We’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.
But learning to use the potty is more than being physically able to sit on a toilet; it is a psychological transition that if handled poorly can result in issues spanning from constipation and UTIs to genital anxiety. More so, my son learning to use the potty was not about me, what I was tired of doing, or how and when I wanted him to take control of his body.
It was about him. His body and his desire and willingness to feel and respond to it.
My job, I reminded myself, was simply to show him the potty, explain how our bodies work, get him excited about listening to his body, and to provide a comfortable place for him to succeed, should he wish to do so.
Basic Potty: I bought a simple plastic potty from Ikea. No bells or whistles (Bjorn also makes one.) I figured the adult potty doesn’t sing and light up when you pee in it, so why should his? Fear was also a huge issue for my son, and a simple streamlined potty helped with this immensely.
Potty Library: We set up a bathroom “library” with every potty book I could find (this and this were big hits!) Sometimes he would sit on his potty clothed while I read to him. We did this for months with no pressure to actually go on the potty.
No More Privacy: As if we had any to begin with, but my husband and I welcomed our son’s narration in the bathroom. He really couldn’t have gotten any more “up in our business” but you could tell he was trying to figure it all out.
Lots of potty talk away from the bathroom: We found times throughout the day to talk about how our bodies turn the food we eat into poo-poo and pee-pee and then we stop and listen to our body when it tells us that we need to go.
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: My son responds very well when concepts are reinforced through books and media. With all of the potty talk, he was thrilled to see one of his favorite TV characters using the potty. This is the most well-done potty program I have ever seen, complete with a catchy tune, “If you have to go potty, STOP and go right away. Flush and wash and be on your way!”
One month before his 3rd birthday my son announced that he wanted to put his poo-poo in the potty. And he did. Three weeks of consistent pooping and I asked him if he’d like to wear some undies. His reply?
“Mama, what happens if I have an accident?”
I told him everyone has accidents, even Daddy, and we just clean them up–no big deal. I also reminded him that no matter what, I love him.
In no time he was diaper-free with pull-ups for nap and bedtime and we have no intentions of pushing him on that.
I am sure my child is an outlier and his potty success has nothing to do with my parenting and everything to do with his intrinsic motivation. But because I let go of my own issues, I have nothing but happy, humorous memories of his potty learning and I marveled at his bravery, thought process, and eventual competency.
The first day he wore underwear he froze in place, cocked his head, and yelled, “I FEEL MY BODY!!!” while running to the bathroom. That phrase became his potty anthem.
One day I encouraged him to potty upon waking from his nap. “I don’t have to go pee-pee…[eyes widening at the stream of urine] huh. I guess I did… also, I got some on my leg.”
He flushes his pee-pee with an enthusiastic salute, “Bye, bye pee-pee!!”
He wanted to know where his poo-poo goes and why he can’t get it back. And then he wanted to know what a sewer was and why we can’t go there.
He would look down into the toilet and exclaim, “Mama, usually my poo-poo looks like a snake, but today it looks like a mouse!”
… a dolphin.
…. a triangle.
… a monster.
And the day that he told me very thoughtfully that going poo-poo on the potty is better than wearing diapers, I smiled to myself.
I smiled partly because rather than my child learning to use the potty because it makes me feel proud (which it does) he uses the potty because it makes him proud of himself.
But mostly because, that monster man-turd finally made its way to the toilet. Bye, bye poo-poo!