I started this post in April when I starting potty-training Sailor, but I’ve been hesitant to post it until we met with success. How could I talk about this stuff if I didn’t know how it would end? This week, Sailor has been almost 100% diaper free with few accidents, and I ‘m ready to declare success. So without further ado, here’s a little mini-series on my new thoughts on potty-training.
I have to admit, when I was potty training Monkey, I was totally caught up in all the “potty train your child in a week/day/hour” methods that are out there. I loved the idea that I could just be done and not deal with all the messes. Yuck.
These methods did not work for us for two reasons:
- I didn’t have the patience to focus exclusively on potty training for any amount of time. Most of “instant” methods I read about required a lot of time dedication from the parent. When I tried it, I found that all I could do if I wanted the method to work was watch my child for accidents and babble about the potty. Any distraction led to failures. I felt bored and trapped, and it made me mad and impatient. Ditto for Monkey. Even a day was too much to ask; we have better things to do.
- I had a hard time understanding the real challenge of potty training is not getting them to go on demand, but getting them to understand when they need to go. Monkey had the first part down in about 30 minutes; knowing when to go took six months or more. It was baffling to me why he couldn’t put two and two together. I didn’t help that Monkey is so naturally bright–I expected him to comprehend this as quickly as he had picked up reading. He didn’t.
After all the yelling and crying associated with Monkey’s extended potty-training period (6 months, a year if you count our first few attempts), I was ready to find something else for training Sailor. I did not want to go through it again, and more importantly, I didn’t want to put my cute little Sailor through it. In a whim of random library trawling (whoever coordinated our library so that the parenting section of non-fiction lies next to the kids area was a genius), I picked up a couple of books on potty training from the library including Early-Start Potty Training. It’s a very interesting book, mostly focusing on infant elimination control, the idea of potty training babies starting at 2-4 months. (If you thought babies had no bladder control, consider how quickly your child stops peeing during diaper changes. It only takes a few months before your baby learns that this gets a very negative reaction and they have the control to avoid it.)
I don’t know if I’m quite hardcore enough to take on potty training an infant, but their section on training 18-to-24-month-olds was exactly what I was looking for. A few things I liked about it:
- Less time consuming - Instead of potty-training suddenly occupying your whole existence, you start extremely gradually and move up, enfolding it into your daily routine. If you’re doing fast potty training, you’re cumulatively taking hours out of your child’s day for this rather boring activity. After the first novelty wore off, I’d be put out about it, wouldn’t you? Slow potty training solves this by introducing potty time slowly, so the burden is gradually placed on your child.
- More patience – Maybe it’s just me, but it was so much easier for me to be patient with an 18-month-old than a 2.5 year old. I didn’t expect him to understand and I felt fine taking it slow since he had so much more time before he hit the age where it was socially unacceptable for him to be in diapers. I treated it like an interesting experiment to see if he could learn, not expecting any results at all, just establishing habits.
- Conditioning, not logic – Frankly when we potty-trained Monkey, there was a lot of arguing and reasoning, bribing and rewarding. But in the end, the reflexes involved are a mostly involuntary system and logic isn’t very helpful. Young toddlers are better programmed to learn by imitation and conditioning than 2 and 3 year olds. Early-Start Potty Training frequently uses the analogy of house breaking a puppy versus housebreaking a fully-grown dog: the dog will understand what you want better but be less able to comply because of habit, whereas the puppy won’t understand but is easier to condition. (I take this on faith, since I’ve never had a dog.)
- Balance between child-led and parent-directed – Finally, slow potty training isn’t as in-your-face, “you will do this” as some of the fast potty training methods, but it’s not as wishy-washy as the “let your child tell you when it’s time” methods that will have your child still in diapers at age 4. It’s definitely parent directed, but the demands upon the child are incremental and therefore a lot less onerous and less likely to draw resistance fire from your toddler.
One thing you must have to accept before you go the slow potty training way: there will be accidents, there will be mess, but it won’t be as bad as you think. Since reading Early-Start Potty Training, I’m beginning to think that all of our modern potty training woes stem from our desire to avoid mess. We start at a later age, hoping they will comprehend quicker and reduce mess. We invented “training pants” which are basically still diapers–they work great to avoid mess, but they eliminate the natural consequences that speed potty learning.
Next week: the steps I modified from Early-Start Potty Training to form my new go-to potty training plan.