You have heard me mention in varying expletives over the past year how potty training my little man is just doomed to never happen. Believe me, until about a month ago, I truly felt that I would have the only kid in grade school wearing diapers. We are often our worst critics as parents, and I had myself convinced I was doomed for defeat in this category because every attempt I made was an epic failure.
Well, I'm happy to report the "oh-so-should-be-private" accomplishment that little r is finally potty trained. And no, I'm not lying, I swear completely that it has happened, and no one is more shocked about it than I am. I wasn't going to write a blog about it with the internet being forever and all, but a couple of things are motivating me to write down at least some generalities of what finally went right for us. One of those motivations was the fact that as parents, and mothers especially, we are hungry for others to tell us their experiences about what worked for them. I know I'm definitely one of those mothers that can't get enough help from others, especially online. I'm sharing my experience just in case it happens to help someone with this challenge. And an even bigger motivator is that I want to remember what worked for little r for the next little man in my life. Yes, regretfully, and dreadfully, he will need to transition from the diaper world and enter our toilet trained society. I am doomed to forget some likely major points, so I wanted to get them written down. (Hopefully little r will forgive me for this later - sorry, dude!)
So, here we go...
1. You know your child best. I am likely the last person in the world to be giving advice on the topic of potty training. But there is one thing I would like to say to all of the other mothers out there, you know your kid best - trust your instinct and try hard not to let judgments get to you. We are so incredibly overwhelmed with information these days about what to do, or more importantly, what not to do, that we lose sight of the fact that people have been doing these parenting tasks for a very, VERY long time without the endless advice of those on the internet and in a dozen books we are talked into buying. By the time your child is ready to be potty trained (which a friend once told me will happen when they are ready at 3 years old, or if you push them, at 36 months - haha), you will hopefully see clearly that every child is remarkably different.
Also, you will hear stories and read blogs and other sources, both online and in books, about training your child to use a toilet in one day. One single solitary day - HA! Really people, can any child be trained to do ANYTHING in one day? This is hogwash. I don't care how many people make money off of this or can provide you proof otherwise. Not only will it not happen, it will likely set your child up for many accidents and setbacks.
Instead, look for the signs that he is ready. Try to put yourself in his mind, if that's even possible, and see if he is truly getting it. Trust yourself on this, and don't let anyone convince you otherwise. At the end of the day, this is your kid. You know best.
2. Make sure you are ready. This might seem like a really ridiculous thing to say, but for me it was so very important. We had so many attempts at potty training that ended badly. I gave into the ever-convenient world of diapers at the slightest push-back from my little man. He is incredibly stubborn and independent. Well, guess what? That quality does not come to him from just anywhere, I happen to be exactly the same (and don't get me started on Big R). We were doomed from the start thinking we had complete control of this child. Believe me, we do not. What I strongly feel made things work this time was that I was ready. I knew he could do it, but more than that, I was finally in a place where I could hold onto some resolve. I needed to be as stubborn as he was. This was far more important in the success of the training than I ever wanted to admit. As a mother, you are supposed to always be ready, right? Blaming little r for every time we failed really probably wasn't fair. I understand that now.
3. Go cold turkey. This might not work for every kid, or every parent, for that matter, but it is starting to become the best approach to successful outcomes with little r (and to be fair, for me as well). When I weaned little r off of his bottle, it was hardly a weaning process. I just stopped. Cold turkey. At age 1, we went to only sippy cups, and I put all the bottles away. Was this painful and agonizing? Holy gazongas, YES! For two weeks I called my mom at least 2-3 times a day nearly in tears wanting to give in. It was hard, but I stuck to my guns, and it worked. It might not have been fun, but really, the first few days were the hardest. Well, guess what?! That was the exact same approach I took here. The first few days were the hardest, yet again, but then, it just stuck. Things finally clicked for little r, and we were rockin' the potty time on the big boy toilet and the accidents left the building (mostly - haha).
So, the diapers ended. The first morning was brutal. Big R was here to help, and we agonized over the screaming child together. It was amazing how much he resisted even being out of a diaper. But I refused to give in, and I think having Big R here to help me with that was huge in our success. I also stuck to my guns and decided that the diaper would not be used under any circumstances except for sleeping at night (to avoid the poor kid waking up soaking wet - turns out he has woken up only once with a wet diaper since we started). No matter what. Whether we left the house for swimming, gymnastics, or school, I would just deal with the consequences and that was that. This is why I think point #2 above is so important. You really need to be mentally prepared for this in every way...
4. Make sure you have the time. It's no secret that we travel a lot. When you are doing something like potty training, you really need to give yourself a block of time to make things work. Right, easier said than done. Not only do we travel too much, but I hate sitting still. I am incessantly on the go, and little r and I like things this way. It was finally at the point where I needed to relinquish my freedom for a few days. We had a decent four day block of time with a German holiday creating a long weekend (I hated the idea of him missing school for this, so this holiday was perfect), and I wanted to give us a good solid chunk of time before chancing leaving the house. It ended up being just enough time. Not even a week after leaving the diapers behind, we went on our ski trip to Austria, and little r literally only wore his diaper for sleeping at night. He skied and played in the snow all day with underwear on and didn't have a single accident. I was so proud.
5. Bribery isn't always necessary or required to make it work. I had tried every big bribe in the book. Nothing worked. My kid was too independent to be told that he'd get some sort of treat. I won't lie, bribery can help get certain things moving forward. We had a sticker system for awhile that encouraged him to at least sit on the potty once in awhile, and I would bribe him by saying he couldn't have his snack or watch his favorite show until he used the potty first. It worked, but not the way I had heard other people have such amazing success. Like I said, you know your kid best.
For little r, it turned out that the best bribery was encouragement and praise - LOTS of praise! He loves to feel proud and for you to be proud of him. For each challenge along the way, high fives and saying "you are SO awesome" went a really long way to make him want to keep it up.
6. Don't give up. I had to keep saying this mantra to myself over and over again. Stand your ground and don't let yourself give up. You owe it to your kid to be strong so that they can be strong, too. At 3 they can be the world's most incredibly manipulators. My child is a master at it, and he threw everything he had at me. Each day I realized how far we had come, and I knew that giving in would only be another set back that through us to the beginning where we'd have to start all over. All they need is a small sign that you will give in and they will run with it. Well, at least that's how little r can be. This was especially hard to get him past not wanting to do more than pee in the toilet. Messes are no fun for either of us, but he was never going to learn if I didn't stand my ground and push through the sloppy, nasty, mess (or the incessant constipation that ensued from refusing to go).
7. Don't beat yourself up for not being ready before. I kept torturing myself with thoughts that maybe I was so wrong and he was really ready before, but I was simply too wimpy. You both need to be ready or it doesn't work. Sometimes trusting your instincts means also understanding yourself and what you are capable of at that point in time. You are seeing signs that he isn't ready, and you are worried it will only result in major setbacks and many unpleasant accidents. I should have avoided "pull-ups" because they really are just diapers that cost more anyway, right? Or I should have taken advantage of the warmer weather and gotten this done in the summer time, or not given in when we were seeing success a whole year ago.
Stop these thoughts. You cannot change the past, and it's ok if you might have been able to train him sooner had you been stronger. The truth is, you were probably right, and your kid was not ready. This is moreso the case with those of us that have boys. All those studies out there show that boys often need more time. This is so much the case that it's almost a fact in my mind. Give yourself a break.
For what's it's worth, these are my pointers. I hope they are helpful to some of my friends that are struggling with the whole potty training thing. I also have many friends that had a much different experience with their kids where it was likely easier or they used a wildly different approach. And that is a-ok. Whatever works, just works. If my approach helps you succeed, then I am endlessly ecstatic that I was able to provide some insight and encouragement.
The bottomline is that it's probably one of the most grueling parts of parenting, even moreso than sleep training or bottle weaning. I swear, it is not fun in any way. Except for the high fives, the huge proud smiles, and the knowledge that you are finally one step closer to preparing your child to survive in a socially acceptable manner in this world of ours. Be prepared with rubber gloves and bleach, multiple pairs of underwear, copious amounts of laundry, and many, MANY accidents. Remember that at this age you are already intimately familiar with the unpleasant side of your child's natural tendencies - handling a little urine and disgusting poop is second nature at this point. It won't last forever, so just roll with it...
So, here's to little r for making mommy proud. It's not that I never thought we could do it, but I was incredibly impressed with how quickly he caught on. Every time I hear his cute little voice say, "I have to go potty" I smile knowing we just conquered a huge hurdle. YAY for us, and high fives all around. And to those of you entering this fun and exciting phase of parenting - good luck, have fun, and try not to lose your sanity.