Friends. This post is everything. And, it’s not because I think I’m like, an expert in this area (well, I mean, by this time I should be). It’s because this month I had one of those “aha” moments. And, it changed EVERYTHING.
Potty training has been an absolute nightmare for us. But, as of this month (more specifically, these last couple of months), we’ve finally crossed over the bridge and have a toddler in undies. No accidents. No setbacks. We don’t even have to ask her to go to the potty. She legit does it all on her own, knows how and when to hold it, and doesn’t even require a reward (although she does still request them from time to time – but more on that below).
She’s 3 1/2. It took an entire year to get here.
This process has been incredibly challenging and if I’m completely honest, the worst part of parenting for me to date. So, I had to write about it. And, share some words of encouragement to other parents out there dealing with the same potty drama with their very strong, willed, stubborn little love child.
I posted a little video on the topic (pretty much an “in person” intro to this post) if you’re interested!
Otherwise, read on. This post is kinda long, so grab a cup of coffee…or wine. Wine totally works.
IT MAY START OUT AWESOME, THEN TANK MISERABLY.
So, we tried everything to get our little girl to use the potty. I mean errrrrrrythang. And, I would totally do it again, because with kiddos at this age, you just never know what they’re going to connect with.
We started at age 2 by casually referencing the potty and sprinkling it into her daily life – like putting a potty in her room and when changing diapers or after tubs asking if she wants to sit on it and try to go.
To our surprise, she totally took to it. Then, she got sick, wouldn’t eat her veggies, got constipated and you couldn’t even get her in the same room with a potty for almost one whole year (yup, you read that right, ONE WHOLE YEAR).
YOU CAN LEAD A HORSE TO WATER, BUT CANT MAKE IT DRINK
Our daughter is just like her mama (crap). She hates being told what to do and can’t stand being pressured. When she’s pressured, she shuts off and just won’t do it. This has been true in every milestone thus far, so I’m not sure why we thought potty training was any different.
I guess when you hear your other mama friends gushing about how their kiddo just “figured it out”, and your kid legit won’t even look at a pair of undies without screaming bloody murder, you kinda go into drill sergeant mode. Don’t do that.
Out of frustration (and, well let’s be honest…desperation), we thought we’d take a stab at making potty training a requirement (i.e. You’re three now, and this is what you must do) – but, because she’s three, this philosophy made no sense to her, and quite frankly back-fired on us…big time (like, she kicked the potty across the room).
It wasn’t pretty people. And, I felt like a total jerk parent for even considering potty training as a thing she had to do or else. Ugh.
SHE’S PROBABLY NOT HEADING OFF TO COLLEGE IN DIAPERS
After the two epic fails above, we decided we wouldn’t push it anymore. She wasn’t showing any signs of being ready for potty despite her age (see below for signs), so we just canned it. She’s not heading off to college in diapers, right?
We talked about potty, she talked about potty, we let her be a part of our potty life (legit, is privacy even a thing after childbirth?) and she even obsessed about all of her dolls and animals going potty.
We encouraged her puppy, when puppy pee-peed on the potty and didn’t get annoyed when puppy fell in the potty water and grossed mama out.
Encouragement, support, praise…but not pressure.
FOLLOW THEIR CUES & LOOK FOR THE SIGNS
In all of my research on pottying, there is one thing that I believe holds true. Look for signs they are ready.
There are legitmately signs that toddlers show when they are ready to rock potty life. AND, nine times out of ten, if they aren’t exhibiting interest and showing the majority of these signs (or in super star potty kids, at least one of these signs) they are probs not ready.
Again, I’m not speaking about the rock star kids, that at 18 months were like, Diapers? Who needs diapers and pottied like it was their J-O-B. I’m talking about the challenging ones, like mine, who were like Um yes. I will definitely were diapers straight through to college and don’t care what the other kids are doing.
Here are a few signs to look out for:
- Hiding when pooping
- Becoming embarrassed about going potty
- Telling you when they have to go or when they went
- Expressing interest in the potty process, etc.
This article is super helpful in the signs department, so scope it.
DON’T GET DISCOURAGED
Guys, I got totally discouraged. And, I can tell you not to, but the truth is, if it takes you as long as it did us (ONE YEAR, omg) you will inevitably get discouraged. Don’t let your little see that.
Every ounce of potty talk, potty life, and potty loathing should be blanketed with potty encouragement, potty pride and potty proud. No negativity even if and when you get discouraged.
Negativity will only back fire and make all parties feel like…well, shit.
Potty training, will eventually become “potty trained”. Have faith.
REWARDS MIGHT HELP
Eventually, at around 3 our little lady bug seemed like she was just about ready to take the plunge. But, despite her seeming totally into it (remember that puppy that fell in the toilet and totally grossed me out?) and showing the signs (privacy when pooping), she was NOT budging.
So, we broke out the big guns: we tried sticker charts, toy rewards and (gasp, against every fiber of my being) treat rewards. She didn’t respond to the toy rewards as well as I thought she would, but BINGO, when I offered her a teeny, tiny, miniscule marshmallow, she was like Yup. I’ll totally sit on the potty for that. Mama’s girl, through and through.
We set a timer to ensure she was pottying frequently and fed her lots of fluids. And two glorious days of peeing and pooping on the potty ensued, signaled by the beep of the timer and followed by sweet little marshmallow rewards.
We made it. Potty training done.
Except potty was not done. Potty was SO. NOT. DONE.
THEY MAY SCREAM BLOODY MURDER
Weird things happen during the potty training process. Like, your kid seems totally into it, is rocking the potty thang, and all of the sudden, the potty becomes this terrifying thing that your child won’t even look at.
This happened to us. And, it was probably the most annoying part of the process for me because I legit felt like I had been potty training my entire adult life.
Anyway – sickness reared its ugly head again, and my healthy eater suddenly stopped eating anything healthy. I don’t know if it was taste buds being off, or the threes rearing their very picky, ugly heads, or a combination of the two, but her diet changed which meant her poops changed too. Oh, hello constipation. Thank you for revisiting our lives at the least opportune time possible.
Wanna know the best way to terrify a child whose just figuring out that pooping on the potty is a totally safe thing? Constipation. It ruined us not once, but yet again.
And, this time felt even worse than the first – She wouldn’t even look at the potty; she wouldn’t be in the same room as a potty. And to round out the madness, she would scream, literally scream like she was being tortured if faced with the concept of underwear.
It was intense and so incredibly frustrating and quite frankly, really sad. As angry as I was that we were finally there and then literally a couple days later, farther from “there” than we had ever been, it was heartbreaking seeing this new fear creep in for her. This time it was more than her just being a stubborn mini replica of myself. It was legit, literal fear. And, as her Mama I had no clue how to protect her or get her past it.
HERE’S WHAT WE DID TO FIX IT:
After sobbing for like 3 days straight (me, not the kid), I decided to pull up my own big girl panties and figure this madness out. I got online and looked up all kinds of ways to work with kids who were stubborn and/or terrified of going potty and started again, from square one.
Here’s what we did:
- We removed all potties from the bathrooms (and sight, really)
- We removed all rewards
- We stopped talking about the potty entirely
- We stopped saying anything about “becoming a big girl” or other friends who were using the potty
- We encouraged friends and family to keep potty talk out of all conversations (i.e. Are you going potty yet?) – none of that.
- We let her be in the bathroom and ask as many questions as she wanted when we were going potty (she’s basically a gynecologist now)
- We talked about being brave trying new things (not the potty, just in general)
- We stopped making a big deal when she would simulate potty with her stuffed animals (instead we’d say something like “Baby puppy is so brave!” and not specify because baby puppy did potty)
- We went shopping and browsed the pretty undies (among other things)- when she showed interest we asked her if she wanted to pick some out, and when she did it, literally purchased stock in undies. OMG, so many pairs.
- We played the “undie game” – put them all in a pile and I’d ask her to find the undies with the stars…the dinosaurs, the pink stripes, etc. She would find them and make her own pile.
AND THEN IT HAPPENED…
Once we got through the above (which mind you was probably a three-four month process, and total test of patience), and she seemed totally unafraid of the potty (like the screaming and shear terror seemed to go away) and she started showing legit signs of being ready (telling us when she pooped, asking to have her diaper changed, etc.) we put one potty in her room and one in the downstairs bathroom, but didn’t mention it.
When she would get shy about pooping in her diaper, we’d tell her she could go in the bathroom to get privacy if she chose (we didn’t mention anything about potty). Eventually, we told her if she felt like it, she could sit on the potty with her diaper on to go poop just to see how it feels, and one day she got brave and did. She was proud, and we said “awesome” and kept it at that. We didn’t overly praise her (this was key I think, to taking the pressure off and also really hard because we love building her up).
We causally asked her if she wanted to try on undies. Casual was key for us. It took several “asks”, until we finally encouraged her to just put them on and take them right off. Once she got to that point, she decided how long they’d stay on. Sometimes they’d stay on for ten minutes, sometimes for an hour.
We would gently remind her that we don’t pee-pee in our underwear so if she felt like she had to go, we could either put her diaper on or she could try to sit on the potty. It was her choice – diaper or potty – not ours.
One day while she had the undies on, she told me she needed a diaper. I decided it was time to take the lead back and ask her straight up if she would try it on the potty. As I saw the fear well up within her and the tears started to flow, I paused and something miraculous happened. That “Aha” moment I mentioned in the beginning of the post.
I said something like this: What if we put the diaper inside the potty. You can sit on the potty and go, but you’re still going in your diaper. And, like a cartoon her eyes lit up and I saw the lightbulb spark above her head. She liked the idea. And, in reality it was the perfect combo: she got to feel the safety of the diaper and also got to feel the independence of sitting on the potty and going.
So, I set up the diaper so it was inside the potty. If you can picture how you open up a diaper and lay it down to diaper a baby, that’s how I opened it up. I then laid it over the hole in the potty and draped it over the potty so that if she sat on the potty, she’d feel the diaper against her body.
And guess what? She went (cue choir singing Hallelujah). I’ll admit I tried to be nonchalant about it, but totally high fived her, hugged her, kissed her and praised the hell out of her bravery. And, she was super proud as a result so it was a win.
THE FINAL STEPS
Days 1-3: We followed this process for pee. And, of course we toned down the praise to a simple oh, awesome. You went potty. Wanna go play outside?
We made no reference of poop and didn’t suggest changing up the process of diapering the potty each time. Because she was getting the hang of going potty when she felt it, she would tell us when she had to poop, ask for a diaper, we’d diaper her, she’d poop and we’d resume with undies.
The goal here was to build trust – we could trust her to tell us and get the hang of knowing the feeling, holding it until she got a diaper and then heading right back to undies. And, she would trust that we wouldn’t take the thing that most terrified her and force her into it. It was her choice.
By Day 4, she was disappearing and I was finding her on the potty, peeing in it (sans the diaper-in-potty trick) and dumping it in the toilet in the bathroom. WHO is this child?
And, then I remembered – she’s mine. The one who beats to her own drum, bucks the system and always rocks it when SHE’s decided she’s ready.
By day 5 or 6, I couldn’t believe how down she was with the process. And, independent. I didn’t have to remind her, I didn’t have to force her to go. We were even going on trips in the car, bringing the potty with us and she’d sit on it before driving anywhere, without a single battle.
We followed this process for a week. And, then one day, she said “Mom come see my poop” and she had done it in the potty without the diaper all by herself. From then on, she never looked back.
One more week on the potty and then she ditched that for the toilet. I legit found her balancing on the toilet in my bathroom one day, so we ditched the kid potty’s and added the potty seat thingy’s to our toilet with a stool so she could keep keepin’ on with her independent potty practices (without injury)!
And that was that.
We’ll tackle night training another time (I hear that’s absolutely crazy hard and we all need to relish in this win)!
SO, DON’T GIVE UP…OKAY?
I am not a baby whisperer, behavioral expert or potty guru. But, I’m a mama who totally feels your pain. The potty training struggle is so real and it can last a really long time (as evidenced by the above). I never knew that. Everything I read and heard was that it was a pretty cut and dry process (especially for girls)!
If you find yourself stuck in potty training drama, cut yourself some slack. Remind yourself that your little love WILL eventually figure this all out. And, you’ll eventually figure out what works best for them. Right?
More awesome kids stuff is right here!