Potty Training 101

Family Matters on 05.25.11
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(Photo credit: Maya Kruchancova/istockphoto.com)

When I signed up for parenthood, I signed up for everything -- including tending to poop, cleaning up poop and encouraging others to poop. In terms of effort expended and trying to contain my composure, teenage years will most likely trump the scat-strewn years of newborn to 3. But for now I'm knee-deep in it, metaphorically and otherwise.

It's been four weeks since my daughter dropped diaper trou and marched over to her potty to pop a squat. I expect many more weeks ahead, cheering on each deposit, emptying the chamber pot and wondering if I should institute a sticker and/or M&M system -- aka a bribe for doing the deed. Turns out my daughter has the toilet-reading affinity of an 80-year-old man perusing the Wall Street Journal --  she has no problem hanging out on the toilet. This is mostly fine, except that she can languish for more than 45 minutes, and has figured out how to extend her bedtime as a result.

I should mention that the impetus for my daughter to begin potty training was the result of a bad diaper rash --she has princess and the pea skin. When my husband mentioned to our daughter that using the toilet would help her rash, it clicked for her. Some kids need M&Ms, our daughter needed diaper rash relief. The point is that your kid isn't going to use the toilet until she has a reason to, and sometimes it's as simple as just wanting to be dry or getting an M&M.

A Beautiful Poop
One of the stranger side effects of parenting is finding yourself exclaiming with delight, "That is a beautiful poop!" and clapping in a sort of defecation-celebration dance. Now my daughter proclaims her bowel movements as "great" and "beautiful," and although we're not at the point where she sits on her potty seat unprompted, she's pretty excited about checking out her handy work.

She even wants to empty the bowl into the toilet. Yes, I realize that this is a spectacularly gross accident waiting to happen. Every time she balances the bowl in her hands and walks down the hall to the bathroom I cringe in anticipation of a misstep that could result in some serious splatter. But she bows up with such pride at the act, and it's positive reinforcement.

I've learned a few things along the way and thought I'd share them with others who are embarking on a diaperless journey through their own heart of darkness. And since we've yet to emerge from our own adventure in pottyland, I'd be curious to know from others what best practices they've employed.

Can you potty train your kid in a day?
"Toddler 411" promises that you can potty train your kid in one day. What's the catch? They have to be willing and able participants in their poop-depositing destiny. Still, not every kid is going to step up to the potty-training plate and say, "I'm ready." It can take a while, and three to six months seems to be the standard timeframe for mastering not just urinating or defecating into a toilet, but wiping, pulling up pants and anticipating the need to go in the first place. Here are a couple of other optimal conditions for encouraging your child to transition from diapers to underwear:

  • Try and try again (only not right away): Does your child talk about going toilet or show an interest when you go? My daughter said she wanted to use the toilet about six months ago. I thought it was a watershed moment and I ran to the store and bought a training toilet. Turns out she was still forming her exploratory committee and wasn't quite ready to commit. But having the training toilet may have helped her to become more comfortable with the idea of using it.
  • If your kid is all systems go -- she wants to wear underwear and is annoyed with a wet diaper -- consider blocking out three or four days in which you can let your child "fly free." My daughter went without underwear for several days. It was messy, but it was a message that we were committing to this thing they call potty training.
  • Don't go bananas about accidents. Reacting to them neutrally and telling your child that she can use the potty next time is preferable to showing that you're upset.
  • Think about having a couple of potties around the house. Some people use a toilet insert, which is good as well, but having a potty in a kid's sightline can encourage use.
  • You don't need all the bells and whistles that some potties have. I'm talking music that plays and things that light up.
  • Get on the same page with your spouse or partner and caregivers. This will give your kid a consistent game plan.

I've read that when your child wakes up with a dry diaper for at least a month that you can transition them into underwear at night. But we're certainly not there yet, and we're trying to take this whole endeavor one day at a time anyway. There's even the possibility that she may reject the potty altogether and we'll have to return back to the shackles of diapers.

So this is phase one. I expect more shenanigans, especially as we progress from the potty to the actual toilet. And then there's the potty-training-on-vacation trial-by-fire looming in the distance ...

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