I’ve done it. I feel like I’ve climbed Mount Everest. Again. I have once again achieved what might be one of mothering’s proudest moments; I have potty-trained another child! As of today, Trey, my 2.8-year-old is five days accident-free. That includes naps and overnights, mind you. Right now I’m riding high on the crest of self-satisfied accomplishment like you wouldn’t believe. I’ve pretty much turned into an insufferable braggart, telling every person who stands still long enough in my vicinity about my accomplishment. That’s right, MY accomplishment. Because one thing I’ve learned after potty-training three boys is that this war, sisters. And like any war, the victory goes to the one who wants it more and refuses to give up.
Sure, sure. Trey needs to feel as if he is the winner here, and I can’t tell you how many times a day I still remind him what a fucking badass he is for his part in all this. I cheer every time he goes to the potty, but let’s be real, his conquering the ol’ thunder box is only half the accomplishment of me conquering his desire to continue making the foulest of unholies in his diapers. Left unchecked, he would have happily continued stinkin’ up the joint probably until some little peer had pointed out that what he was doing was babyish. I don’t got time to wait around for that sort of social development, you know what I’m saying?
Trey proved to be my most stubborn -- which is mildly shocking considering that I’m pretty sure my ultra-defiant first-born, Ace, has Oppositional Defiance Disorder (“ODD”-- which is so funny and fitting). But hey, Trey has really earned his nickname of Little Napoleon. I was right there, ready to give up and give in to the temptations. I was considering defeat. All around me I had sympathetic moms feeling my pain, agreeing that they were going through the exact same thing- and had been for some time. Thankfully, TOM reinforced my resolve, gave me just enough encouragement not to throw in the towel and reminded me that no matter what, I could not give up. That boy could not defeat me!
So I thought I’d share some training tips with you all out there. Don’t get me wrong-- I’m in no way a poster-child of good parenting. I fuck up on a daily basis. But I seem to have found my sweet spot on the parenting front, so I thought maybe I could share some advice.
First, know what you are getting into. This is war and it’s not pretty, gals. This will be at least a couple days on end of trench warfare. It is a nuanced assault against the sweet little souls who rule our worlds, you must steel yourself. That whole idea that kids will “do it when they are ready”? Horseshit! Moms, it is up to YOU to be ready. When YOU decide you have had enough of the dirty-diaper duty, you will enable your kid to fully accomplish what is pretty much their life’s crowning achievement (thus far, of course... I hope my kids go on to bigger and better glories, but hey the jury is still out on that).
This is a big thing for them, and they need to be made to feel as accomplished, proud and badass as you do about the whole thing. It’s like you win the war, but you let them be co-victors. Yeah, this is a win-win, it has to be. And it has to be sold to them that way. You want to build this up.
But I bet you all already knew all that. Where’s the helpful advice, you ask? Here.
Tip#1 : Buy Azrin’s Toilet Training in a Day or Less.
This book got me through all three of mine. And for the first two, it was in one day. That little shit, Trey? Well, he thought I was just kidding there for a minute. He thought he could break me. For the first day he walked around in his new big-boy pants and used them like diapers. The whole day. He screamed and cried every time I invited him onto the potty. He thought I’d grow weak and weary, he felt if he just kept it up, sooner or later I’d get tired of cleaning up puddles of pee. Boy was he right! I did get tired of it. But I did not relent. I did NOT reach for the pack of Pampers.
Read this book. Everything I know came from it, every great tip. It will walk you through the process. It shows you how to have your kid teach a betsy-wetsy doll (modeling) and spells out the importance of the oft-overlooked first step: teaching the kid how to master taking their pants up and down. Key point on the whole deal.
The only thing I don’t do in the book is use a training potty. I figure a kid’s gotta learn how to go wherever you are, and I’m not hauling around a fucking potty with me everywhere. (Although I did just see some mommy at swimming lessons carting around one of those mini-toilet seats that fits over toilets... I don’t know if she is just crazy germ-phobic or what, but that’s more than I can handle. Not forgetting to take the kid and his favorite blankie with me in the morning is enough-- last thing I need is a frickin’ toilet seat to try to remember!)
Better just to teach them on a regular toilet seat, I say. They’ll have to prop themselves up with their hands, but that’s why we wash afterward, right? So you do need to invest in a couple sturdy little step stools to put in front of the potties in your house (you can get ‘em at Wally World for like $6). Plus, my kids really liked getting to flush and you can’t do that with the little plastic training toilets.
The book was written in the 70’s so the artwork is kinda funny and some of the ideas are a scream. (It assumes you should train in the kitchen since that’s where you spend your whole day anyway, housewife!) Honestly, the only thing that is really outmoded is that today’s housemom hardly has a WHOLE day at home to do the program. That’s what I was really struggling with-- finding those hours to do it!
Luckily, last Wednesday my whole day opened up and on a lark I decided to give it a go. Friday, when Trey was STILL trying to break my spirit by seeing if he could weasel his way back into the diapers I thought I would scream, cry and give up. But by Monday, like I said, I was annoying the checkout lady at the supermarket bragging up my accomplishment-- all in the guise of “I’m so proud of my big boy!! He uses the potty now! Tell her, Trey! Tell her how you use the potty!” (The whole time, beaming my self-satisfaction.)
But I can’t say enough about the book. The program was developed to teach severely retarded people to toilet themselves and then after proving successful adapted for small children-- as young as 18 months! (Although I’d probably only recommend 18 month old girls try it... you know how boys are... attention spans of gnats!)
Tip #2: You will question your resolve.
You will get tired and cranky with the process and think to yourself that maybe this just wasn’t the right time. You’ll say that maybe your child just wasn’t ready. Or rationalize to yourself why it is a good idea to put them in diapers for just naps and bedtime. Don’t. DO NOT.
Stand firm. If you give a little now, your angelic little genius will notice. They aren’t dumb, friends. And if you give in even once, they’ll learn that they can take it even further next time. They’ll let you begin to take this whole training process on as your failure and laugh in their cute little-kid way about how they are breaking your confidence. (That’s right. They are hiding in your closet right now trying to outwit you as you read this, so don’t be pulled in by the whole “I look so sweet and innocent” act. They are all tiny little Evil Geniuses. Yes. Even yours.) Don’t even give them the option that they can go in a diaper again.
Tell them they are NEVER going back in diapers, and mean it. This time, with Trey, I returned an unopened box of diapers to the store and told him, we don’t need them anymore. No more diapers in the house. Three days in, when he was still messing his pants, did I have a moment of weakness where I wanted to throw him back in those diapers? You bet. But I held out, and every day got better and better. By Sunday it was one accident, and since then? Nada. Thank God I didn’t relent. If I had relented three days in then the next time I tried, when I REALLY MEAN IT THIS TIME, Trey would’ve held out even longer to see if he could break me again.
So make a big deal out of it. Show the kid that you are firmly resolved. Throw those unused diapers away right in front of him, or give them to charity or something. Just make sure that you remind her that they are going away, and they ain’t NEVER coming back!
Tip #3: No Anger
You can not effectively train your kid if you’re mad while you’re doing it. I know this is hard. I know it gets frustrating. And I’ve got a temper like a Sicilian, so trust me, I’ve been there. But at this point, total anger-free training is required. I’m not saying slap a smile on your face when they pee down your stairs (which Trey did). By all means communicate that you are very sad for them. Empathy, not anger. Key component here. Teach them that bad, wet pants make everyone sad, not angry. And by all means, tell them that good, dry pants make everyone happy-- and throw in a little I’ve-lost-my-fucking-mind ecstasy to really play up how happy those dry pants make you! At the very least you’ll amuse your kid a little bit. (I have a feeling this learning process is pretty tiring for them, too).
Tip #4: Under no circumstances should you EVER waste your money on Pull-Ups.
Here’s the thing about modern diapers: they are fucking unbelievable! They do such a great job that kids can sit around in a wet diaper all day with nary a discomfort. They wick wetness so effectively they cannot teach junior a single thing about the disgustingness of sitting in his own filth. Well, guess what? Pull-ups are made out of the same thing. Kids can’t actually FEEL that they’ve got wet pants (another key point here).
You’ve got to let the kids feel how uncomfortable sitting around in wet pants is, and since taking them to the amusement park in jeans for an ill-thought-out flume ride (we’ve all been there, right?) is probably not in the cards for your wee one, might just be best to strap them in some old-fashioned training pants and prepare for a day of experiential learning. You don’t like walking around in clammy pants after that flume ride, your kid won’t either. But in Pull-ups, your kid won’t feel that. They may think, “Wow, my pants just got heavier”, but they won’t be like, “Sunuvabitch! That wet cotton and denim chafes!”
Another downside? Because they are basically just diapers (albeit more expensive diapers), Pull-ups are tight! This is not the time to be getting form-fitting undershorts. Little hands have to be able to get the darn things up and down, so unlike your favorite pair of date-night jeans, tight is not the answer. Buy a size or two up in underwear. It’ll make it easier for them to learn. They have their whole lives ahead of them to find out if they like ball-crushingly tight briefs or VPL-creating bikinis.
A quick aside: at yet another swimming lesson I saw some mom chasing her daughter around after class to get her to put her Pull-ups on. She chased her around and had her step in and pulled them up for her. What’s the fucking point of that my friend? Listen, potty-training is time-intensive. And kids aren’t the fastest at learning to pull up their pants. But the world will not stop if you are late to soccer practice or whatever. Slow down. Let the kid learn herself to pull-up her pants. (Well, not that kid, of course, because Pull-Ups are too fucking tight to pull up without either maternal assistance or hips greased in Crisco.)
Tip#5 They CAN hold it through naps/night
Now I know this will be pretty controversial with a lot of moms, but I think this point is KEY to effective training. Do not do diapers during naps or at night. Yes. THey will have an accident or two in their bed, and no that won’t be fun for you to clean up. But they have to learn that they may no longer pee at will while sleeping. A couple of points here.
First I need to share with you how a couple of my boys proved they were “ready”-- ie, they can hold it at will. Ace the Super Defiant, proved to me right off the bat he was ready. I tried for an entire morning to get him to pee on the potty. He never would. Just wouldn’t go. So naptime came along and I put him in a diaper (oops! My mistake! But he was my first, so there’s been a learning curve). When I got him up he was practically swimming in his bed he’d peed (and pooped) so much in that diaper. He’d just proven that he could hold it til he had a diaper on. That’s control. Deuce proved it to me, too. On our one-day-of-training, every time I’d leave him alone for a second to run up the stairs or dash to the other room to answer the phone, he’d peed his pants. Never in front of me, always when I’d left. Again, that is control. If you can catch your kid doing something like this, proving control, then they are ready. Period.
Allowing them a nap-time diaper (which is really just you not feeling like dealing with the mess, and has little to do with them), is really not teaching potty training. You should expect a couple accidents in the bed. That’s how we learn. Face it, you didn’t learn that drinking a buttload of tequila on an empty stomach was a bad idea until you tried it. Experiential learning.
So here’s my thought. While they are in the throes of this potty-learning battle, and really tuned into figuring out the signals in their brains that tell them “Hey! Gotta pee! Make for the potty toute suite!”, let them learn that this happens while we rest, too. Just like they won’t like the feeling of wet pants, they won’t like the feeling of a wet bed. But you gotta let them learn it. And it may take a few times.
It took Trey two nights- but bear in mind we were in the trenches. Pretty much ALL I focussed on until it was mission: accomplished was him going to the potty (Sorry, Ace and Deuce, for the neglect. I think we’re a better family for it now, though, don’t you?). But I encourage you to put all the rest of what you’ve got going on aside for a couple days to do it. I know it is a lot to ask, and the mere suggestion brings up in most of us an immediate response that we just don’t have that kind of time/luxury/availability. But long run, this is a time saver.
So expect that they need to learn that. And here’s my theory: putting them in diapers for sleeping will encourage bed-wetting in the long term. Yeah, I know. I’m not a doctor and I’ve got no scientific evidence for this. It is just a mother’s intuition thing. I just think that while they are all tuned in to listening to those potty-signals they get it is a good time to teach them that the signals come at night. Get it all over with. Don’t let them get in the habit of being able to totally “let go” when they sleep, or they will have more trouble getting out of that habit. This will also keep you from eternally being the “no-water-after-7pm” police. When they can get themselves out of bed to use the potty (and maybe here’s where you’d want a small potty for their bedroom, if it is too far or convoluted a route for them to get to the john in the middle of the night), they are fully self-sufficient on the potty front. And, that, gals, is trained!
Tip #6: Enlist their help
There will be accidents. THis is sure. But don’t make their accidents about you. This should be a shared accomplishment, so they should share in the responsibilities of accidents. Make them clean up after themselves. If they’ve wet on the floor, have them help out cleaning it up. Wet pants are their responsibility to take to the washer. Same with wet sheets. Now, i know babies/toddlers aren’t going to clean these messes up perfectly and to your standards. That’s not the point. They need to help do it. You can come back later and “do it right”. But give them some ownership of this whole thing.
Tip#7: Buy that darn book.
It’s all in there. And you won’t find a better step-by-step guide around.
Tip#8: Take your victories where you can. And when you lose a battle, know you haven’t lost the War.
As I’ve spent the last two and half hours writing this while Trey napped, you will probably be happy to hear that he had an accident. So there! You think. Little Miss Answers isn’t so smart after all, is she? Well, duh. Of course I’m not. But I’m not running for a diaper and going to throw all the progress we’ve made away, or hit the “delete file” icon on this piece either. There will be accidents. But we don’t throw away the gains we’ve made up until now. We stay strong. We don’t let the bastards get us down.
Trey helped change his sheets, put on some dry pants and demonstrated that he knows how to use the potty and that he knows that’s where he is supposed to go. And I am going to go get myself a margarita. But not without some chips. I’m not reliving that learning experience again!
Interesting article on the debate over old-school/new skool potty training here: War of the Diapers- TIME
As expected, TIME sides with the softer, gentler potty-trainers... but it's nice to know there is someone out there fighting the fight against the "Ahhh, just wait 'til they're ready! They'll train themselves!" crowd.