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Potty Learning: The road to success

Cynthia, the Hippie Housewife has been thinking about and blogging about potty training recently and she sent me this reader question:
I'd like to hear what you have to say about potty training (especially since you have a 4 year old boy and have experience with this) - how should one go about approaching this?

That is such a broad question! Kind of like saying, how should I get my baby to sleep. In any case, I don't have the answer, but I can share some of what I learned along the way and some of what worked for us. I would also highly recommend the No Cry Potty Training Solution by Elizabeth Pantley. It is a great way to figure out what potty strategies are going to work for your child and your family.

Potty Learning Begins at Birth

If a child has never seen anyone using the toilet or heard anyone talking about their bodily functions, then the potty learning process will be more difficult. We have taken both of our children with us into the bathroom pretty much from birth. Privacy went out the window when we had kids! This way they understand what is normal and just like wanting to eat the food that we eat and do the other things that we do, they will eventually want to use the toilet like Mommy and Daddy.

We also talk about what happened when they go in their diaper and increase the chatter about it as they approach greater readiness for potty training. This just helps them to understand their own bodily functions more and to recognize what is going on.

Some cultures and an increasing number of parents in Western societies are even going to the point of elimination communication right from birth - i.e. never or rarely using diapers at all. This isn't something that I felt we could do, but I do think it is a great idea for those that want to try it.

Understanding Readiness

Just like with infant and toddler sleep, there are a lot of misconceptions out there about what is normal. The generation before us prided themselves on getting their babies toilet trained before the age of two (I'm guessing the fashionable question at the time was "Is she toilet trained yet?" instead of the "Is she sleeping through the night?" question that we hear so often these days). Elizabeth Pantley has a great quiz to help you assess your child's readiness for potty training: Potty Training Readiness Quiz.

Naked Training

For a lot of kids, wearing a pull up or wearing underwear feels a lot like wearing a diaper and they feel like it is okay to go pee in their underwear. Also accidents along the potty learning path can result in a lot of laundry. So we used the tried and true method of naked training. Luckily we were potty training in the spring/summer, so it wasn't a big deal to have him running around with no pants on.

Basically, if we were in the house or on the deck, he was naked from the bottom down. The one exception was naps (he got a diaper) and sitting on the couch (we used a cloth pull-up). If we went out somewhere close to home, I put a cloth pull-up on him and if we were venturing far away from home, I put a diaper on him.

Being naked helped him to feel what was going on, it felt different from having a diaper on, it saved on laundry significantly, and it also made it quicker when he did rush off to the potty because there were no snaps and zippers and things to deal with. I think it took a couple of weeks of being naked before he was consistent about using the toilet and staying dry and then we introduced the concept of underwear.

Poop Resistance

Our son had been dry during the day for months, but was still insisting on having a diaper to poop. He would come and tell us that he needed one, go and hide to do his business, then get us to change him and go back to being in his underwear. With a newborn to take care of at the same time, I wasn't amused by his resistance to going poo on the toilet. We had tried the potty and the regular toilet and he wouldn't go on either one. We tried taking his poo out of the diaper and flushing it down the toilet to show him what would happen. We let him watch us do it and let him flush our poo down the toilet. But our son, like many children refused to go on the toilet and insisted on having a diaper. We spent months trying to convince him to give it a try. Sometimes he would try, but it just wouldn't work. I really felt like he was scared or worried for some reason, but we couldn't pinpoint why after going through all of the possibilities.

Eventually, with only a few weeks left to go before he was supposed to start preschool (they don't take kids in diapers), we resorted to a bribe. We grabbed the Toys R Us flyer from the Saturday morning newspaper, picked out a nice Bob the Builder Toy with him, and told him that if he had gone on the toilet before the time we needed to leave the house, that we would stop at Toys R Us and pick one up. There was a lot of humming and hawing, but eventually he did it. And he never looked back. Whatever he was worried about didn't happen. He thought it was great and he never needed a diaper again. I don't like using bribes in general, but sometimes when he is this stubborn about something and I know he would change his mind if he just tried, it seems like the only way to go.

Regressions and Accidents

Whether you do elimination communication or start potty training later when your child shows signs of readiness, there will be regressions and accidents. The important thing is to not make a big deal out of them, but to try to understand why they happened. Often some extra reminders to go to the bathroom before embarking on something interesting can help (no one wants to leave the park to pee when having a great time). Sometimes the regression comes about as a result of something else going on, e.g. a new baby, a change in caregiver, another unrelated milestone. In those situations, it is important to not make a big deal out of the accident (that is just encouraging it if attention seeking is the goal), but instead to address the root cause of the problem (e.g. including the older child in the baby's care, extra cuddles or some alone time with mom or dad).

Those are the key things that I remember from the process with our son. We are now getting started slowly with our 20 month old daughter who is showing some signs of readiness. What about the rest of you? Do any of my readers have great potty learning tips for Cynthia?

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Reader Comments (10)

What a great response; thank you! I know it was a rather broad question, sorry about that, but I appreciate you taking the time to answer. Great tips! I look forward to any other tips your readers may have.

November 20, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCynthia

My son is ALMOST one and I am so nervous about when this process should begin, how to go about it, etc.

I think I will be checking out that book you recommended!

November 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLu

I only have a 7 month old, but we are practicing Elimination Communication part time (she's actually on the potty as I type this). I think the last section about taking accidents in stride is very important. Sometimes we get pee or poop on the floor, sometimes I put her on the potty and she doesn't do anything. We just take this in stride because it's a learning process for everyone involved.

I also think that having a "I want them potty trained by ____" deadline is unrealistic. Some babies are going to take longer- but chances are they'll be out of diapers before the age of 12. Also, it's important to know that some pottying issues aren't about potty training. I was still wetting my pants in second grade because of a long history of UTIs and UT correction surgery. Even adults deal with incontinence- sometimes is not the fault of the child at all.

November 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterHeather

Since my daughter was about 10months old I have put her on the potty when I change her first diaper of the day. At times I will put her on throughout the day (during a diaper change). At first if she would pee she was not really aware that it was coming out of her or that she had controll. Now she is 14 months and when I put her on she give a grunt (smiles at me) and starts peeing. This week she has started to touch her diaper after she poops. It has been a slow process, but like Annie said, giving our children experiences and access to "bathrooming" will get them there!

November 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterEarthbaby

When my son was about 1 year and a half, I thought that that time was right for me to potty train him. It takes a lot of encouragement. I also used potty charts where he would have to see his acheivements and give him a reward afterwards. Potty training my baby wasnt that difficult at all. The secret is.. let your baby feel that they are loved and cared for so that they will be encourage to do the poop on the toilet! Trust me,it works!

January 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGarden Hose Bib

[...] him to go on the toilet. I wrote about that a bit in the poop resistance section of this post on potty learning. Other than almost missing his start at preschool because he wasn’t toilet trained, I [...]

I had my son almost fully potty trained when a trip we took set him back to square one. I wish I'd known then what I know now (and what you know) about regression. For him, at three, the regression has been about control. We restarted potty training. (He just made his first poop in the potty). It's been a few weeks since we began, and he's doing quite well.

We allow him to have control when we're out by letting him know he can choose--either use the potty or we'll have to leave. Then we encourage the positive choice and congratulate him on helping us all have more fun at the park or wherever we are.

This is a well-done post. I think if we run into anymore #2 problems, I'll bite the bullet and take him in the bathroom with me. It's not what I'd like to do, but it does make a lot of sense.

I did my own potty post with a rewards tutorial for a robot that my son puts stickers on (http://www.thedaysarepacked.com/2008/12/16/potty-rewards-robot-tutorial/). There's a fire truck tutorial too. We also use a candy rewards system--he gets to pick one jelly bean each time he pees. Poop is a chocolate square or mini candy bar. We were using M&Ms the first time, but he's a tough negotiator and it ended up being too much candy. LOL.

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterShawna

[...] doesn’t. We’ve had our share of trials, tribulations and successes as I wrote about in toilet learning and poop terror. We still have challenges.  Even when we try to be patient and not push anything, [...]

[...] Potty learning begins at birth, by doing elimination communication or by changing your baby’s diaper immediately when it is wet or dirty, by talking about bodily functions, and by letting them see you use the toilet. [...]

November 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commenter“Baby training” be

When my daughter was 2 years and 9 months old I decided we would take the leap! She had been staying dry at night for a bit and we had been talking about potty training for quite a while already. I had no feeling to rush her into it before she was totally ready; I know that I waited a much longer span of time than most people but I didn't care; I knew my child and never pressured her to do anything and she always ended up doing things naturally, easily, and with peace, never looking back.
Well, first I pointed to the stack of diapers on the shelf and said that when all of them were gone, she would instead use the potty. We discussed this every time she had a diaper change for weeks, and as we got down to the last few days we started planning a 'potty party' for her. I wasn't entirely confident that this whole thing would work, but I was greatly joyful at the outcome and so glad that I went with 'my gut' for the whole thing. Before she ran out of diapers we went to the store and bought real 'big girl' underpants ~ she of course picked them out and thought they were wonderful ~ then we made 'potty party' invitations together for our family members and distributed them.
When the last diaper had come and gone, she put on the undies and we talked again about how the whole process worked. We took a bunch of bathroom trips that day and they went remarkably well! We held the Potty party that night (we made a cake to mark the awesome event!) and that was that. She was old enough that she understood well what she was undertaking. The next day she accidentally peed as we were on our way out the door and seemed upset but she got over it quickly and it never happened again. That was actually a good thing to have happened because she understood the result of peeing in underwear!
Easy. No stress. Done in one day.
Now, my son, who is not quite 2, is a totally different child. He is headstrong and stubborn and I am still mulling over how I will work with him in the potty department. I realize that the method I used with my daughter won't likely work for him, so I am patiently waiting until my gut leads me to know what to do (:

June 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSamantha Tara

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