Potty Learning. Or: My parenting Waterloo

I think the time has come. I do. And it’s got me flummoxed and over thinking and wanting to stick my head in the sand. Oh yes. It’s time to teach the kid to use the potty.

EGADS. This cannot be. Can’t I wait another year? Can’t I pay someone else to teach this lesson? I mean, I’m going to pay someone to teach him to do long division, surely someone can be paid to teach him to poop in the potty.


Up until this point we’ve been really relaxed about the potty. About a year ago he got a little potty, and a kid’s seat for the big potty, and we’ve let him explore them on his own. No pressure, no stress. And he’s peed several times. YAY FOR THE POTTY. Yesterday, in fact, we were out and he asked to use it, and then did. In public. THIS IS AMAZING. But we really haven’t emphasized it, beyond offering. And I think that needs to change.

More and more frequently, he’s waking up in the morning with a dry diaper. And he’s been coming home from daycare in different clothes than he went in, because he’s been leaking through. (Now, I know this could also be rectified by changing him more often, but he’s definitely holding it, and then going a LOT at once. Because I’ll check him and he’ll be dry as a bone after 4 hours and then 15 minutes later, his diaper is bursting.) So I think he’s ready.

Sadly, I’m not sure WE are. And why aren’t we ready? Because of POOP. He doesn’t have any sort of regular poop schedule. And he often has very loose, almost watery poop. Sometimes he’ll tell us he’s pooped with a “Me no have poop Mama!” declaration, but we’ve never caught a poop on the potty. And if I take him out of diapers and put him in underwear, and we don’t catch those watery poops…we’re gonna be in for a mess of disgusting proportions. And I’m not sure I can handle that. I’m also not sure I can send him to daycare with that potential in good conscience.

Now, I’ve devoured information on the internet. Some advice says, “Go ahead and leave them in diapers, but offer regularly.” Some says, “Into underwear! And let the messes fall where they fall! They’ll figure it out!” Some says, “Spend 3 days at home with a naked kid and everything will be peachy at the end!” Like all parenting endeavors, there’s no one size fits all approach, and I’m having trouble sorting out which one is going to fit us best.

Training pants? This is a route I’d like to go. Something that he can pull up and down himself, but with a little more absorbency than underwear. I’m pretty confident that he will pick up peeing in the potty pretty quickly. So it just comes back to poop. Do I just need to resign myself to the possibility of poop all over my life? In his carseat? On my carpet? All over the aisle in the grocery store? I mean, I’m a pretty easy going parent – my kid has barfed in a lot of places and I’ve managed to stay cool and not worry too much about any mess I’m creating, but poop? Unnnnnnnhhhhh.

So, for those of you that have done this – I beg you – share your wisdom, and experiences with me. Not the stuff you’ve heard, but the stuff you did and how it went for you. Let me learn from your success. I don’t want to send him to kindergarten in diapers. (I know! I know! They won’t let him into kindergarten unless he’s using the potty. I don’t want my kid left behind because he doesn’t like the potty! Why didn’t Bush create a policy for THIS problem?!)



Filed under diapers, parenting, toddler

18 responses to “Potty Learning. Or: My parenting Waterloo

  1. Kim

    I will definitely be checking back here for the wisdom! Yesterday was our first day trying underwear, and I am so overwhelmed by all the methods, I have no idea what we are doing. I’m tempted to wait a year & try to train both boys at once & get it over with.

    • I wonder if they wouldn’t be interested and “get it” faster if they were both doing it? O has picked up A LOT from the kids at daycare via herd mentality. (Napping on a cot for instance.) How’s it going on day 3?

  2. I have no wisdom to offer, having no children (although I am the oldest of six. Counts in some instances, but not here) I have never potty trained anyone. So I’ll simply say good luck! I’ll be sending good karma your way.

  3. While some areas of parenting have been challenging with Hugh, potty training wasn’t one of them. He just did it in like a week, poop and all. We went with the “cold turkey” method and put him in underwear AFTER he pooped for the first time on the potty. We could tell he needed to go, and we told him if after he went poo on the potty, he would get four mini M&M’s. He did, and after that we switched to big boy underwear forever, even at night. That’s what his Montessori school recommended (the permanent switch, not the M&Ms). We still keep m&m’s in the bathrom (2 for pee, 4 for poop), and he’s starting to forget about them. But he still gets excited after he poops and yells, “FOUR m&m’s.” We also bought flushable wipes because toilet paper is hard to use sometimes. But I think you are right – each kid in his own way and time. Good luck!

    • I have some friends who used the Montessori approach (plus M&Ms) and had great, quick success. (Also around a week.) I’m still chewing on this. I figure the less I actively decide about it, the better it will go. That’s what I learned from my earlier attempts to make my kid sleep. Failed miserably. Can’t MAKE him do anything. 🙂

  4. Jason Townsend

    I haven’t been through this yet as my son is only 11 months old, but we have started using a potty chair and toilet trainer. One thing you can do to increase your chances of catching a poop is to use the gastrocolic reflex. Your best chance to go us shortly after eating, do get in the habit of trying after each meal. Not immediately after but maybe 20-30 minutes later.

    • I’ve never noticed a pattern in his pooping as it’s related to eating, but I’m going to start now. I’ve always figured it was kind of random, but maybe that’s because I wasn’t looking for the right pattern.

  5. Jay

    I was completely overwhelmed at the whole idea (now, granted, it was a terrible time for our family, but still). It was the first time as a parent that I felt like I could really Do It Wrong and have some horrible outcome. Don’t ask me what, but something awful.

    Eve wasn’t dry at night until she was 6, and I had been told to watch for the dry diaper in the morning as a sign, so I suspect we could have done it earlier if I’d been a bit less clueless. As it was, she was three months shy of turning 3 and she asked when she’d start to wear underpants. We asked if she wanted to, she said “yes” and we said “OK”. We still used diapers at night, for naps and for long car trips. Whole thing took about a week, I think.

    I would avoid Pull-Ups – they’re twice as expensive as diapers and offer no advantage over diapers. I do think you can go back and forth from underwear to diapers but I know not everyone agrees.

    Not very heplful, huh?

    • On the contrary, I NEED to hear that people switched back and forth between underwear and diapers and the world didn’t end. Because, like you, I’m convinced I’m going to fuck it up somehow. I don’t exactly know what it will look like if it’s fucked up, but I’m pretty sure it’s a possibility.

  6. I’ve done this three times. First time, I went through the angst and bought into the stress. Second two learned all on their own. No exaggeration. Kids do it when they are ready and that’s it. If you are “training” for a year or two, then you have a new hobby, but it means nothing to the kid. As soon as I can, I’ll post my experiences on my blog (later today). I hope it helps!

    • I read your blog – very helpful. O’s exhibiting ALL the ‘ready’ signs. And he’s experimenting with asking for the potty. I did learn with his sleep that he’ll do what is right for him when he’s ready. In this case, I’m not sure how to help him have the vocabulary to let us know he’s ready. He doesn’t know what underpants are. And we talk about the potty constantly, and offer it to him. Maybe that’s enough?

  7. Janine

    I’m with Michelle. I *totally* bought into the stress with Sadie. She had peeing down perfectly for several months before I started thinking we “needed” to get her to do #2 on the potty.
    I did way too much reading on the subject as well and it messed with my maternal instincts big time.
    We started the way you did – bought a potty and made no big deal out of it. I would talk her her about “going on the potty when you’re ready” every single time I changed her diaper. Made it sound fun and for “big kids” or whatever. She was already going at night before bed – purely Pavlovian I think, so we did undies and she had almost no accidents. Plenty of reminding to try – like, every time I went, I’d ask if she wanted to go with me. And we had a couple of books. The Potty Book for Girls, I think.
    I forget why I thought it was time that she needed to be able to do #2 in the potty. I guess I thought she was ready because she A) was pretty regular; 15-20 minutes after breakfast B) she would go hide/squat somewhere and C) would tell me right after she went. All these things seemed to add up to “she’s ready” in my mind. And she was really excited about wearing undies. She started asking to have a diaper put back on when she needed to go and in hindsight I wish I had obliged her, but instead I made the mistake of insisting that if she had time to ask for a diaper, she had time to go to the bathroom and go in her potty. Big mistake. That A) made it a power struggle and B) undermined her confidence and trust in me.
    This is getting way too long, sorry. But I really believe it’s true that they will do it when they are ready and it’s literally like they’ve flipped a switch. After that last synapse fires or whatever, they just get it and will never look back. If you try to force it or insist and he gives you ANY resistance, back off. So not worth the stress, the mess, the potential blow to his little ego, etc. He may be able to pee in the potty regularly with no issues for a long time before he’s ready to poop in it. Plus, you might want to wait to see if his allergy/diet changes help get him more regular and solid before you try this.
    Oh, and I know so many people do the treats thing with great success but heaping praise and buying new underwear was all Sadie needed. Lilah is no doubt going to be another story all together, but she is benefiting from a mom who will not get caught in the stress of it a second time. This “milestone” is all over the map.

    • Yeah, I’ve been really careful to NOT force it. I offer, and if he says “no sit on potty,” that’s it. It’s my general parenting philosophy. If he fights me, we move on. I’m either gonna have a super laid back, self assured child, or I’m gonna have one of those kids that everyone’s saying, “Why can’t that woman just CONTROL her child!” about. Oh well. 🙂

  8. This may not be helpful at all, since you do want to pursue toilet learning actively, and others have already said it, but I’ll chime in anyway … we did *nothing* with Noah, and he did in fact start using the toilet and get out of diapers well before kindergarten. When he expressed interest (in trying the toilet, in wearing underwear, etc.), we helped and explained and reminded, but that’s it. The whole thing just sounded like a huge pain when other parents talked about it, we were busy with other things, and we couldn’t imagine that he’d end up in diapers in high school, so we opted out. Lazy parenting FTW!

    • I love lazy parenting. And I should know better than to research any pieces of parenting technique. But I don’t, so I read, and I find out that I’m supposed to be doing something else. And I get stressed out. And think ITMUSTBEDONE. And then people tell me to calm the hell down, and I’m better. Thanks!

  9. Kate Scales

    Hi, Tannis!
    Last year, I decided that I was going to put Elizabeth in underwear in January and put her on the potty every hour and she’d figure it out and that would be that. She was in underwear full-time by…(drumroll please)…June. Initial trial was a total failure. No pee in the potty despite multiple trips, lots of pee on the floor. What finally worked, after a week of misery, was sitting her on her potty in front of the TV so we could “catch” a pee and potty treats. The treats gave her the motivation to get over the initial reluctance. But! There is a dark side. Instead of learning to pee because she felt the need to void, she learned to pee because she felt the need to eat candy. After that first week, she set her own pace. I did ask every morning “diapers or underwear?”, and if she said diapers every day for a couple months, that was fine. After a week of choosing undies, I stopped asking, and they became the default. I stopped doing reminders and let her decide whether she needed to pee, because whenever I asked, she’d just say she didn’t have to go and she didn’t seem to have a problem taking herself to the bathroom.
    As far as poop goes, she wouldn’t/couldn’t go on the toilet for a long time, and she’d hold it in and make herself very uncomfortable until she couldn’t hold it anymore or until I put a diaper on her. One day, she was moaning and crying and holding her bottom and didn’t want a diaper, so I put her on the potty, put my fingers on her sacrum and told her to push against the fingers because the poos wanted to come out of her body and go down into the sewers to be with their poopoo friends. That solved the problem completely.
    After six months of being trained, she still wets herself on occasion, and I try to stay philosophical about it. She’s a little kid. She doesn’t get how it works yet.
    One more thing- it always seemed like she had a setback before she had a breakthrough. Remembering that helped with the “but you KNOW this!” frustration. Hope that was useful. Good luck!

  10. I love that the poos want to join their poopoo friends! I don’t think I’m going to change much right now, after reading everyone’s comments. I’ll keep offering, and he can accept or reject as he chooses. I figure this will be like everything else I’ve experienced with parenting so far: I’ll feel victorious about progress and then spend a week wondering what caused the backslide. You think I would have come to terms with the backslide being part of life. 🙂

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