The reason for it all – Potty Training!

What I mean is, the reason being why I started this blog in the first place! After one emotional and challenging weekend back in August when we attempted to potty train our oldest daughter, I decided I needed to be recording my adventures in parenting so that when my good friends asked me questions I could remember what I had gone through! (And for the second child too!)

So, potty training, or as I have better come to understand and appreciate the term – toilet learning. I like the later so much better because it really shouldn’t be about you, as the parent or caregiver, trying to train your child like a dog, but more that your child learn the necessary functions surrounding how to use a toilet to go to the bathroom. There are so many important skills necessary to do this. The first, and most important, is the ability to recognize their body needs to eliminate waste, and how to control their muscles enough to do so until they are on the toilet. In my opinion this is not something you can train a child to do, this is something they must learn by listening to their body. And more importantly, be physically and mentally mature enough to do.

I had read TONS of articles online about so and so’s guaranteed potty training program, three day potty training, no excuses, this will work if you follow it EXACTLY as outlined, and I admit, our first attempt at potty training was utilizing a boot-legged copy of one of these methods my friend had sworn by. Yet all the while, in the back of my mind I second-guessed the fact that none of these so-called potty training guru’s were doctors! They were just some parent that had success in one particular method and had enough of  a following to build a program that they could then sell to anxious parents. I worried about the medical implications that come with potty training too soon, and nowhere in ANY of these programs did I read mention of that; this worried me. I had talked to my doctor a few times about potty training and she had always said, “if she is really ready, it takes ONE day!” And you know, in the end, she was right. Of course. Yet, HOW did I know when she was ready? Well, that is the part that is tricky. Every child is ready on their own timeline, but there are a few indicators that might help determine that. I looked to one of my favorite child development books, TouchPoints by Dr. Brazelton (listed on my parents bookshelf page) and his markers for readiness. Mainly, the fact that she was interested in the toilet (she had been since 18 months, so we got her a potty to sit on, and she did, often, but rarely did anything happen), she was usually dry when she woke up from a nap, and she had tell signs that she needed to use the bathroom.  So we embarked on our first weekend of toilet learning!

Here is what we did, and yes, we failed the first time, BUT I learned a lot! To set the weekend up both my husband and I had read one of the recommended “toilet training in three days” manuals, bought 21 pairs of underwear (decorated with characters I knew my daughter would love – and since we use compostable diapers, she never had such fun pictures to greet her every time she pulled down her pants!), created a sticker chart WITH her, where every so many stickers meant a tangible prize, (one that wasn’t food, as I was trying to not use food as a reward, so I took a trip to the dollar bins at Target, and got a few bigger ticket items too!), checked out multiple potty books and DVD’s from the library to read and view with her, made sure to roll up all the rugs in her room, and overall, told my daughter were were throwing away all diapers, and were prepared to spend every waking minute with her for three days straight!

The method we had subscribed to centered around the fact that your child will start to show signs they are going to urinate, and you have to be ready, in the beginning, to whisk them to the potty so that they learn to associate that feeling with eliminating on the toilet. She was supposed to have underwear on so that she could learn to keep them dry, and the feeling of them being wet; and last, we weren’t supposed to ask her if she had to go to the bathroom, yet VERY often remind her to tell us when she had to go. In my opinion, it was practically the same thing, whether the words were, “do you have to go to the bathroom?” or “remember to tell us when you need to go to the potty,” they were still reminders. But, I was trying to follow the program as instructed.  We also didn’t move the potty to the room we were in, as the child had to learn how to control themselves enough to get to the potty from wherever they were. I liked this idea. I had read others where you put potty’s everywhere in the house, but wondered how that taught bladder control. Same with programs where you set a timer and every 15 minutes bring them to the potty; I wondered how it helped support bladder function.  I also liked that she got to wear underwear, as for me, I thought it part of toilet learning to be important to know the mechanics of how to pull on and off underwear. All in all this seemed like a good program for us; and it was, it just wasn’t the right time. The first day was rough, I felt like a hawk watching for prey, wondering at what moment she might start peeing and I would need to rush her to the potty. We had several accidents that day, but she did tell us some of the time that she need to use the bathroom, and she LOVED filling her sticker chart and getting a reward every so often. The second day was better, less accidents, yet I still felt like a predator watching over prey and was exhausted from being glued to my child every minute of the day. Surprisingly, she remained dry through both her nap times, and the moment her eyes opened I had swooped her up and brought her near the bathroom just in case! By day three, she was still doing well, she was able to control her bladder enough that if she started urinating she could stop it and get to the toilet. Near success, I thought! Yet by the end of that third day I still did not feel confident she was truly toilet learned. She told us about half the time that she needed to go, and the other half she just had accidents. According to the program, by day three, we were supposed to be nearly potty trained by now. I wasn’t convinced. So I emailed my doctor and told her the saga of the weekend. I explained how well my daughter was doing, but that she was still having accidents, and how I when I tried to put a diaper on her at the end of the third day, she refused and wanted to be a big girl, but that I didn’t feel she really was truly ready. My doctor said that she probably wasn’t ready. She explained that there is a difference between care-giver trained and toilet trained. Caregivers can be sure to send the child to the potty, remind them to use the potty, and children can usually be pretty successful at staying dry doing so, but they aren’t truly toilet learned until they can recognize the signals their body is sending them, use their muscle control and remove their clothing mostly on their own to be able to eliminate on the toilet.  What else I did that day is call my daycare provider. She had helped potty train plenty of kids, and had wonderful insights to doing so! After talking to her we had a new plan. Pull-ups!

At first I was so against pull-ups. They are just glorified diapers, and in the three-day program we had tried they were a sin. I couldn’t believe I was about to buy them. But I did, (and luckily my compostable diaper service carries a pull-up training pant) and it was the best thing I ever did.  Since I didn’t feel confident in my daughter’s toilet learning capacity after our three day test run, and I wasn’t about to be cleaning up accidents in public for the next few months; pull-ups were the answer! I explained to my daughter that they were like underwear, but helped protect us from getting too messy if we had an accident. She was happy to wear them, because she saw she could still practice using the potty and pull them up and down. To me, she wasn’t potty trained in pull-ups by any means, but she was learning about how to use the toilet and I didn’t have the stress of worrying about an accident. We still tried the potty, encouraged her to tell us if she needed to use the restroom, and did everything we would have if she was in regular underwear, but there was no pressure. She needed a few months to figure out the mechanics of pulling up and down her pants, and we also helped her. She learned to recognize when she wet herself and would often tell us if she needed to be changed. From August to January we had toilet learning practice and more and more I could see she was getting closer to making the switch to big girl underwear for real. We probably could have tried in late November or December, but it was really me holding back, I just didn’t want to deal with it all again. One weekend we had very little planned, so we decided it was the right time to try again. And this time it worked! No sticker chart, no reminders, no pulling up the rugs, all we did is put her in  underwear one morning, and reminded her to tell us when she needed to use the bathroom. Not one single accident till the third day. She was ready. She could even pull down her pants, get herself on the toilet, and wipe, because she had so much practice doing so. Then we wipe, close the lid, flush and wash hands. Voila! Our doctor was right, it did only take one day. No special program necessary.

The pivotal thing I took away from all of this – any method works, and works well, when your child is truly ready. There will still be accidents from time to time, because yes, toilet learning is a process and little ones get distracted playing, but that’s normal. Just remember not to make a big deal about it. Accidents happen, and be sure to tell your child that. They will probably be more upset about the accident than you are.

What I was most concerned about was pushing this potty training on my daughter before she was truly ready. I had read about causing constipation problems, bladder infections, and other emotional stresses if she wasn’t physically ready. A child’s muscles have to develop to a certain physical maturity and their bladder has to be large enough too, otherwise there can be health concerns. Usually by age three this physical development has occurred, but it does happen sooner for some, later for others. Toilet learning should not be a competition for you, your child potty trained before so and so’s; it’s about when YOUR chid is ready for their own body. You’ll save yourself a lot of stress and anxiety (not to mention months of cleaning up accidents) if you wait till the timing is just right. Not to say you can’t attempt a potty training weekend if you think your child might be ready. If anything, try putting them in pull-ups for a week, or more, and treat it as underwear, might be a good first step. It was for us, and I’m not going to charge for that advice either.  : )

And lastly, some good products once you decide to toilet train. My life saver is a piddle pad insert for the car seat, so if in case there is an accident on a road trip or even a quick jaunt to the store, all you have to wash and remove is the insert instead of the entire car seat liner. Another favorite is this travel potty. We’ve pulled over a few times when the urge hit and it was time for a pit stop. It is nice because it doubles as a seat cover for larger toilets, or relatives houses. We store it under the seat! I also have a foldable seat cover that I sometimes put in my diaper bag to use with public toilet seats, but I wouldn’t say you have to have one.

What tricks of toilet training worked for your family? What surprised you about the whole process? I’d love to hear, as we have one more to potty train in the next few years…but not till she’s ready!

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