Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Potty Mouth

My husband told me to write a post about potty training.

Ordinarily, I prefer to do the opposite of what I am told, but it's a hot topic today in the twitter and facebook feeds of my world.

And so, this post is about potty training. Interested in the subject? read on!

My credentials: All 3 of my kids were in underwear during the day before they turned 2.

Does that mean anything? No. Not really. Kids are different. My kids also develop verbally at a young age, my boys develop physical skills somewhat slower than most of their peers. My children develop mature sleep patterns at an agonizingly slow rate. Parenting accounts for some of the variables, but not all.

But! My children are not those precious few who one day decided they were done with diapers. We worked that out together. If you are frustrated or intimidated or daunted by the process, I may have one credential that might account for something: potty training does not scare me.

teenagers do.

(but not really... yet)

And so, here is my post on potty training.

Before your child is 2 years old:

First and foremost, I recommend trying out the potty starting as soon as your child can walk. Sooner is fine too. As an older infant, Charlie could only "go" ON the potty. A potty was easier to poop into than a diaper pressed against him. That was a short lived (glorious) phase. Don't be afraid to try it out as part of bath routine or whenever you want, really, at any age. The goal is to see if you can catch a few pees (or better!) and begin to develop the words surrounding bathroom use.

Watch your child closely. Anna had a "tell" as a young toddler, she would lift one heel off the ground when she peed. Charlie ALWAYS hid to poop. In fact, he has insisted on privacy to do that on the potty too. We taught him to say "Excuse Me, Can you please leave the bafroom?"

Is your child ready to make the leap to diaper free?

There is a lot of information out there about what you should expect from your child before you try potty training.

In truth, none of it matters. If you believe your child can understand the physical process of holding and using a toilet, you are probably right that he or she can. If your child is too little to manage their pants and get on and off a toilet or potty, it would be helpful if they at least have the language skills to TELL you they need the help.

Ideally, your child has already shown you that they can relax their muscles and push out urine before you decide to give diapers their exit papers and they hopefully have a time of day they regularly poop or they have some cues that it's about to happen.


Here it goes.

Philosophy of toilet training, 101. Recipe for failure: your child thinks that the potty is solely something Mom and Dad wants them to do. Success: your child realizes that you are there to help them learn to do this.

Imagine you have a young toddler, learning to walk. The child is at the bottom of the hill.
As a parent, you encourage your child to take those first steps up the hill. You don't continue to stand at the bottom and see if they can make it all the way to the top, on their own, however. You stand behind them, moving up as they move up, not letting them fall back down the hill, but not pulling them or leading them to the top either.

Potty training works well, like that. As a parent, you follow their desire to take those first steps (knowing how to push out pee, for example).. but as the child starts to understand the process and have success using a potty (getting up that hill) .. you don't let them tumble back down to diapers at the bottom when they get tired. Some parenting "hype" says that the child will train when they are ready. You will (almost definitely, but not always) be waiting a very long time if you expect your child to complete the process on their own free will without a parent there to "catch them" and put them back on track when they stumble.

Keep all the emphasis on the successes (the praising, the whooping, hollering, calling grandma). Keep the "misses" quiet. "Oh, that's too bad. Next time you will make it. I know you can do it".

If you know they can toilet themselves if they want to, then keep the firm expectation that they can do it and help them to want to do it too. If you aren't so sure they understand what is expected of them, you probably wouldn't be potty training them yet.

So do you make them sit on the potty for a length of time? No. Not in my opinion. Hopefully, if you are serious about the transition away from diapers your child has demonstrated that they can use the muscles necessary to "try". Now what you do is trust your parenting instincts: if you think your child needs to use the potty, take them to the potty, have them sit, encourage them to try, and let them get on with their day if nothing happens. Thank them for cooperating. Otherwise, remind them of where the potty is, suggest that they use it when they "feel a pee", but do not ASK them if they need to use the toilet or potty unless you are willing to accept their answer. If they say "no!" and you insist, it isn't exactly giving your child the message that you think they can do this, is it?

The Gear

Potty versus toilet? If your child is over 36 inches tall, they can probably manage the toilet with a stool just fine. Prior to that, you might have more success with a potty. Kids can relax muscles to poop much better when there feet are rested firmly on the floor or a stool. Dangling legs make the process more challenging. Let your kid make the call, if you aren't sure and are open to either option. It's their job to learn to use one or the other.

Continuing with the walking analogy - word on the parenting street is, barefoot walking is best. well, guess what? Bare bum toilet training works best too. If you can let your child run around bare at home, they will have fewer accidents during the learning process. Keeping them home for a few days until you know they are "getting it" will help get things going. Then let them be naked whenever they are at home for as long as it takes for them to manage the process with underwear and pants reasonably on their own. This could mean they are able to independently manage the clothing, or that they will reliably ask for help. In the meantime, when you are out and about - just know that you will probably need to make pit stops a part of your travels and errands. Remember to congratulate them when you are out and you get to the pit stop and have a dry kid!

As for the streaking toddler in your house, for some kids, this can be several months of being naked from the waist down. (try Babylegs in winter). Others, it might just be a couple of weeks. It really doesn't matter - your child WILL wear pants again!

Pull ups are a gimmick. Yes, I have some in my house RIGHT now. Yes, I have used them on my children at times. I am not saying they are evil or that people are dumb to use them, so dont' flame me! But they are the diaper companies way to keep getting $ from parents. It's brilliant, because if parents did not use pull ups, many kids would train faster and .. well.. stop using disposible diapers.

I had these for Charlie:

And they were amazing. They are called Bum Unders. Waterproof layer, soft, comfortable, cute, Charlie loved wearing them. (I still have them, one day I plan to post them on ebay as I can probably get 70% of what I paid for them back... how's that for investment on stuff your child poops and pees in?) Sadly, they are not available in stores and .. well.. you have to be an internet shopping cart stalker to get your hands on them as the work orders for them sell out fast.

Before Charlie, I would buy the cloth underwear that is "waffle knit" and has a thin layer of padding in it. It saves the floor.

Bottom line (pun intended) is - consistency. Say it with me: consistency! Once your child has the basic mechanics down and you know they understand, GET RID OF THE DIAPERS! It makes the process so much faster. You've been peed on, pooped on, puked on, before. Don't be afraid of a few messes. Just don't GO BACK!

I was pretty nerve wracked to take Charlie to his first ever parent and tot class at gymnastics when he was 24 months old. He was newly "trained". I hesitated at the "getting dressed" stage at putting a pull up on him. What if he peed on the foam floor! What if he peed in the giant sponge pit? But I knew my son KNEW how to use the potty. So I trusted him. 5 months later, he has yet to grace that gym (Knocking on some Serious Wood).

On Bribery

Try to get toilet training off the ground without any kind of bribery. Let your child's natural curiousity, desire to learn and find ways to be independent, fall into place. If your child has had some successes and is needing a little push, then have a small bribe if it suits your parenting.

We bribed Charlie to poop on the potty with chocolate.

He was resistant to pooping on the potty, but we knew it wasn't because he didn't want to cooperate. He just was somewhat scared about it. Rather than belittle his feelings, I tried to distract him by offering him some smarties.

He would try and fail, try and fail and ask for that Chocolate and I would sympathize with him that "no, he didn't make that poop in the potty, but I know he will one day and then he can have that chocolate"

The day came (it wasn't that long) and he got his chocolate reward... and another success and another chocolate, and another. By the time that box of smarties was empty (he had lots of help from Mom and Dad sneaking a few each time it came out, so it couldn't have been too long) he was

a) no longer needing the bribe
b) spent the next several months calling it "making a chocolate" when he would poop.

I hope this helps somebody out there in the parenting world! Having a child out of diapers may not be a race, but it's .. well.. gross to spend the day soaking in .. that.. stuff. Helping your child get into comfy underwear is a great goal and I don't think there is a magic age to accomplish that. If you are a parent looking to start or complete the process with your child - best of luck to you!


  1. This actually did help me.
    You've just convinced me that I'm right that Wes ISN'T ready.
    That, even though we've been trying to encourage curiosity about the potty since he was 12 months old, he just isn't into it and isn't ready yet.
    Maybe soon. I hope.

  2. I've never had any issues either. Yet. I figure the kids want to be 'big', and big people go on the toilet. It has worked for 4 so far. The fifth.....well....we'll see. I figured if I can train two at a time, at 2, I can do anything. :D

    Very good post my dear.

  3. Deklan is starting to show interest in the toilet, and we've sat him on it a couple times, but he gets nervous and wants off of it after a few seconds. I think we need to get him a little potty, although I hate those things.. blech. But I agree with you on the pull-ups thing! I don't think they help train a baby, they keep them dependent on disposable diapers. From what I've seen, anyway. ;)

  4. If you tell Hannah you have to pee, she runs to the toilet and opens the lid for you. :D Quite excited and happy about it.

    But I haven't sat her on it yet.

    I have been telling her that when she's two, there's no more diapers, and she will be big enough for the toilet. It worked for Michael. ;)