Have you ever imagined yourself sitting in a bathroom for minutes upon minutes, chanting, “You can do it, you can do it, wee-wee on the potty, wee-wee on the potty!!”? You haven’t? Are you a new parent, soon to be parent, or simply wish to someday be a parent? If you answered yes to any form of the last question, then prepare yourself for the bathroom chanting. It will come, I promise you. You will do almost anything to encourage your child that the potty is their friend. If you’re lucky, it will all go very smoothly. If you’re one of the unlucky, you may have a more difficult time. I’m one of the unlucky and I’m going to take a minute to share my story. Maybe you can learn something from it, maybe you’ll get a laugh at it, or maybe it’ll just make you feel better to hear that you’re not the only one having a difficult time with this important lesson.
I became a mom for the first time almost three years ago in June of 2010. Potty training was so far on the horizon it wasn’t even a concern. We had to tackle all the other hurdles first such as sleeping through the night, taking away the pacifier, learning to speak, starting solid foods, switching from bottle to sippy cup, and all those other milestones babies and toddlers hit before the potty becomes a concern. Sometimes as Jude was getting older, I felt like maybe I should be preparing more for the potty training stage. I didn’t though. Honestly, I don’t think preparation would have helped me.
My first mistake in attempting to potty train Jude was deciding to do it on the spur of the moment. You may be thinking that was really stupid of me. You’d be right. Want to know something I did that was even more stupid? I started on a day that we were both suffering from a cold and he had just woken up from his nap. For weeks Jude had been sitting on our toilet with the lid down and telling us when he needed a diaper change. I felt pretty confident that he was ready to use the potty like a big boy when these things started happening.
One afternoon when I went upstairs to get Jude after his nap I noticed that his diaper was still dry. He had been sleeping for a little over two hours at that point and he never woke up dry so I was sure he’d need to pee pretty soon. I stripped him of his pants and his diaper, brought his potty in the living room, gave him a cup full of juice, and explained to him that when he needed to wee he needed to sit on the potty. We had taken some time before this to explain the potty to Jude, he’d even been sitting on it with his clothes on, so weeing on the potty was not a foreign concept. After I explained all that to him, I asked him to tell me what he was supposed to do when he needed to wee and he happily told me. After two hours (Yes, two hours!! Plus the two hour nap and the cup of juice. I was coming to find out that this kid had a bladder the size of England!), he finally started to pee. He was nowhere near the potty when this happened, but I was fully prepared for a mess and to do all I could to show him how excited I was that he was peeing and that it didn’t matter if it went on the floor. I never got the opportunity to show him either of those things. As soon as the pee hit his leg he went into a meltdown of epic proportions. I can say that I have never seen him have as big of a meltdown over anything else before or since. I danced, I cheered, I gave him a treat, I caught the rest of his pee in the potty, I cleaned up the mess with a huge smile on my face and sang a song while I did it. None of that mattered. After 30 minutes of a nonstop meltdown I am ashamed to say that my patience ran out, my smile vanished, and I told him much too loudly that he needed to calm down. I’m afraid that the moment I lost my patience was the moment I lost the ability to potty train him that day and, as it turned out, for many days and months after that. My son is very particular in his routines and he’s very tidy. I should have considered these things before I started that day, but I’m so used to them that they slipped my mind. He was heartbroken that he’d “made a mess” on the floor. In fact, when his daddy got home from work that night, the first thing Jude did was point to the spot on the floor where the pee had gone and announce, “I made a mess, Daddy!”
Jude’s reward chart. Every time he used the potty, he got to put a sticker here. In the end he became more focused on the rewards and less focused on actually using the potty.
About two months after the first attempt we made a brand new attempt with both myself and Chris present. It started out ugly, it progressed to him using the potty 20 times in a row, and then it turned ugly again. He would pee a little, force himself to stop, we’d flush what he’d done down the big toilet, and he’d promptly announce he needed to go again. This was his tactic to get the prizes that we promised he could have each time he used the potty and we gave him a prize each time until they were all gone. I think we overdid it on the rewards. He got to put a sticker on a chart, he got an M&M, and he got a wrapped toy (we had bought a few packs of small animal figurines that we had planned to give him anyway). Once the presents were gone, he went into meltdown mode again and refused to sit on the potty. We managed to end that attempt on a positive note so he would hopefully not be scarred for life and always be in diapers.
After that last time we vowed to let him tell us when he was ready. We nicely and calmly ask him almost every day if he wants to use his potty. If he says no, we let it go. There’s no rush. He’s not even three years old. The biggest hurdle for me was realizing that just because other people may have a child who is more advanced than mine in some areas, it doesn’t mean that I or my child are failures. Every child learns at his own pace and Jude is no exception to this rule. Jude started walking at the very young age of 8 months old, but it took him longer than most kids to learn to talk and use the potty. That’s fine. I’ve seen him figure things out in his own time and I had to trust that this would be no different.
Jude, happily playing with all the animals he got as “potty rewards” the day after our second potty training attempt.
I was right! Our last potty training attempt was in January this year. In March, after noticing that Jude pees nearly every time he is in the bath, I started holding the potty in front of him while he stood in the bath and he peed in that instead. He loved it! Then in April, Jude told me he wanted to use the potty after his nap. After his nap I reminded him that he had said he wanted to use the potty. He said he didn’t want to use the potty anymore, and I told him that if he tried to use the potty I would give him a marshmallow. He was thrilled with that idea and happily peed in his potty. He’s done that a few times since then. I don’t rush him. If he says he doesn’t want to try, I back off. He’ll do it when he’s ready and in the meantime, I’ll let him enjoy being a kid and I’ll keep changing his dirty diapers.
1. Patience is key!! If you know that you’re the type of person who has a short fuse, do not attempt to potty train when you’re by yourself. Wait until your spouse, your best friend, your mother, or whoever else you use as a support system is there to help you.
2. Find a potty training technique that works for you. There are tons out there. If you see those that promise results in three days, do not count on it!! You may see results in three days, or you may have a child who’s not quite ready to master the potty in three days. Don’t sweat it.
3. Don’t overdo it on the rewards. Rewards for using the potty or trying to use the potty are a great idea, but if you overdo it like we did in the beginning, it could end up doing nothing more than overwhelming your child.
4. Dance, sing, high five, cheer, CELEBRATE! Whenever they pee or poop in the potty, even if it’s a minuscule amount. They love it and they’ll want more. Jude is so proud of himself when he uses the potty, I let him call and tell his daddy (if he’s at work) and his grandparents about it right away.
5. If you have a son and you’ve been trying to potty train him sitting down, try letting him stand. I resisted this for awhile because I thought it would be too difficult for him and there’d be even more mess, plus I knew it would be another big step when it came time for him to learn to poop in the potty. Turns out, he is so much more receptive to standing while he pees that it’s making the whole process much smoother. We’ll deal with pooping when the time comes.
6. Patience again. Not just patience with your child when you feel like taking them by the shoulders and shaking them until the pee comes out, but patience with the entire process. If you or your child are overly stressed out with potty training, then maybe it’s not the right time. Take a step back and reevaluate. If you need to wait a little longer, who cares? I promise you it is not the end of the world and it will get better.
Jude is not fully potty trained yet. He hasn’t used the potty more than once in a day yet and he’s not using it every day, but I know that he will when he’s ready. When I’m having my doubts, I just remember that he’s shown me he’ll do it in his own time. He’s come leaps and bounds from our first attempt. Good luck with your own potty training adventures!