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Aug 27 2014

Am I Pushing My Toddler Too Hard?

By at 8:45 pm


So we’ve officially failed at potty training, or at least the first round of it. After spending well over a month trying to coax my toddler onto the potty, bribing him with candy, and even going as far as letting him watch me do my own business for motivation, I’ve decided to table the toilet training for the time being.

In reality, I probably should’ve given up after the first week. My son, from the get-go, was more than simply not interested in going to the potty, he was actually frightened to use it. My mother insisted that he just wasn’t ready. His teachers at daycare confirmed this, as their attempts to help our efforts were met with resistance.

And yet I pushed. I pushed him for over a month, at 2.5 years old, when all around me, fellow parents with children six months older than mine reassured me that they’d yet to start potty training because their children, too, just weren’t ready. I pushed because I thought he could do it, and because I wanted him to do it. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 3 2014

Potty Train Your Child in 10 Easy Steps

By at 11:48 am


If you are organized and thoughtful enough, you can easily potty train your child, with no trouble at all. Just do what I did!

Pre-planning: As with any successful strategy, the earlier you start the better!

1. To successfully potty train a child, you must begin five years prior to having a child. Muse aloud to your partner that unlike your friends’ kids, your kids will be potty trained long before they turn 3, which is way too old for diapers. Maybe, you think, your kids will do that no-diapers thing from birth, so as to avoid supporting evil diaper companies, who are destroying the earth, and the like. Read the rest of this entry →

Mar 5 2014

Potty Training Taught Me That Some Things Are Better Outsourced

By at 10:48 am


It occurred to me recently that though my boys are perfectly potty-trained–which is good because they are 6 and 9–I actually had no idea what to do when my daughter’s turn came around. Odder, still, was that it wasn’t because she’s a girl and girls train differently. What rattled me was that I hadn’t potty-trained my older children…my sister had.

It all sort of happened by accident. My oldest trained late because of issues with his digestive tract, so potty-training was more like an adult conversation than a child manipulation. He’s smart. Scary smart. He was interested in the internal mechanics. Potty-training was more like a seminar, complete with multi-media, entitled: “This is how your digestive system works.”

But with my younger son, I had just had a new baby, and my older sister came over to hang out and spend plenty of cuddle time with an adorable newborn girl. I don’t know why, but she suddenly said, “Let me see if I can get Izzy to use the potty.” She’s just funny that way. Three hours later, success! I had absolutely nothing to do with it. I was so busy with my newborn, I hardly even reinforced it after. She spoke to him when she saw him, asked how he was doing, made bargains and even told him to call her when he had something to brag about. “Mommy, can you call Auntie Francine so I can tell her I pooped?” Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 15 2013

Why My Son Won’t Be Getting New Thomas the Train Underwear

By at 12:17 pm

thomas the train underwearPotty-training makes you do weird things. I tote oversized handbags around town, filled with spare changes of clothes and super-absorbent camping towels. I keep in the car a portable self-sealing potty which can contain waste should we need to make an emergency roadside stop. (We’ve never used it, but just in case…) I’ve attached a watch-like timer to our backpack so that the little guy is reminded by a song to visit a restroom every 90 minutes. My husband and I have rewarded our son with stickers, silly noises, and painting his toenails.

One of the most awkward choices of this parenting adventure involved a major compromise of my values–a visit to Walmart. For years, Walmart has been a place where we only purchase things we cannot find elsewhere. I avoid Walmart due to its poor treatment of female employees, active discouragement of unions and collective worker protections, and the deleterious effects its business model has on the economies of rural and small-town areas. As a Jew, fair and respectful treatment of workers is a weighty, holy obligation. The Torah mandates prompt payment for labor performed. Employers cannot expect employees to defer their own basic needs in order to acquire work. Our courts must mete out justice to the rich and poor even-handedly. Read the rest of this entry →

May 16 2013

How I Got My Toddler to Poo in the Potty

By at 9:18 pm

owen at the pottyWe’ve all heard horror stories about potty learning. From ill-timed accidents to elaborate bribes, teaching (“training”) children how to use the potty turns even the most sensible people into frantic angry shut-ins. I bought into the hype reading “three day potty boot camp” books and prepared to sit in the bathroom with my naked kid eating salty foods, drinking water, and letting his Curious George doll pretend to pee on the toilet.

I was tired of changing diapers. Infant diapers are an inevitable part of my day, but huge man-sized turds from my 25lb toddler were driving me insane. His lanky body was awkward and unstable on public changing tables and the smell could clear a room in seconds. My blood boiled as I watched him walk behind the couch, drop a deuce in his diaper and then demand I change it immediately–or rather hiding it from me until his butthole blazed with a fiery red rash that required a teary mid-day shower.

I wanted him to put that shit in the toilet. Literally. Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 3 2012

Potty Solutions: Can I Duct Tape My Kid’s Diaper?

By at 9:59 am

diapers and toilet paperMy son is 28 months old and has lots of new habits. He talks in full sentences, “Are we done yet, Mama?” and memorizes his favorite books so that he can “read” them aloud to himself. He also strips down naked and urinates everywhere.

My boy has no interest in using the potty. We had a small window where he was peeing in his little potty and then one day, complete refusal. When we talk about or offer the potty he cries and says, “No potty!” and with a baby on the way we have no intention of pushing the issue. We want him to learn to use the potty in his own time and at his own pace. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 12 2012

Bribing My Way Through Potty Training

By at 3:05 pm
jelly beans

Is it bad that potty training has turned into bribing with candy?

My nearly 3-year-old daughter, D, finally made the declaration shortly before Hanukkah: she was done with diapers, ready for her Rapunzel undies, and no one–NO ONE–was going to prevent her from putting them on.

Naturally, I was overjoyed. Two kids under 3-years-old had long meant two kids in diapers, and with every purchase of a new box of size 5s, I hoped and wished that this box would be our last.

I wasn’t really sure where to start. Friends had successfully managed their toddlers through “potty boot camp” and the hard-core approaches to making the transition. We navigated the onslaught of near-misses and misses, accidents and successes, in our own way, and found that the reward system that worked best for our kid was not in the more preferable forms of stickers and stamps, but in gummy bears and jelly beans.

That’s right, Tiger Moms. I have been feeding my kid a straight, steady stream of sugar for two weeks now. It is all at once horrifying–because yes, like you, I once insisted that the only treats that would pass my kid’s lips would be for special reasons or on special occasions:  Shabbat dessert, birthdays, special holidays, etc. And dammit all if those treats weren’t either in portions controlled by yours truly, or at least had some kind of kosher, organic symbols on them to make me feel somewhat comforted. Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 22 2011

Potty Training in the Heat

By at 10:32 am

It’s hot. It’s really damn hot.

It’s 7 am and it’s 84 degrees out.

If you live anywhere east of the Rockies, you’ve know what I’m talking about. This heat wave has made its way across the country and just hit the east coast yesterday. I live outside of Boston, and the weather report for today is HOT. Specifically, it’s going to be hazy, hot, and humid, and while the temperature will hit 100, it’s going to feel like 109.

We don’t have central A/C in my little house, so our two window units are working overtime to keep the house just barely comfortable at 83 degrees. The baby doesn’t seem to mind the heat, but the toddler is a bit fussier than usual. Or maybe I’m the one who’s a bit fussier. It’s hard to know.

We’ve dealt with heat waves before, but this one is presenting a new challenge. You see, my toddler is well on her way to being potty-trained, which, generally speaking, is a great thing. We’ve had very few accidents since she finally consented to don the Dora and Hello Kitty underwear I had been unsuccessfully bribing her with for the past several weeks. The problem is that when it’s this hot, you want to keep your kids hydrated. And lots of water and milk means lots of trips to the bathroom. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 30 2011

Ask Bubbe: My Toddler Won’t Use the Potty

By at 9:47 am

Dear Bubbe,

My toddler son (2 1/2) adamantly refuses to wear underwear. He’s gotten to the point that  he only sits on the potty after he has already eliminated in the diaper. He has properly used the potty in the past and we praised his use and the hand washing afterwards. But he no longer stalls going to bed by requesting to sit on the potty nor does he say “Yes!” when we ask if he wants to sit on one.

When should I worry? What should I do? We are going to stay with my MIL over the 4th of July holiday & she has very strong opinions – I really don’t want her to pressure her son &/or my son on this subject (or any others, but that would be a second post…)


Dear Aviva,

I will start from the worst case toiletting scenario and work backward to normal stuff. The worst is the child who, for one reason or another, holds back from pooping at all, then passes a large, hard stool which causes pain and spasm to his anus, after which he refuses to poop, because it hurts, or is even unable to because of the spasm, and the whole sorry cycle escalates until the whole family ends up dancing around this poor child, while he dances around in pain and holding his sphincter; and then the liquid stool leaks out past the impacted stool, and the child is constantly soiled, and the nursery school kids mock him and you end up having to see a pediatrician, a pediatric gastroenterologist, and a psychiatrist for 6 months until the situation can be cleared up. This is a nightmare and can have various triggers; toilet training coercion could be one.

So, a 2-and-a-half-year-old who wants to stay in his diapers for a little longer is NORMAL. You can offer him the potty, especially after meals when there is a natural reflex to eliminate, or if you can identify facial expression or body cues that he wishes to do so; you can praise him for using the potty or even just sitting on the potty; you can read him cute little potty training books; you can buy a nice potty chair and let him decorate it or leave it around for him to just chill out on; but if he would just rather not use the potty, then that’s OK. If he is anti-undies, that’s OK too. If you can coax him into underpants with fun characters (Spiderman seemed to be a favorite in my house) then that’s nice, but he will have accidents, and that’s also OK and not a punishable offense and no reason for a geshrei (to yell). If there are too many accidents, he ain’t ready! Pull-ups can be a useful transition from diaper to undies, but we survived without them in the old days.

Some kids are shy about using a potty, but when offered will put on a diaper just to eliminate, and then switch back to underpants. But really, until around 3, I really think there’s no need to be pushy about any of this. I know there are opinions which differ and I know that it is nice if a child is fully trained by day and night by 3, but it’s OK if he’s not, and it isn’t that common anyway. Recent research has shown that 25% kids aren’t trained before 31/2 – 4 years.

Now, as for the Shvigger (mother-in-law); oh, so much to say. I have a shvigger, G-d bless her, and I am a shvigger, and we come in all temperaments. But try practicing this line: “Thank you for your help and advice and your kind concern, but really, it’s not your business.” It worked for me back in the day, and we have maintained a respectful and positive relationship since. If you can’t see yourself doing that, then just tell her that the doctor (ie me) told you about all the terrible things that could happen if the child isn’t ready for potty training. Refer her to paragraph one.

And remember: he won’t go to the chuppah in a diaper!

Send your bubbe questions to

Shyrla Pakula is a doctor, lactation consultant, cookbook writer, Orthodox Jew, former parenting columnist, the mother of seven children, and a grandmother to six. She lives in Melbourne, Australia.

Jan 20 2011

My Daughter Likes To Look At Photos Of Herself Peeing…Whatever Works

By at 11:28 am

“No More Diapers any more, I’m as happy as can be // I get to wear big kid pants// I’M SO PROUD OF ME!”

So ends A Potty For Me, a fine example of children’s self-help literature. I was in favor of it, because it eschews videos or rewards and emphasizes the child’s own triumphal joy. It also emphasizes the agonizing arc, from peeing in one’s pants to false alarms, to the continued presence of diapers at night, all in a few fold-out pages. The kid even looks a bit like Ronia, especially in the baby flashback scene.

The book did not do the trick on its own, though. We were attempting to simulate the techniques my mother used on me, letting me run free until I wanted to rejoin civilization and its achievements. Of course, my mother raised me in an indigenous Yupik fishing village near the Bering Sea, so there was a lot of free space for me to pee in. Harder to pull off in Philadelphia, or disastrously in a New York City taxi cab or the corner of my sister’s fabulous lower Manhattan apartment, to cite one particularly urologically eventful trip. My dad suggested M & M’s.

Our ability to leave our house was saved when Ronia started preschool. While her excellent summer daycare had required diapers below a certain success rate, the Waldorf school was willing to work with her. Since she was one of the older kids, she apparently started quite a fad for toilet training among her younger admirers. Not a moment to soon, as I was starting to feel her teachers viewed me less of a parent and more of a diaper delivery service. This was the same week she started falling asleep by herself, in one swoop gaining independence over body and psyche.

Just like her literary hero, Ronia was bragging “I don’t NEED diapers anymore! I get to wear underwear, like Auntie!” In spite of my best efforts, she did demand a reward: looking at pictures of herself peeing. She would announce that she had to pee in the night, and I was thrilled since she was sleeping in my bed. Suddenly she did not need to be accompanied by a diaper bag bigger and heavier than her. I did not have to do laundry every day, which I had done almost every day of her life to that point, since she used cloth diapers.

But then, she did some traveling over winter break and the disruption seemed to make her lose interest. “You got so mad at me!” she would recount. “I don’t want to because I am having a hard time peeing in the potty.”  I am trying not to panic, afraid of her regressing. She is doing fine at school, even coming home in her original clothes most days. She always knows when she has to poop, mercifully. And she likes her cartoon character toilet lid.

Finally, I resorted to telling her, “It’s later now” when she would say that she wanted to pee “later.” And it actually worked! Like so many things in parenting, this is a process but every one comes through. So we will all keep trying, and wiping up.


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