She stays dry for hours, hangs out with you in the bathroom, and lets you know exactly when she needs her diaper changed. She’s ready… are you?
Help nature take its course. Calmly.
Toilet training can be more exhausting than sleep deprivation. At least when they don’t sleep we can drink more coffee but pee on the floor… ugh. There’s a whole confusing mess of information out there: start once they can sit independently/wait until they’re mature enough; put them on the toilet every two hours/let them learn to listen to their bodies; reward/don’t reward; pull-ups/underwear… who knew something as basic as our plumbing could get so complicated?
When we toilet-trained our oldest, we did it by the book. Checked off the ready-signs checklist, read and re-read the same potty book, brought him into the bathroom with us (uh, was there a choice?), and stocked up on M&M’s. We even created a toileting pictogram using pics of his favourite cuddly. In hindsight, we had WAY too much time on our hands. It was going smoothly until… Norwalk. A stomach virus during toilet training is about as Titanic as it gets. First he got it, then the pregnant one of us got it, and then we bailed. By the time everyone was healthy, that third-trimester-preggo-mama had even less motivation and then bambino number two came along. We blinked and six months later our three and a half year old was still in diapers with no desire to change. But by then our little man was, well, a little man, and we were slightly desperate. So we amped up our game-plan. Here’s what worked for our older toilet-trainer:
- Underwear. We mostly used cloth diapers, so this felt like a natural progression. And since a pull-up is really just a more expensive diaper, we didn’t make the nighttime switch until he’d totally maxed out size six.
- Scheduling pee-breaks. He almost never listened to his body when he had to go. We did it logically as in “As soon as you’ve gone pee we can go to the park,” and let him know well in advance so he wouldn’t complain too much.
- Activities. As a toddler he was content to sit happily while we read story after story waiting for his business to happen; a year later… not so much. We had to get creative with stickers, stamps, markers and anything else we felt comfortable doing in the powder room.
- A toilet ring. He was too tall for the potty and felt like a real big boy when he got to sit à la throne.
- Rewards. Yup, we went there. But the only reason they (finally) worked was because we cut out the sugar and introduced some plastic (little army figures instead of chocs). We also had to re-think what we were actually rewarding. Every time he stayed dry between scheduled toilet trips… success! Even if he didn’t actually pee after patiently trying for a minute or two, he got to choose one of the toys from the bucket (we spent a whopping five bucks on about thirty army-guys, so you can imagine how tiny and el cheapo they were). Every time he had an accident between toilet trips he had to put the most recent one back. He happily chose and played with each newbie for maybe ten seconds before it got tossed aside and forgotten right up until the next accident. Then it was dramorama when he had to give it up. After the next dry spell he dove straight into that bucket to retrieve his long lost love and start playing again… for about a minute. But he started listening to his body because he just didn’t want to have to forfeit any more toys and by the time that bucket was done we were well on our way.
With our second munchkin, we went about it differently. From about twenty months he started sitting on the toilet before his bath, just like his brother. He’d been quietly observing for who knows how long and actually asked if he could try. Our excited ‘Sure!’ motivated him to sit there for at least thirty minutes that first night, and as long as we let him every night thereafter. This went on for months with NOTHING happening until one night, he actually peed. Cue the euphoria! We congratulated him (proudly but not too over the top), and he did his own sweet victory dance. The routine continued and after some more successes we added in a few logically-timed day-trips as well. We didn’t make too big a deal of it and he stayed in diapers until they were dry most of the time. At that point, we went together to buy new underwear and made the switcheroo. Sure, he still had some accidents, but he was so eager to follow his brother’s lead, and we were so low-key about the whole thing, that it worked itself out without any power struggles. Just the way we like it.
Every kid’s different and what works for one might not work for another. Once you’ve figured out what’ll motivate them, it’ll be a lot easier to motivate yourself. There’s no wrong way to train… just varying levels of frustration. Don’t be afraid to take a break if it’s not working out – it’s a lot easier than deep-cleaning the carpet every day.