toilet training

I have poop and pee on the brain these days. (If only I had a nickle for every time I said the word poop…)
A few months ago,  while getting ready for school (preschool, aka. daycare on steroids), Eleanor announced that she wanted to wear underwear. So I let her. Why the hell not? (I wasn’t going to have to clean up the first mess. {forgive me, teachers}.) Besides, we had been here before – “I going to wear underwear today” – and it always ended the same way. In diapers.

Which is why, when I picker her up from school that day and she was still in underwear I was floored. And thrilled. But then the next day came…and she did it again. Then again. For more than a week she stayed in underwear. That’s not to say that she didn’t have accidents, because she did, but she would off to school and come home from school in underwear. Tim and I were sure we had turned a corner.

Then, somehow, we turned another one. And we were back where we started. In diapers.

Last week at Eleanor’s 3 year well child visit we asked for our pediatrician’s advice. “A sticker chart,” was her answer. “Then, when it gets warmer, roll up the living room carpet and keep her naked.” Although we agreed to try, I was skeptical. We tried stickers before. We tried stickers combined with treats.  We “threw out” the stickers and went straight to treats (two jelly beans for every time she used the toilet). These things worked for a little while, but eventually the novelty wore off and no longer provided the motivation needed. Given that I was hesitant to use them in the first place – I don’t like the idea of setting up the expectation of reward – I didn’t push the issue and each time we just went back to diapers.

The first day of our latest sticker attempt, after explaining how this was going to work, Eleanor peed on the toilet.  “Now I get a sticker,” she said. “I want it here.” (She pointed to her hand.)

“We should put it on your chart,” I said, “so we can keep track. Then when you get two pees and one poop we can go get ice cream.”

“Oh, okay” she said watching me sticker the paper. After I had placed the sticker in the “pee” column, she stepped back. “Now let’s talk about getting ice cream,” she replied.

{clearly she was not on board}

Tim and I both find this whole process somewhat unnerving because we know she can do it – use the toilet without incident – {we suspect} she is just choosing not to. As with most things with her, it seems they have to be done on her schedule. But, that doesn’t mean that we don’t question: Should we be doing more? Should we be pushing her? Asking her more often if she needs to go? Should she watch her Elmo’s Potty Time video again? Should we read only “let’s use the potty, look how much fun this is!” books to her? Bury her diapers in the backyard with ceremony and fanfare?

It was with these questions swirling around in my head that, just two days after her doctor’s appointment, that I came across several articles about toilet training. In one, a pediatric urologist warns that potty training before your child is ready can have long-term and serious consequences for your his/her health. In short, he says don’t do it. And Lisa Sunbury, of Regarding Baby, similarly advocates waiting until your child is ready. She describes the complex set of skills that are necessary for children to master before they are able to use the toilet regularly, and without incident. She even goes so far as to call it Toilet Learning (instead of training), which I respect. Another described the possible regression that can occur even in fully “trained” children, especially when a new sibling or a move, changes things at home.

After reading these I had a wonderful perspective shift. Our role (as parents) is not that of a pusher. We cannot force this, bribe her, or coax her into toilet training. We can only teach her about it (which we have been doing) and trust that she will, when she’s ready, make the decision for herself.  Although it feels like we’ve been there before, I suspect Oliver’s arrival shook things up just enough to throw her off. So here’s to hoping that next time it sticks.

image via.

As a side note, here is an interesting discussion on Elimination Communication – early toilet training- from Elevating Childcare.

5 thoughts on “toilet training

  1. You might want to read “Punished by Rewards” by Alfie Kohn. In it he analyzes a lot of research and experience and has a lot to say about rewards.
    Basically, bribing people (even/especially children) to do things that are intrinsically rewarding is counter productive–as her request for icecream illustrated to you. The end result is that it ends up being done for the reward, instead for the intrinsic motivation, and often the behavior is decreased in the end.
    She needs to use the toilet because that is what people do and its nice than a diaper, not because she gets stickers. And she has clearly demonstrated the physical ability, so from now on its her thing. Which you see.
    I’m just struck by how your post so clearly illustrated what he was talking about in a totally different context. I really enjoyed the book, I hope you check it out.


  2. You learned through trial and error that your child would potty train when she was ready and so it goes…Children do have control of bowel and bladder sometimes sooner than they are willing to actually use the potty. They decide when it is the right time for them to discontinue diapering.Most parents are not willing to let this milestone happen on the child’s schedule the parents want to time coincide it with the beginning of pre-school etc.
    I am a maternal child nurse and have trained only three kids but all were different. I thought that the second should have followed the “training in less than a day” that was successful with my first child…no such luck. But when 25 years later my granddaughter did not follow either one of my previous experiences with potty-training, I became a firm believer in the fact that the child is in control and so be it.


  3. We went through the same thing with Millie. It was nearly my Waterloo. Eventually, we gave up and went back to diapers for a couple months. Then right before Christmas, Millie announced she wanted to wear underwear. I had already promised myself that I would just let it be whatever it was to be, and not overly react to any successes or failures. Nor would I push her to use toilet. If she said no, I would drop it, even if it had been hours since her last pee.
    She seemed to have relished in my prior reactions to her accidents – ranging from anger to tears (on my part) – and so I decided not to give her the benefit of my reaction. We had WAY fewer accidents since… and most of them were just truly accidents rather than peeing on the floor to watch Mommy get in a rage.
    My friend said she read in Toddler 411 that potty training actually happens in one day. It just happens when its meant to happen.
    But lordy, no you have me all worried about regression when #2 comes along!


  4. I’m suppSing there will come a time when we have to MAKE her do something instead of waiting around for her to get on board. What do you imagine that will look like? Or perhaps I’m mistaken…


  5. Consistency is the key. Because we as parents just as busy as litlte tots I have a potty to see my two children and ermind me that it was time. A potty Clock can be purchased for $ 15 So it’s cheap. It is for the children, determined to wear it, but I never liked anything on your wrist so I always had it on my belt loop. re Ready to go off every 15, 30 or 60 minutes. It rings a cute litlte melody and the signals to try to use the potty and yall. That really helped me more than my children, but she liked the music and it was not long until they associate the sound with the potty. (Much like Pavlov’s bell and experiment, you know?) But I will say that this is 18 months pretty soon. It can be performed safely. But there is no reason to hurry. My pediatrician told me that most kids have no muscle control down there only three years old. But you can do it. Stay patient and now to forget the rewards! Kids love prasie and treats for good behavior. HAppy potty!


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