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November 16, 2011

Reflections on Potty-Training


I remember where I was a year ago…I didn’t know much about potty-training, but I knew it would be in my relatively near future. I planned to do my research and decide upon an approach. I would be prepared, and I figured that would be at least half the battle.

When Baby A started showing some signs of interest in the potty, shortly after she turned two, I started reading…the parenting books I had, online sources of parenting information, blog posts. Outside of the “boot camp” approach, I didn’t feel like there was much “methodology” to understand. I read about reward systems and pull-ups, but I surely didn’t find a step-by-step guide as I’d hoped.

Having said goodbye to diapers three full weeks ago (!!!), I thought I’d reflect on what I’ve learned. I know that two children does not a statistically significant sample make, but – even with the girls being very different from each other – there are a couple of learnings I can point to in our experience. Some of these are personal opinions of mine, and some are more overarching principles that I’ll actually reference beyond potty-training.

Consider your rewards very carefully, in light of what behavior you’re trying to motivate.

I often hear about people using sticker charts or M&Ms, with rewards earned for output, sometimes in weighted amounts. In both cases, our girls told us they wanted to start using the potty, so I didn’t need to motivate them to “produce”.

Instead, I sold our girls hard on how cool it was to get to flush the potty. With both of them we went through a period of time when they wanted to tee just a couple of drops to be able to flush (I could just imagine how manipulative things could have gotten if they were jonesing for M&Ms!). I told them, “That’s not enough to flush.” (In Baby A’s first couple of days, we flushed so much the potty actually did “break”…fortunately Hubby heard the anguish in my voice and was able to rescue me during his lunch period that day. In the midst of potty-training, I was in no state to deal with a plunger myself!)

The “prestige” of being a big girl, of flushing the potty, and of wearing pretty underwear seemed to be motivation enough for both our girls. After several months, Baby A began having some very small accidents…not wanting to interrupt her play for a bathroom break. About six weeks ago I started awarding her a sticker at the end of the day for keeping clean and dry all day. It worked like a charm! She loves to get her card off the refrigerator, pick a sticker, and show her new sticker off to her daddy. I immediately got Baby B on the same system, and she’s been earning stickers almost every day, too.

“Play” is part of learning, but I only allow it in measured doses.

When both girls started using the potty, it was quite the novelty, of course. It was so frustrating to me how much they wanted to play! Whereas I don’t tolerate playing at mealtime, though, I was afraid to reprimand them too much on the potty…ultimately they were doing what I was trying to encourage. Someone commented on a blog post, reminding me that a child’s job is to play. It was a great reminder for me to be patient, and know that the novelty would wear off sooner or later.

Still, I have rules about sitting on the potty. Your hands belong on the handles on either side of the seat. When the girls start to play the “why” game, or sing, or get otherwise distracted, I’ll remind them, “We’re here to make our tee-tees / stinkies. We can talk / sing when you’re finished.”

I don’t “reprimand” them so much as encourage positive behavior. After a point, though, if I think they’re truly just playing, then potty-time is over.

Be flexible – and encourage flexibility – in the potty location.

Before the girls started to potty-train, I was vehemently opposed to using a potty chair. (I couldn’t imagine having to clean it out!) I bought the girls a potty ring for the regular toilet. That worked fine…until Baby A seemed to use potty-time as an excuse to garner one-on-one time with Mommy (the bathroom being separate from the playroom). I bought the potty chair and put it right next to the playroom. That quickly addressed Baby A trying to go every five minutes.

Baby A used the potty ring on the upstairs potty, and she had no trouble using the portable potty seat in public restrooms. And if we’re at a friend’s house, she does fine sitting on the regular toilet (I hold her gently to make sure she doesn’t lose balance and fall in!) I have heard about kids getting attached to one particular potty chair or ring. By introducing different potty paraphernalia from the beginning, I hoped to avoid that issue.

I started Baby B on the potty chair, but she was playing so much…bouncing with her feet and wanting to lift the seat from the base. So I moved her to using the potty ring. That allowed me to discourage her playing, as her feet don’t touch the floor. I also transitioned A to the big potty, so we’re potty chair-free these days, too!

I never used Pull-ups.

I don’t mean to be controversial here…I know there’s a big market for this intermediate step, so it must work for a lot of families. Maybe because I was able to wait for our girls to make the first move, though, letting me know they wanted to use the potty, I never felt Pull-ups were necessary. I didn’t like the idea of putting a “just in case” / back-up system in place.

I think some parents use a Pull-up when they leave the house, to avoid messy accidents away from home. I certainly understand that fear! I wanted to avoid that scenario at all costs, too. For us that meant staying at home during the first three to five days when the girls were taking on their new responsibility.

With Baby A, who trained at 27 months, I took very small outings at first…a walk around the block for 30 minutes…then working up to a quick run to Target within a 45 minute window. I would wait until she’d just used the potty at home to time our trip.

With Baby B being older (I guess), this didn’t seem like much of an issue. When she “got it”, within the first five days, I felt comfortable to leave the house as usual. She used a public potty within the first week, and it wasn’t a big deal.

Potty-training is an emotional time.

I saw it with both my girls…they became very sensitive when they were potty-training. I’ve read about developmental changes inciting emotions, and I believe it wholeheartedly. I explained it to myself that the girls were coping with a huge responsibility, and – relative to their little worlds – that was a lot of pressure on them. Once they became more confident in their abilities, within a week or so, their emotions stabilized (at least relative to a two-year old!).

Baby A also regressed a bit when Baby B started training. I didn’t anticipate it, but I recognized it quickly. For a full six months, Baby A had been a star on the throne…and here was her sister joining her in the spotlight, wearing pretty underwear, and getting stickers, just like she had been. Whereas Baby A’s potty use had become a fact of life, I began to praise her again, noting how proud I was of her, as well as her sister.

Potty-training is stressful.

A blog friend of mine wrote a year or so ago, “If potty training is stressful, your children aren’t ready.” A couple of kids later, I agree…but…it’s all relative.

Even though I feel confident both my girls were ready, such that motivation wasn’t a huge factor, potty training was still a stressful time. That first week or so there was a constant need for attention…looking at the clock…listening for cues…back and forth to the potty…wanting to discipline, but not wanting to discourage.

But…everything evens out. The newness wears off, the routines kick in, and – over time – going to the potty becomes a part of life. Like so many other journeys to date in this crazy ride called parenthood, potty-training is just a phase. It will pass. You will all survive.

Still…treat yourself! I didn’t reward the girls with chocolate, but you’d better believe I kept a stash for myself! And I distinctly remember on Day 6 of Baby A’s training, I took myself to the Dairy Queen after the girls were in bed. I got a Reese’s Blizzard and sat in the car, all by my lonesome, and enjoyed every spoonful.

Could this be my last potty-training post??? Dare I dream???

The next frontier I can think of is weaning off the sticker rewards (maybe when the girls turn three?), and then maybe moving away from the potty ring. All in good time, though…those props are ones I can handle.


Carrie said...

I'm so glad your potty training experience was so positive. Sounds like you did all the right things to motivate the girls to get it right fairly quickly. I'm happy to report that our regression with one of our girls is now over and she stays dry all the time (only having an accident every once in a while instead of several times a day). We still struggle with the other one to produce "stinkies" on the toilet so she is in Pull-ups full time. I really wish we didn't have to use them, but if I didn't I would be scrubbing (or likely throwing out) underwear 4 or 5 times a day. I'm hoping this phase gets resolved soon as I cannot think of anything else to try and motivate her to go. I know it's a fairly common "issue" so as long as we don't experience another regression with her sister, I know I can get through it. Great post with some great advice!

Marcia (123 blog) said...

What a fantastic post!

I'm starring it for when I get serious :)

We bought pull-ups but the kids were just into it for fun so I didn't buy more when that pack ran out. Now I say, "underpants/ panties are only for kids who want to pee on the potty"

Deanna said...

I like seeing the beginning to (hopefully!) end of your experience. I have taken a lot of advice from posts like this...and some of it is working for us, some not. I wholeheartedly agree with waiting until they are ready, above all!!!

We are doing pretty well with pee pee, but can't even talk about #2 in the potty. I can deal with that right now because they control it enough that they can ask for a diaper in plenty of time. (Which is also kind of what frustrates me about not even trying to go in the potty, but we'll deal with that eventually!)

Congrats on ditching the diapers!!

championm2000 said...

As always, I learn so much from you!

But, honestly, I am scared of the day we have to start potty training. Do I have it in me??

MultipleMum said...

Thanks for writing this today. I posted last night on the joys of TT and this is a wonderful read for me right now :-) x

cat said...

Heavens Mandy, I can write a book about it. Let's just say two were easy, and one was the toughest thing I have ever done. Only after 4 did L train for no 2 , and after play theraphy, It was exhausting.

And yes, pull-ups are from the devil!

Natalie said...

We're going through potty training the twins right now and it has been so tough! Great advice here my friend!

Julia said...

Great words of wisdom, Mandy! Thank you for sharing your journey, so that we can learn from your experiences.

I know I'll be checking back here multiple times as we head down this road!