Love Thy Potty as Thyself or Get On Board the Potty Train

By: Lisa Donovan

It's a grueling and exhausting task. It's enough to make a grown woman cry. It's perilous. It's inescapable. It's potty training. Try as we might to put it off, as parents, it is a trial we must all trudge through.

I have been fortunate enough to have had some good advice from my elders in this department. Typically, I have found that when I am given suggestions from grandparents and their friends that it is outdated and a little archaic for my liking. Things like letting kids "cry it out" at night rather then be comforted when they are scared is not really my style. Nor is "biting them back" when they are going through the biting phase at one or two years old. There have been things that were suggested to me that were odd, albeit frightening, and I just nodded and smiled at the suggestions. But, potty training advice was different. In an age where people are becoming increasingly more comfortable with kids wearing diapers well into their preschool years, I have to say that I am all for starting the show earlier versus later. It has, for me, proven successful once (with my eldest) and I am hoping that with my second child that it will be equally as smooth.

We are a culture that thrives, I think, on empowering our kids with thoughtful decision making. We give choices and we are slow to pressure them to do anything that they are not ready for. I think that this serves our children well in many regards. Being able to use the bathroom on your own is, in my humble opinion, not one of them. I am not sure when we arrived at a place in American culture where we thought it was better to let them feel like wearing diapers until the age of three and four was more acceptable than the impetus to make a change that might be a little uncomfortable for them, but I think it does our children a great disservice. This misgiving is apparent on the grocery store shelves — I would venture to say that being able to find diapers in sizes escalating toward the ages of four and five is a fairly recent event. I don't think that, in the past, allowing children to lack this self discipline has been so culturally acquiesced as readily as it is now. I am thoroughly in agreement that children learn best through patience and timing — but I feel strongly that we are dropping the ball on how important it is to instill this one sense of utter independence.

The good advice I was given about his matter was from an Asian woman in her eighties. She was a dear friend and someone I respected immensely. Though some of her child rearing advice was a little shady for me I took her at her word with potty training. She told me about how in her culture they begin introducing the toilet to children as early as nine and ten months. They would pick one particular part of the day and make it part of the routine to bring the child in and let them either sit on the potty or to watch the adult use the potty. Then upon the first birthday a potty seat of their own would be brought into the bathroom and every two weeks an additional daily visit would be added to the routine. The children would then be introduced to cloth underwear. So, not being the kind of lady who really wanted to be changing diapers for another year, I took her advice and was pleased with the outcome.

I began bringing my son into the bathroom each morning beginning at the age of 10months old. Since he was already a frequent visitor upon my trips to the rest room, I made this morning visit his very own chance to get to know our toilet and sat him on the potty and talked to him about his "job" on the potty. It seemed ridiculous, I'll admit, watching this infantile, squishy little baby sitting on the toilet looking at me as if I were crazy. But, I rolled with it until the next step: introducing his own potty. After his first birthday I put his own potty in the bathroom and added an after lunch visit in addition to our morning visit. After two weeks of this, I added a nighttime visit. The biggest difference came when I made the leap to cloth undies. At about 13 months, he was wearing cloth underwear around the house during the day. If we went out, I put on regular diapers. At night, regular diapers. But during the day when we were just hanging out, I let him get used to training underwear. If you aren't familiar with these yet they are regular toddler underwear with a little extra padding for the inevitable accidents. He got to the point where he was so comfortable with the cloth underwear that he protested each time we had to put on the diapers. This was the major catalyst in our potty training adventure. He was more comfortable with "big boy pants" and in order to wear them he realized that he had to become a little more savvy with his bathroom visits. By sixteen months he was going "#2" only in the toilet and by seventeen months he was telling me each time he had to go pee. Sometimes we would make it, other times we would be a little late and have to have a "clean up session". I found that reminding him and asking even when he didn't seem like he needed to go (but had just downed a glass and a half of apple juice) helped a lot and prevented a lot of clothes changing. Which brings me to another point. In order for this to work, I had to check myself and my borderline OCD. I couldn't be nit-picky about having to change his outfit three or four times a day — some times I would let him wander around the house in his undies just to save the amount of laundry I would have to do. And, the most important thing was that I had to be consistent. I am a lot of things, but maintaining a consistent routine is not one of my stronger points. I think this might be where a lot of parents waiver in the intent to potty train. The necessity for uber-congruity was my biggest challenge — and it is becoming my biggest challenge with my youngest right now.

With the success of my son's potty training experience looking me right in the eye, I am both eager and nervous to begin with my daughter. I have already started much later than I did with my son — but only by two months. I have the potty seat in place and the cute little pink panties in the top drawer all ready to go — now I just need to get myself ready for six months of a regimen that will be at once exhausting but simultaneously so rewarding.

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