My child is two and is potty trained. Actually I would say she was potty trained at 22 months, but it is all in how you look at it, really.
I have been fielding a few questions about this recently – people asking me how she is doing now (following my 3-day potty training series), so I wanted to come back and write a kind of wrap-up post with a review of our progress. First, for those who haven’t been following along…
- we did the three-day potty training starting when little’un was just shy of 20 months old. We did not wait for the traditional ‘signs of readiness’ as we learned from our EC friends that a child’s instinct to stay clean and dry comes from birth, the rest is all habit and ‘learning’
- day one of the process, we had our first ‘walk-to’ poop, meaning she felt the urge and walked over to do a poo in the potty, completely spontaneously and unprompted. She got it – what this whole potty learning thing is about. But we were still having lots of ‘pee-misplacement incidents’
- day two we were getting more and more pees in the potty and three out of three poops had gone in the potty. Hazah!
- day three she night-trained herself. That was completely unexpected. I checked her diaper when she woke up after the second night and it was dry. That has remained the case with only a couple of exceptions to prove the rule (both exceptions happened not during her sleep but when she was restless, worked up and fighting sleep)
- … but we continued to have mixed success with pees – most went in the potty (either partially or fully) but one or two a day were still full-on misses
- at the end of the first month, we had our first full day with NO accidents. Hooray! We had had lots and lots of nearly-nearly days (where she made it all though the day without incident and then when we got home she would pee just before making it to the potty, often). Finally after four weeks she had her first ‘all in the potty’ day!
- … but there were still days with some accidents. We had very few poo accidents at all, in the whole process (and the ones that did happen were like on my friend’s patio – sorry again – or our hardwood floored hallway, thankfully) but we continued to have some pee accidents on some days. Then every few days we would have a full day with all the pee in the potty.
- after two months, when she had just turned 22 months, the ratio shifted and suddenly most days were ‘dry’ (underpants, trousers and legs stayed DRY) and days with any accidents became fewer and fewer.
- and from there on what started to happen for us was a new cycle. She would go for about two weeks with no accidents, then she’d have one mishap – usually on daddy’s watch (sorry to point this out… but really it is just the result of the fact that he has less ‘training’ and is therefore less attuned to her non-verbal signals and she is less receptive to his prompting to go, too). Then after one accident it would be like a floodgate opened (no pun intended) and there would follow lots of other ones. I also noticed that invariably what had happened was that I had started the ‘dry’ cycle super vigilant and treating it like a dance for two, more like EC where I have to tune into her and sense her need and offer the potty at opportune times, lest she forget. After a couple weeks of success, I would get complacent and just wait for her to either go on her own (at home) or tell me she has to go, which worked most of the time… until she got distracted or absorbed by something (say playing with daddy) and forgot to go or overrode her body’s signals, which is normally where I would come in and offer – but daddy’s timing wasn’t always as finely honed so… accident one would give way to accident two and so on for a day or two till we got back to the rhythm.
- now, at 26 months old, it has been about a couple of months since Pipoca’s last full-on accident. What does happen now is she’ll often have a kind of pre-leak, where a little escapes before she acknowledges she has to go. So we still get through a lot of underwear but… when she needs to go, (the vast majority of) it goes in the potty.
- we are now transitioning to the big potty (aka the toilet). She was most comfortable on a little potty for a long while but the last few weeks we have mainly been using public toilets and only use the potty in the car. She seems to be really into this new phase, too, of doing it on the big potty like big girls and grown ups.
We did all this with NO punishments, shaming, bribes or rewards. I really wanted her to want to go in the potty for its own sake, not as a way to get a raisin or a big family celebration or anything else. Yes, the timing largely came from us, adults, but it was very much from observing her interest in the potty (much as one introduces food when the kid follows our every spoonful – we don’t wait for them to ask for food to know they are ‘ready’ to eat). This was her process to lead, the speed at which we advanced was hers. We never pushed her or forced her to go, we always said, ‘okay, when you are ready’… even when we could really see she needed to go. The message was always: “This is your body and you know best when you need to go and how long you can hold it. We trust you.” This is what we wanted her to see, not that she would please mommy and daddy by going or that she’d get a reward – what we wanted her to come out of this with was a confidence that we trust her, we are here to support her learning. Plus, of course, she needed to gain a new awareness of her body and all the sensations that mean you need to go, etc. We also hoped we could have fun along the way… and we did.
So, it wasn’t the picture-perfect ‘three day’ process I was promised in the ‘brochures
‘ (hah!). It took longer than that for us and we had a lot of accidents along the way (including in Ikea, Toys R Us, at the park)… But, actually, when I stopped thinking about it as ‘potty learning’ for her
and instead started thinking of it as kind of dance, pair-work, something we do together, much more like late-start Elimination Communication
than like traditional potty training, I adjusted my expectations and found that I really enjoyed the process – and it was much more successful this way, too. What I mean by this is I stopped putting all
the onus on her to go on her own or tell me when she needed to go (which she did do most of the time) and remembered that even though she has ‘potty learned’ I still have a role in this, I still need to stay vigilant, offer the potty before we go out (whether she takes it or not, the offer is made); offer to go with her if I feel she needs the incentive, remind her it is
time to go when she is starting to leak (small wet patch!?) or doing the potty dance, etc!… even as I always respect the fact that ultimately it is her choice (and pushing her would only make her push back harder, anyway).
Maybe this sounds obvious to many of you, but because she was doing it so well and so independently 90% of the time, it was easy to assume she’d got it and I could rest on my laurels the other 10%… until I learned over and over that (with her at least) I still had to be on the ball.
Reflecting on this process, this is the shocker: I think potty training my child has been one of the best things I have done on this parenting journey. It is actually one of the things I would say that has most helped me connect and get even closer to my beautiful baby girl. It was VERY hard at times, exasperating, even… but overall this brought me to a new level of attunement to my daughter, so that it became that (after a couple of weeks), most of the time I could ‘sense’ when she needed to go – without her actually communicating, in words or actions, anything at all.
Well, I say it is a ‘shocker’ but any EC mamas and papas will be laughing about how long it took me to find this out. All EC parents I know enthuse about how much the process helped them bond with their kids. To those of us that didn’t EC our kids from the get-go this notion seems, well, absurd. “How does helping your kid pee and poo help you bond??? ergh – gross!” But there you have it. It is true, for me, too, now I realise.
The emotional shift
I have already shared most of my top tips for potty learning here. But there is one, the importance of which has really become more obvious to me in the last few weeks, which I want to share: Cushion the way for the emotional and psychological side of this transition, as much as possible.
I am sorry to say I didn’t give this side of the process much thought, before embarking on it. I mean, I talked to her lots about where big kids and grown ups ‘go’. We watched the Elmo and other (free) potty training videos on YouTube and read books about going to the potty. We played with dolls who went on the loo but what I didn’t think to address was the loss of diapers and the diaper-changing ritual.
Now, it is clear to me that this ‘loss’ really is a big change for a little baby and I could have handled it much better. The babycentre write-up I let guide me into this process, recommended you show your child the pile of diapers you are going to use up before you do the 3-day process and explain that when those are used up, baby won’t be using diapers anymore. I literally forgot to do that step. Ooops. I focussed instead on the potty and what it was for and figured she didn’t really get what happened with the diapers, anyway. Why would she be attached to them?… and I know I was partially right, as I remain convinced she was oblivious to her bodily functions up until this process began but now I realise how important that whole ritual of changing a diaper was in her toddler life. Okay, she resisted being changed a lot (which might give you the false impression she’d be happy to be rid of it, right?) but it was still a fulcral, familiar process in her every day that was done with mommy (or daddy). But here’s the thing, from the moment we went diaper free (and only from then) she became obsessed with role playing diaper changing – both on her bear and on herself. And that remained one of her favourite games for the last few months up until recently. Well, I remember that when kids get stuck in play, it is usually a sign they are not able to fully process what is going on. I was prepared to step in and help her with that, in play… and then it seemed she moved on from that game – just when she seems to have really gotten into the swing of potty use and she has taken to announcing that she is ‘a big girl that doesn’t wear diapers but wears knickers instead’! So, yeah, this transition IS a big deal and helping them cope with it emotionally is an important part of making it as easy and enjoyable for them, as possible. And I have learnt that it is not only about introducing a potty but about taking away diapers.
Advantages of ‘early’ potty training
- free sexual exploration – naked time means they get to look and touch and feel what is going on, down there. They are going to do this sooner or later. It is theirs afterall. So, I reckon the sooner they get some quality naked time with themselves, the better. I’d rather this be happening at 18 months than at 4 years old, myself. Kids should feel free and at ease with their naked bodies. Hooray for diaper-free time.
- fostering independence – I don’t believe they need to ‘ask for it’ to be ready – in some kind of crazy reversal of the extended breastfeeding put down (“if they can ask for it they are too old”); it seems many parents go with a kind of “if they can’t ask for it, they are not ready” policy on potty training. I (mostly) disagree. I think you watch your baby and (much as you did for introducing food) you can follow the signs as to whether they are ready to go independently – and ECers will tell you they can communicate to you when they need to go, from birth or soon after. Anyway, if you let the process be baby-led (once you have followed the unspoken timing) children find their way to mastering a new aspect of their physical embodiment. This brings pride, joy and a sense of confidence and independence, as it all begins to click. It is empowering – or can be (on a good day)
- deepening the parent-child bond – I mentioned this earlier. Doing this kind of (late) EC-ish method meant I was pushed to become super attuned to my daughter’s needs. And I found myself developing what NinjaDad and I jokingly called my ‘spider senses’ whereby I often just ‘knew’ when she needed to go. I guess it was my unconscious making clever calculations based on how much she drank, how long it has been since her last pee and taking in subtle cues from changes in her body language… anyway, I was not consciously aware of how I knew, I just did. And then, of course, there were the occasional ‘ghost pees’, another phenomenon apparently well known among ECers whereby sometimes you have a vivid and very realistic sense that you are being peed on or indeed that you yourself need to pee – when in fact this is kind of like a premonition of your child’s need to go. Weird but fascinating. See what I mean? A new level of closeness and inter-connectedness developed.
- lessening the impact on the environment – less diapers to land fill or cloth diapers to wash and fewer wipes, so many fewer wipes! It is amazing how much cleaner using a potty is compared to diapers. Gone are 10-wipe-blow-outs. Most poos I just need to use one wipe, nowadays. Amazing, really!
Each to their own, I say. I have spoken to LOTS of mums about this, now, both in person and online. My conclusion is that there isn’t only one way to potty learn gently, in a child-centered manner.
This is a confusing subject, I find… I mean, I resonate and understand arguments from both sides of the potty learning debate. I agree with ECers and early potty trainers that since babies are born with a sensitivity and even a kind of instinct to be clean, it may well be the most respectful, empathic and responsive thing to get them used to the potty as soon as possible. After all, what would you want? Who wants to sit in pee or poop all day?
On the other hand, the ‘wait until they are ready’ and ‘follow the child’s lead’ arguments also make a lot of sense to me and is totally how I am in almost every other aspect of my child’s life. We dance, play and learn together, finding what works for BOTH of us in a timing that reflects her development, her ever unfolding curiosity and her needs.
Clearly the EC/early potty training logic won out on me, this time. Plus, I had seen some pretty adversarial examples of ‘late potty training’ that put me off that approach entirely while, at the same time, I kept meeting ECers who raved about the process and really seemed to get a kick out of it. So the examples in my life were guiding me this approach, somehow.
But since then, I have met gentle, responsive parents who chose to EC convinced that is the most child-centered way to go AND other equally connection-oriented parents who waited till their kids were ‘ready’, some of whose kids, in fact, never had a single accident, when they traded in their diapers for undies. And I have met AP or gentle parents who have chosen nearly any path in between – all of them coming from a place of love, compassion and trust.
Truly, I think there are many ways to go about this that can be empowering for both parent and child, bringing the two together. This was the method that worked for us, this time (so far, at least). For us it was the perfect compromise: as early as we could do it so that she could walk to the potty and manage the process herself, independently. Any earlier (we started around 20 months) and she might have needed more help and as is she could manage the whole process (walking to the potty, etc) herself… and I didn’t want to go any longer than I had to, on account of the number of (chlorine-free) disposable diapers we were getting through. She responded well and quickly took to it, in our view (though, as we say, it was not a perfectly smooth journey).
Having said all that, would I do it this way, again – start early (from say 18 months) and go diaper-free from day one? I am not sure. I will say, I have no regrets. This was the way that felt right for us with this, our first child… but I do have ‘no accident’ envy, from the parents who told me that was the result for them… Then again, honestly I have heard ‘no accident’ stories coming from all methods, including the three day method (no accidents after day two or three) AND I have heard lots of ‘many accident’ stories from all methods, too. So, really, my conclusion is that has more to do with the child and, dare I say it, their ‘readiness’ (though not necessarily in the T. Brazelton sense) and with how much they are driving and embracing the process than necessarily with the method or the parent’s approach. So, do it your way… or better yet, do it your child’s way, at a time that works for the child and the whole family (like probably not just before a new sibling comes or when they are stressed… but a time when you can all give this your caring attention for a little while).
So, would I do it this way, again? Depends on the baby… Did I enjoy and learn a lot out of it this time: heck YES!