and soils ten pairs of underwear, that's still progress.  I also never realized with the older kids how long it should take for them to actually use the potty, and that it was quite normal to have several days of accidents all day before they used the potty that very first time.  But it never fails that as soon as I find myself thinking, "gee it's been three days, maybe this child isn't ready," that all of a sudden they're doing it.  Don't give up, and expect it to take a little bit. Messes are okay!

3) Waiting too long.  I really honestly believe after what I've lived with my children, that if I had started a little earlier with my oldest boys, we would have been much more successful.   Potty training is hard, but there are so many more issues that complicate it when your child is even just one year older.  That is not to say that people should never wait until three to train a child, I would never make that judgement.  But for me, for all of the reasons I've said, things were better when we started earlier.

4) Underestimating the mental demands.  I definitely was not prepared for how difficult potty training would be on my head!  I definitely think timing is everything when it comes to this, and while there are some things that we tell ourselves (we have to wait until we have time, we have to wait for signs of readiness) that are not necessarily as important as we might think, there might also be other extenuating circumstances that are likely to make potty training more difficult (vacation, new baby, starting school or a new job, etc.)  There is no reason potty training can't wait a little bit, even if everyone is telling you that your child is at the "optimal age" if you have other things going on in your life that are likely to make this delicate process more difficult.

5) Comparing myself to others.  Hands down this is the biggest killer of potty training, or indeed any kind of parenting.  I want so badly sometimes to post on Facebook, "my daughter just did this!" but I always hold myself back, because I never know where another parent is or what they are dealing with. Each child and parent is different, and there are so many things that make things easier or more difficult for each of us at any given time.  I also try to be careful to be honest about the things that are not working too, and to give an honest portrayal of what's really happening (if we're still having regular accidents for example, I make sure to tell people that so they don't think my 22-month-old is completely potty trained.)  Maybe some kids are, I don't know.  But those kids aren't my kid, and I'm not those Moms - what works for me might look totally different, and I try not to let that diminish from our success or feeling of accomplishment.

I'm standing right on the edge of uncharted territory for me, which is the prospect of having no children in diapers.  After ten years, that's an exciting prospect!  I know we're not there yet, but I hope that my experience with the ups and downs of potty training has helped in some small way to ease the burden of this monumental task.  And if nothing else fails, just remember - this too shall pass.  No matter how long or how hard it is, it always helped me to remember that they will eventually all use the toilet.  Sometimes a change in perspective makes all the difference.

1 comment :

  1. Great post! We have a very similiar idea when it comes to potty-training. With my oldest, I waited until she was almost 3 and it was hard. With the other 3, I started before their 2nd b-day and while the process was longer overall it was less stessful for all the reasons you mentioned.

    I agree with everything you said, I find the process less stressful when they are young because my expectations are lowerr and I don't stress the accidentrs but still enjoy successes.