Potty Training is one of those unexpected, HUGE parenting challenges. How do you know when to start? Grandma says you were potty trained by 2 years old, but today’s average child potty trains at 3 1/2! What approach do you use? Do you base it off of your child’s interest in pottying on the toilet or on your desire to be diaper-free?
I started to potty train my first child, a girl, when she was 22 months. Sure, she was showing some “signs’ of being ready, but really we started potty training because we knew another child her age that had just gone diaper-free. Isn’t there a good bit of peer-pressure when it comes to potty training? What parent doesn’t wish to ditch the diaper, saving money, the environment and avoiding the YUCK factor all at once?
Months before I had casually introducing my daughter to her potty chair. After occasionally having some pottying success, I targeted a specific weekend for the big switch. I put her in underwear that day and explained my hopes and expectations. We also used a potty doll that my daughter would “train” – the idea being that she would enjoy teaching the doll, while learning herself. I had done some reading on various potty training approaches. Here was my plan: be positive, reward a successful potty with one M & M, expect accidents and respond by coaching her to practice running from the location of the accident to the potty several times for a positive, yet practical learning experience. We also sat down on the potty just to “try” throughout the day, every few hours or so. Sounds good on paper, right?
Well, it didn’t go so well. After the first few accidents (which were constant) my daughter and I were both hating the experience. It’s hard to be upbeat while cleaning up repeated messes. It’s hard for such a little child to continue seeing the run-to-the-potty learning experience as a positive learning game. It got old and we both got frustrated – fast! At the beginning of the day, my daughter felt positive and excited about potty training, but by the day’s end she was hiding under the table to pee-pee. Learning from having accidents sounds logical, but for her it was just discouraging.
On Day 2 I took a completely different approach, which I call “Learning by Succcess.” You may call it parent-training, rather than potty training… but it worked for us. I took her to the potty every 30 minutes like clockwork. As you would expect, she began to have very few accidents and pottying success after success, each celebrated with the an M&M in the color of her choice. Granted, I was a little exhausted. I felt chained to the toilet or timer… but it was working. Over the week, I stretched her scheduled potty time to every 45 minutes and then to every hour. Every hour was MUCH more doable, but still kept us watching the clock. 2-3 weeks into it, I was taking her every 2 hours, with few if any accidents.
Sounds like a lot of work? Honestly, it was! I believe that the “easier” route would have been to wait another 9-12 months to start at all. However, one has to decide if it’s easier to remember to sit your child on the potty every few hours, or to change a diaper every few hours. I decided for the potty. After a little over a month of potty training in this way, my daughter began to initiate – to say she had to go potty. At about 2.5 months, she was initiating, so that I no longer watched the clock at all, and counted on her to take care of her needs. It was a long 2.5 months, but going diaper free at 2 years, instead of at 3 years, was worth it for us. And, when my second child was born, I was even MORE happy to have potty trained my first child the “hard” way.