My Son Didn’t Struggle with Potty Training, but I Did

Baby boy playing with potty

I “heard” about the three-day potty training method on Pinterest long before I had any intention of introducing my toddler to the toilet. I filed the existence of the method somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind to potentially dig out when the time came. I also saw plenty of methods that touted the benefits of pretty much the exact opposite, so basically I figured I’d either potty train my son in a simple long weekend or he’d be diaper-free by elementary school. You know, either one … pretty much the same thing.

Maybe what you can gather from that is that I had no idea what I was doing (as with all things parenting) and I was pretty much just going to wing it when the time came. Only the time came way before I’d even mentally wrapped my head around the idea. At barely 2 years old, my son’s teachers kept reporting that he’d asked to use the potty. I gave him a little plastic potty so he could get used to the idea of having it around and thought that’d do the trick for awhile until he was really ready. (What I really mean is until I was ready. Little did I know then that that’s what it all really came down to.) I finally decided it was time during spring break. (Can I call it spring break if I’m a work-at-home mom with a kid in school two days a week?) I figured I’d give it a whirl and if it didn’t take, no harm done.

Only I had no idea what I was getting into. Potty training my son ended up being relatively easy. Turns out the hard part was training myself.

At first thought, it seems pretty straightforward. Take diaper off. Put kid on potty. Repeat until he figures out that pee goes in the potty. But I never thought about what it would mean to be the one doing the potty training. The one having to predict when another human being had to pee, or even just to remember that I was supposed to be predicting such things.

I could teach him that we don’t pee on the floor or on the couch or on mommy. I could do pee-pee dances and pretend to be obnoxiously excited about normal bodily functions. I could buy underpants with characters from movies he’s never seen or read books about peeing in potties until I turned blue in the face.

But all that was for naught if I couldn’t remember to ask him if he needed to go potty. Or tell him he needed to go before we go on a walk. Or take him to the bathroom when we get to a store. Or before we leave a store. Or while we’re at a friend’s house.

Let me tell you about kids’ bladders: They’re teeny tiny. And while you’re at home and he can make it an hour without going potty, as soon as you’re out doing something, he’ll need to go every 15 minutes. Do you know how easy it is to get distracted in 15 minutes? That’s barely half a trip around the grocery store or a “Hey — how are you?” conversation with a friend at a playdate. That’s pretty much the length of time it takes to put on a toddler’s pants, socks, and shoes, and then start all over after they have to pee again.

It was easy to teach my son to know how to pee on the potty. (I mean what 2-year-old doesn’t love running around pants-free?) The hardest part was training myself to add this new element to our routine. He could have been accident-free so much earlier if I could have just wrapped my head around the fact that we had to visit every single potty every single time we went anywhere or did anything. I was so used to just letting him hang out in a diaper and change it went it felt wet that I had a hard time acknowledging its absence. Even a simple mistake of phrasing could throw us off course for the day, by my asking him if he had to pee instead of just telling him to go.

Over the course of our potty training adventures, I’ve learned it’s not so much how you potty train, or when you potty train, or what crazy method you use. It’s that you have to train yourself to have a potty-trained kid. It matters less how old your kid is or how much you want to get rid of diapers forever, and more that you’re ready to potty train. To plan your life around small bladders and bathroom trips. That, or get used to doing a lot of extra laundry.

If you’re not in the camp that wants to get on board doing extra laundry due to unnecessary potty accidents, here are some things I’ve learned along the way.

1. Don’t start potty training because your kid is a certain age.

… or because their friends are doing it or because you think you’re supposed to be doing it. Tackle potty training when your child is showing readiness, but importantly, when you are ready to take on the adventure.

2. Don’t start potty training half-heartedly.

Either do it or don’t, but don’t get lost in the middle ground. Taking a kid’s diaper away is confusing enough without being wishy-washy and inconsistent about it.

3. Stick to one method until you’re positive it’s not working.

I half-did the “three-day” method and half-did the “he’ll get it when he’s ready” method. Although he did end up potty trained, I probably seriously confused him along the way. Plus, this is probably when I taught myself to be a terrible potty trainer.

4. Use pull-ups/diapers with care.

Daytime potty training was more than enough for us; I had no intentions of attempting nap time or nighttime potty training at the same time. (Sleep is way too precious to mess with by adding in another factor.) However, that meant taking away diapers during the day and then giving them back during his nap and at night. I tried using pull-ups so that they’d still be new and different, but they were similar enough to diapers that it sent a mixed message. I still used them, but made extra sure to take them off right upon waking so there wouldn’t be any post-sleep confusion about whether it was OK to pee in them or not.

5. Get in the habit of taking your kid to the potty every single time you leave the house and every time you get home.

… as well as anytime you get somewhere and anytime you leave. That’s a lot of trips to the potty; get used to it. It’s better than getting stuck in the middle of the grocery store with a kid with pee dripping down his pants leg. Also, don’t be afraid to let them pee in the grass if there’s no potty around. I mean, um, I never did that … (I have friends that have been known to keep a plastic potty in their trunk for this exact reason.)

6. Be in control. Tell, don’t ask.

If I ask my son if he needs to go potty, the answer is almost always no. If I tell him he has to at least try, 9 times out of 10 he goes.

 Any tips to add?

Image courtesy of Thinkstock

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