Potty Training: 7 Lessons Learned

Cee has been wearing undies for six months, and I think I’ve drafted a potty post for each of those months. Each time, before I had a chance to edit and publish it, something would change, and the post would seem irrelevant. Potty training is truly one of the hardest things I’ve done as a parent, but not in any of the ways that I expected. I thought I’d finally share some of the lessons I’ve learned so far. In other words, this post is mainly about my missteps and mistakes.

I write this knowing that your process, and the challenges that you face along the way, might be very different. Every kid is different, as is every parent. Like any two-year-old, Cee really wants to do things herself, but she is also a really sensitive kid. And as she’s been learning to use the potty, I’ve been learning more and more about her and how she ticks.

1. Begin when your child is ready.

Okay, I actually think that we got this part right. Cee started showing some interest in using the potty around 18 months. When she started daycare last fall, she jumped into the potty rotation with the bigger kids. By January, she was coming home at lunchtime in the same diaper (dry!) as when I dropped her off in the morning. And in February, after admiring her friends’ underwear, Cee told me that she wanted some too.

Cee was around 27 months when we made the switch to undies. Some would say that’s late, and some would say that’s early. I don’t think there’s a magic age, but I can’t imagine starting this process if Cee wasn’t interested in it. It’s been challenging enough as it is.

Of course, I did dig into the scientific literature to see if I could find some guidance on optimal timing and “methods.” But I think this is an area where the science is just not that helpful. Melinda Wenner Moyer recently wrote a review of scientific support for different methods of potty training at Slate, and she concluded that there’s decent support for parent-led and child-led and quick and gradual methods. This is true, but I also think that the potty training research is limited by the bias of the authors. Potty training is a culturally diverse practice, and a study conducted in a given place at a given time is always going to be framed by the norms of that place and time. Lacking good science, and considering that Cee is not interested in doing things just because I want her to, I waited until it was her bright idea to try going diaper-free. I began with the simple strategy of following her lead, praising her successes, and responding to accidents in a neutral way. Easy, right?

2. Ultimatums don’t work.

Here’s where I made my first mistake. Continue reading

Potty Progress Report

Cee has been experimenting with using the potty for months now. 6 months, actually. I wrote about it here, where I expressed some ambivalence about the process and pledged that I would be an easy-going, no-pressure mama about the whole thing. Although all of this is still true, I think, I’m here today to confess that I did have a secret hope that we had a potty prodigy on our hands. Based on her early interest and success, I figured that she’d potty train herself by her second birthday. Silly me.

Instead, Cee’s interest in the potty seems to have plateaued to using the potty just once or twice per week. She’s still very interested in what goes on when I’m on the potty, but she herself prefers to go in a diaper. Rather than use the potty, Cee has been reading up on the process. One of her favorite texts these days is “Potty” by Leslie Patricelli.

We have a few books by this author and love them all.

This is Cee’s favorite part of the “Potty” book:

To which she always responds, joyfully: “YES!

Then she giggles at her own joke. OK, we giggle sometimes, too. I have a feeling that my almost-two-year-old has caught on to the fact that we like it when she goes potty, and at this stage of her life, she sometimes goes out of her way to do the opposite of what we want. And I’m realizing that we could be at this stage of potty learning for a while.

Meanwhile, Cee’s caregiver informed me this morning that Cee pees in the potty several times per day at her house. Curious, isn’t it?

Are You Ready to Potty?

“Boop? Boop?”

“Yup, BabyC. Mama’s pooping.”

BabyC watched me on the potty. Then she pointed to her diaper. She wanted to go, too. I helped her wiggle out of her shorts and unsnap her cloth diaper. She sat down on the potty and did a little butt scoot to get comfortable.

We sat in silence for two seconds. Then BabyC hopped up to check the contents of her potty. Nope, nothing yet. She sat back down.

I sang a little made-up potty song to the tune of Frere Jacques (my go-to for made up songs):

Poop, poop, poop, poop

Pee, pee, pee, pee

Poop, poop, poop! Poop, poop, poop!

Pee-ee, pee-ee, pee pee! Pee-ee, pee-ee, pee pee!

Poop. Poop. Poop. Poop. Poop. Poop.

(In an alternate version, I substitute “psss, psss” and fart noises (how on earth do you write those?) for pee and poop, respectively. It’s OK to be impressed with me right now.)

BabyC continued to hop up and down to check her progress on the potty, then to grab a magazine, then to trade it out for a better one. The hardest thing about learning to use the potty is the sitting still part.

She did poop eventually. “All done, BabyC?” I asked. (I had finished looooong ago.)

“Naa,” she said, nonchalantly.

And so we sat, for 20 more minutes, singing and reading. BabyC was right – she wasn’t done. She needed more time, and kudos to her for knowing it. Three poops later, she finally announced, “All done!”

It was epic, I tell you. What made it most impressive was that this was BabyC’s first time on the potty in a couple of months. Continue reading