Forget the Pull-Ups and sticker charts and rediscover the joy of potty training
Over the holidays, my youngest son potty trained himself.
I tried all the gimmicks with my older son – sticker charts, advice from Web sites and books promising “potty training in three days” — and the whole process was a months-long, drawn-out ordeal, with me fretting about it along the way.
When my older son developed a fear of doing the fouler of potty tasks anywhere other than his diaper, we even resorted to a book called “Everyone Poops” with lovely illustrations of every creature from bunny rabbit to elephant defecating according to their particular custom.
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In the end, a daily breakfast of blueberries and oatmeal was all that saved him from eternally holding it in.
But for my 2-and-a-half-year-old, Owen, who will one day be grateful to me for making him locally famous on this subject, potty training was a relative cinch.
The secret that unlocked his desire to leave the world of diapers: his big brother (I would recommend temporarily purchasing a stand-in older same-sex sibling for all first children in the throes of potty training) and princess underwear.
Owen learned that another girl at his preschool, the younger sister of his big brother’s friend, was wearing princess underwear full time. Owen decided he wanted to be like her. And that was the day we started trying out big brother’s hand-me-down Elmo underwear.
With Will I’d used some drab gray and blue heavy-duty cotton training underwear that helps keep accidents from becoming full-room disasters, but Owen didn’t think they were cool enough. And so I decided to be brave, skip the training pants, and go full throttle toward those dangerously thin Elmo briefs.
Then we added Diego and Thomas the Train to our collection.
Down with Pull-Ups
I also never bought a pack of disposable Pull-Ups for Owen, although I went through my share of pricey packs with his older brother. If you’re hoping to lure your little one with the appeal of cool-looking underwear featuring his favorite Disney or Sesame Street characters, I say don’t give him bright blue Pull-Ups that feature those same characters.
I’m sure they have a place in some children’s potty-training needs, but Pull-Ups can definitely allow a kid to enjoy the independence of pull-it-up-and-down-yourself underwear without the accompanying responsibility to keep it dry. And that can make them hard to wean from.
Capitalizing on our princess moment, we wound up potty training right in the middle of the holidays, as we were flying out to Colorado. I wasn’t about to put Owen in underwear for the plane trip, but he kept his diaper dry and we went potty in the airport and in that tiny little bathroom on an airplane in the sky.
Once we were safely in my parents’ house, we stripped Owen of his ten-times refastened dry diaper, and took our chances with the big boy underwear.
Potty-going has its own intrinsic rewards
By now, I think most moms recognize that punishment is a psychologically and logistically dangerous tactic to resort to when it goes to potty training.
And at least in my own family, I’ve noticed that artificial rewards are also pretty useless tools in potty training. Sticker charts get less exciting by the day. M&Ms lose their magic fast, at least for a kid with fecal fears.
Instead, I like to look for the intrinsic joys of going potty and for the brief time that it’s necessary, I exclaim loudly about them too. And, yes, for a 2-year-old the intrinsic joys of toilets are many.
There’s the joy of unrolling some toilet paper for wiping, of not having an uncomfortably full belly anymore, of flushing the toilet and noting with fascination that everything just deposited is now going into the pipes under the house (we can thank Joanna Cole’s “My Big Boy Potty”) for this insight. And of course, for a 2-year-old there’s the joy of observing his own poop.
I promise, if you’re willing to wonder aloud about whether your child is going to make a hippopotamus or a rattlesnake or three little ducklings as he sits on the stool (and then bring in the whole family to view the final masterpiece), you can cut your potty training time down by weeks. Just try not to visualize now.
I’m also big on reading to a kid while on the potty if it inspires him to stay there. After all, most of the men in our lives continue to require bathroom reading into advanced adulthood.
I focus on offering choices, all of which lead to using the potty: “Would you like to try going potty now or in 10 minutes?” I would ask him when he wasn’t yet deciding to go on his own. “Would you like to go on the little potty or the big one?” “Would you like to sit or stand?”
I’ve also been known to swoop Owen up, when it’s been a few hours since his last potty break, and start telling him a story so compelling that he can’t help but sit on the potty while he hears it.
For his accomplishments, I offer nothing but my own happy conversation about the intrinsic rewards of not soiling diapers. I talk with Owen about how many diapers and trees he is saving, about how we don’t have to use those wet wipes anymore (he’s not a fan of them), and about how much like his big brother he is becoming.
Mostly, though, Owen was just ready.
The princess underwear helped though. And, yes, he still wishes I’d buy him a pair.