It has been just over a week since my partner and I decided to make our 2 1/2 year old ditch diapers and become a full time potty user. For me, going to the bathroom isn’t something I really think about, unless I really have to go and can’t find somewhere to do my business. But for the most part, voiding my bladder and bowels as needed without soiling my clothes is pretty much automatic. It almost feels instinctual.
Except it’s not instinctual. Toileting is totally a learned skill. And it’s not that easy to learn. Watching my son try to figure it out reminds me of watching him learn to walk, which involved him doing a lot of watching, trying and failing, over and over again until the next thing I knew he had way better balance -not to mention running stamina- than me.
I try to imagine peeing and pooping from the little guy’s perspective. When you’re a newborn, you just do your thing, you probably don’t even think about it and your caregivers dutifully change you when you get soiled and cry. Then at some point it starts to dawn on you that the adults in your life don’t wear diapers and keep hiding away in that small room with the big weird bowl in it filled with water. Soon after you start wanting to go into the bathroom with your parents to see what they are doing. If you’re lucky they react as if it’s a totally normal and reasonable request and you don’t notice the effort it took them to do so. If you’re unlucky you get a big dose of shame directed at you.
Then one day, this little green thing that sort of looks like a frog shows up in the bathroom and your parents tell you it’s a “special” potty, just for you. With a little cajoling you sit and have a pee in it and everyone gets all happy and crazy and tells you “way to go! Good job!” What fun!
At some point, with more cajoling you go ahead and give a poop a try. Whoa! Wait a second, this isn’t so fun any more. Having a strange smelly substance drop out of your bum and splatter on plastic a couple of inches away is scary! It seems like an activity best left for diapers.
But then your parents start going on about how soon you’re going to get rid of diapers and go on the potty all the time just like mommy and daddy and you’re going to be a big kid! Oh yeah! I want to be a big kid.
So your parents set aside three days (because they’ve been reading on all the parenting blogs about the magical three day potty training procedure.) You wake up one morning and they say “today’s the big day! Let’s get you out of your sleeper and go to the potty!” Then all weekend, your play is constantly interrupted by your parents asking you if you need to pee or poop, you get tired of saying no, you accidentally poop yourself and you watch as your parents get ready to explode only to take a deep breath and pull back and say “that’s ok” in a voice that clearly indicates it’s really not ok.
This sucks. Give me back my diaper.
But your parents refuse and say “don’t you want to be a big kid?” And yes, you do want to be a big kid, so you you keep watching what the adults do, trying to do like they do, failing (which means peeing and pooping in your underwear), over and over again and dealing with the scorn and disappointment of your parents. And then one day you’re peeing and pooping in the toilet all the time without thinking about it and you can’t imagine it was ever any other way.
So how do we get our kids to that point? Here’s some of what I’ve learned.
- As it does with most parenting issues, the Internet lies. There is no magical procedure that will suddenly make your toddler go from a diaper pooper to a fully competent potty or toilet pooper. This is a long term project. But it gets easier as you go along.
- Don’t treat peeing and pooping on the potty as normal and having “accidents” in your toddlers pants as abnormal. The accidents are what’s really normal and what you should be expecting all the time, especially at the beginning. Going on the potty is the abnormal thing and a huge accomplishment (especially at the beginning) that should be celebrated every time.
- Your child wants to succeed (if you suspect this isn’t the case you’re probably trying to start potty training too early, give them another month or two in diapers). Accidents are traumatic, doubly so if they are accompanied by a blast of anger or scorn from their parents. When he has an accident, try to react with sympathy and empathy, not anger. Try saying “Oh that sucks, you poor guy. Don’t worry you’ll get the hang of it.” You can then ask him, “where should you be peeing and pooping?” When he replies, “the potty” say in a sincere, excited voice, “good man!” Then take him to the bathroom, clean him up, change his clothes, give him a hug and send him back out to keep playing. The less traumatic you make learning to go on the potty, the easier it will be to master.
- Be clear about your own toileting habits, so your child has something to emulate. When you’re going out, tell your child you’re going to have a pee first because you don’t want to have to pee while you’re out. Then go pee (if you feel comfortable let your child watch) and then gently encourage your child to pee too.
- Make sitting on the potty fun. Last night I shared my toddler’s joy at observing the different shapes his poop took as it landed in the potty and how one poop landed on top of the other. “Poop on top of poop! Yay!” I always wondered why small children seem to be so obsessed with poop and fart jokes. Now I know.
- Once you figure out how to do it without spreading poop around, cleaning up an accident in toddler underwear isn’t much more work than changing a diaper. If you always pack wipes, a wet bag and several changes of clothes when you go out, along with a relaxed attitude, everything will be fine.
- Don’t turn going to the potty into a power struggle. It is a battle you will lose – guaranteed. The last thing you want is your child to see pooping in his pants as a way to get back at you for being angry with him.
- Your child will figure it out, eventually. We all did and he or she will too. So relax, try to enjoy your time together and go with the flow – both literally and figuratively.