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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

on potty training and patience

[Warning, this post is about potty training, as such it is filled with stories about urine and feces. Those of you who are not parents and not exposed to such things please proceed with caution. Maybe don’t read.]
Potty training.

Or. Potty “educating.”

Or. Potty “praying-your-child-gets-it-soon-before-the-rug-is-permanently-stained”-ing

(Although really, it is simple enough to roll up the rugs.)

One of the biggest childhood milestones, and every tired parents dream. WHEN CAN I STOP WITH THE DIAPERS ALREADY??

Here is the key. Your attitude. (I say this out of experience, keep reading!)

So, really, this is the thing. Potty training is a process. Your child is learning something new. Like walking or talking. You can’t expect them to get it all at once. You know?

ohmygosh he was so tiny and cute!
 I know some people say “I DID IT IN A WEEKEND” but, I don’t believe that works with every child. Each kid is different. Sure you could force a kid to pee and threaten and/or cajole with lollipops and stickers and etc but, that isn’t really my style. (Do you give the kid a sticker EVERY time? How long? My kid would demand one each and every time for the rest of eternity. He would be 16 years old demanding a new song for his Ipod with every pee. He is one stubborn kid.)

I first started out potty training little man at 18 months. He would say “mama, poop!” and then go poop. I thought. This is PERFECT. A dream! I can do this!

So, I went out and smugly bought tiny training pants (the plain white Gerber kind) and a potty (Ikea has the BEST potties). And we started.

Fast forward one year.

I am juggling a new baby and changing TWO butts all day.


What went wrong? Well, little man was telling us, that is true. But, simply put, he wasn’t into it. He would sit on his potty, reading books, looking adorable and then pee occasionally. But going from telling us he was doing it to having him do it on the potty chair was a big thing, and he wasn’t there yet at 18 months.

So finally when little man is 2 ½ I hear this idea. Let your kid run around naked. I think, this is crazy. Really? But, after nearly gagging one day changing a big old poopy toddler butt I was done in.

Enough is enough.

So we rolled up the carpets and put out the potties. Let’s do this thing.

He got the pottying part really quick. After all he had been sitting on the potty chair since he was 18 months old. It took a couple times of pee running down his leg for him to realize he would be much more comfortable doing that in the potty chair.

Poop was another matter. For weeks he refused to until he had a diaper on…he is a stubborn child…he would fricking HOLD IT until we put his diaper on. It was bad.

Finally one day he was running around naked and I came in his room at “quiet time” (did I mention he also gave up napping once babydear arrived? Fun times, those first few months…) to find little clumps of poop ALL OVER THE FLOOR. It was awful. I flipped out. I yelled and screamed most inappropriately. But. His next poop was in the potty (we took him out to ice cream to celebrate!) and he never pooped in his diaper again.

The yelling thing. Well of course I don’t recommend it, although I will say he seemed to need to know from me that this was a big deal. But, I later read more about how bad this is in a baby book about potty training and really felt terrible about it. You would never yell at your child for falling down when they took their first step, right? Why would you get upset with them for potty accidents? (I am gonna chalk it up to first month with new baby crazy hormones and leave my guilt in the past though, if that is okay with you.)

Here is what I do recommend:

1) Make sure your kid is ready, but don’t wait too long. I have heard horror stories of 4 year olds in diapers. I can’t even imagine.

How do you know when they ARE ready? When they wake up from naptime dry. When they show interest in pottying. Little miss follows me to the potty and pretends to wipe with toilet paper (it’s really cute actually). When they can communicate easily. The toilet sign in sign language is a good one for this purpose. (Make a T and wiggle your fist back and forth). Some people say to wait until the child can pull up their own pants. Well, with the naked approach to training I think that’s a bit unnecessary. Listen, you can change a diaper every few hours (and do all the accompanying laundry or buy all those diapers or whatever) or you can remember to take your child pee and assist them with pulling up with pants themselves, your choice. (Why oh why have I not done this with little girl yet?? Totally starting this soon)

2) Don’t resort to pull ups. We only allowed pull ups or a diaper at bed time. In the beginning I also used them for long car rides or going out of the house. But, even with that, just like you would use a restroom out, let them use it too! Pull ups send the wrong message to a kid. They say, I expect you to pee so put this on. Why wouldn’t they pee? Also, pull ups are so super absorbent that the kid never feels a result of the “accident” (and it really isn’t an accident, they are peeing in a diaper meant to be peed in) and then they have those pullups that turn a different color when the “accident” occurs. That is just plain creepy. What kind of crap chemicals are in there for that trick to happen?? Scary.

3) Keep an easy attitude about it. Don’t make a huge drama over accidents. No reason to make the little guy or girl sad. And if you do get frustrated and mad at accidents (it is SO easy to do so) tell them you are sorry after. (Remember MODELING behavior!) It's amazing how telling them you are sorry for losing your temper or getting frustrated sets things right.

4) BUT be consistent with your message. You are a big kid now. I KNOW you can do this. Let them feel your confidence. Remember, as with so much of parenting, this starts with you.

5) Come up with a pattern and stick to it.

Here is what we did…

We started by having “naked” time every morning. I would set the timer to have him go every 30 minutes or 45 minutes, just to try (I really recommend this, it reminds him and YOU). When they start actually going you can set it every hour or so - to what seems natural for them. Celebrate and clap when they do go at first but again, keep it easy. Stickers and lollipops to me say that this is exceptional behavior. I would rather show this is something we just do when we get big. We don’t get prizes for it. (Also, that avoids the question, when do you STOP giving the prize?) I did do the prize thing for awhile with the whole poop issue. I think we bribed him with a chocolate chip, out of desperation, which we eventually abandoned when it was clear he was doing tiny bits of poo at a time to get more chocolate. “Look ma! Another tiny piece of poo! More candy please!” BAD MOVE MAMA!

After a few successful days of morning naked time - afternoon “quiet” time and into evening would be in cloth diapers like our norm - then we just extended into evening time and eventually let him run around naked all day. This naked at home phase lasted a few weeks. And of course, when people came over we would clothe the child. If you are in a colder climate (me this winter) you can do the whole baby legs thing. And with girls it’s easier. Put them in a dress or skirt! I actually started putting longer shirts on him. More for warmth than anything. Slippers too of course.

After a few weeks of this I started dressing him in elastic-waisted pants, comfy cotton pants, but no underwear. Underwear is just another frustrating layer they have to pull down to “hurry hurry!” and make it to the potty. Not necessary yet.

Also, a word - If the naked thing is weird to you, you could do just a few days of it, till they get the idea down and then switch to the pants right away. Remember I was still working on the whole poop in the potty issue. Not me. Him. HA HA.

And, another thought, what if you are not always at home? Say working or whatever? Do it when you can at home, maybe over a long weekend to start the idea. Ask your child care giver to assist (they usually do) or your mom or whoever is with your kid. My nanny, bless her heart, was game and even let him run around naked the first week or two until he really got it. Make sure you talk with them about the easy attitude (no yelling, no bribes) and quiet confidence thing so you are all on the same page (same goes with spouses who aren’t around all the time to participate in this daily fun. Really important to have a consistent message!)

So then we did just diapers at nighttime and stopped doing the diaper while out running errands. Even in long car rides he would be just fine.

Honestly we just stopped the night time diaper last spring, at 3 ½. He is a deep sleeper and wouldn’t rouse. But finally he asked to stop wearing it. Can’t say no to that. And we would just limit intake of liquids after dinner and take him pee right before sleep. He now will wake up to pee most nights on his own. Sometimes we will take him in. He doesn’t even wake up! And we only have the occasional accident to deal with.

Ooh, one great bed protection tip. I didn’t like the idea of that crap plastic liner on my kid’s bed. But a mattress full of pee isn’t great either. So, I heard this great idea. Buy old school wool blankets (100% wool) at thrift stores, like the army blanket variety. Wash in hot water and dry on high heat to felt them a little and then layer under your sheets. We have one on his bed and one on our bed (because that is where he ends up most nights!!) It really does work too! And it’s all natural! And doesn’t feel all crinkly and strange! That is a lot of exclamation points!!

So, in summary, I think the best tip is:

1) To potty train according to your child’s needs and personality. Some kids might be better doing the all out one weekend of naked running. Some (like my little man) might need a slower transition so they are comfortable with the change. Be flexible.

2) Have the right attitude yourself. Be confident in your child. Show that confidence. Be calm and supportive. But also be firm. Let’s do this together! You can do it! Etc.

Really those last few sentences there summarize a good approach to any new parenting challenge though, huh? Be calm and supportive and confident in your child. Together we can…clean up your bedroom! Learn to stop whining! Eat more vegetables! Only watch one TV program a day and not whine at me about how dada lets you watch TV and play video games and is much more FUNNER than you mom! WE CAN DO THIS TOGETHER! (I am such a good pep talker for myself. Insert winky face guy.)

So. There you have it.

Happy pottying. (Yes, I did just say that.)

Next up: I am thinking reviews of fav parenting books...


  1. We're potty training our third right now too and boy is that kid a frustrating one! What worked on his brothers doesn't work on him and new things don't work on him, we are at an impasse. The kid just isn't interested in the potty....more big poopy toddler butt wiping for me. Good luck!!

  2. LOL Sarah ... thanks for all your tipps! I always (4 times) started in Summertime with pottytraining. So they are most of the time nacked :) and our big garden was full of poo and pee. Well the cats to it as well, so why not our kids? And as soon summer was over, the pottytraining was it as well. Such another way of pottytraining ... one of millions:)!

  3. There are many times in parenting when I wonder just how badly I'm going to undermine my child's future psychological health, but potty training was one of the biggest. Especially w the first. Add in some major GI issues she was having at the time, and it was a looooong haul full of sticker charts, pull-ups, and headaches. So we learned some lessons, were introduced to Montessori philosophy (which means we started actually involving our kids a whole lot more in discussions and decision making, and stopped carrot-and-sticking life), and the second time around w our son was the easiest thing EVER. He was 2 1/2, we talked about it, went to the store and bought underwear, and quit diapers cold turkey. A few days of running around proudly in said new underwear, some accidents (which got progressively closer to the potty) and he was pretty much set. Took a few weeks to perfect it, but he was ready, and it was done. Staying dry through the night took a bit longer, but with night time pull-ups and a crib mattress, it was manageable.

    Honestly, I think one of the biggest differences was my own anxiety level. (Well, that and my kids have 2 DISTINCT personalities, so the process was bound to be different.) I completely agree w the whole naked, chilled-out approach. Well, maybe some fluffy socks for the cold winter floors!!

    BTW, if I had walked into a room w poop on the floor, I'd have completely lost it as well. There would, most definitely, have been yelling. Completely understandable and forgivable. But here's my issue w the comparing potty training to learning to walk--kids don't willingly fall. (Well, sometimes they do to practice and have fun, but I mean the mom-i-cracked-my-head-on-the-floor falls) Kids can, however, come up with some remarkably creative means of holding/hiding bodily functions. There is often thought involved, frequently premeditated. It makes things sticker from a parenting standpoint, because it's not as simple and straightforward as the physicality of walking, talking, etc. I'm by no means saying that there should be guilt trips and emotional warfare with potty training, but it's a much more complex issue. There should not be parent-guilt for the occasional freak-out. The freak-out may be justified.

    And is there any better poster-worthy moment for parenting than a rousing cheer and celebratory dance over bodily functions?

    (Wow. Really sorry this got so long.)

  4. cortney - hang in there! i know how tiresome it can be...
    moni - i think its more common in europe right? i definitely get some funny looks when i say that is what worked for us...
    tracy - anxiety level is huge. so much really starts with us, huh? (enlightening and frightening at the same time HA.) its definitely more complicated than walking and i see your point. i think its more our attitude about it needs to be one of learning, not of punishing for mistakes. you know? its all about expectations. expect them capable but anticipate setbacks. and be okay with that. i dont know if that makes sense. i am so tired. can you come over and put my kids to bed for me? thanks so much. ;)



  7. if you want to trade naked kid videos or photos


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