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Potty-Training Without the Panic

To keep your cool with toilet training, better decide that you just don't care.

Many people believe that a potty-trained child is the early parenting promised land. Parents get very stressed about whether their child is potty-trained at age 3, and those who happen to have a child who is using the toilet early are hailed as wise sages, with devotees lapping up their advice about how they did it.

I’m in the minority camp on this one. While a truly potty-trained kid is a great thing, a lot of what people call potty-trained is, in reality, a kid that wets himself in public on random occasions. Not my thing.

I prefer the control that diapers bring to my life. I hate the potty-training stage, where every outing is filled with fear that your child may leave a puddle behind in the grocery store aisle. Even worse, you may have to abandon a cart of produce to go dashing to the back of the store in search of a bathroom. Play dates provide many awkward moments, too, such as discovering the wet spot on your friend’s new couch.

To be totally truthful, my potty-training days have been extremely easy so far. Both of my older kids were compliant and seemed ready to transition.

I think it’s partly been easy, though, because I really don’t care. Having two kids in diapers doesn’t really bother me. Kids can totally tell when they have an opportunity to push our buttons, and I was not planning to give my kids that kind of satisfaction.

My first parent educator, Linda Bersett, advised me about potty-training my oldest child. She told me that it was really about the parents deciding that the child is done with diapers and then helping the child transition. It’s when the parents cave and go back to diapers that causes a lot of issues, she told me.

There are a lot of strategies out there, but as with most any topic she advised me about, Linda was absolutely on-target for our family. While we definitely had a few minor hiccups, my kids did not have any major accidents in public or refused to participate in the process.

I also happened upon a trick that worked to my advantage. I had heard about kids who were fine with urinating on the toilet, but were resistant to doing No. 2. I wasn’t sure how to avoid this problem, but I unknowingly solved it indirectly.

I noticed that my oldest, when he had just turned two, always filled his pants after lunch. So, every now and then, while I was feeding and diapering his little sister after the meal, I had him sit on the potty. Long before we started actual potty training, my son had done No. 2 on the potty many times. So when it was time to switch to underwear, there was no mystery. He knew it was coming and that it was time to head to the potty.

The same strategy worked with my oldest daughter, and now I’m trying it with my 2-year-old. During her bath time, she hops out of the tub to use the toilet, and is completely comfortable with the process. Her siblings cheer for her when she goes, and she is really proud of herself.

Recently, Mehlville Parents as Teachers held a class for parents of soon-to-be potty trainees. Their advice included one key component: keep it positive. Punishing a child for a potty mistake or even showing frustration for accidents is counter-productive.

When one of my kids got lazy a few weeks after potty-training and began having accidents only at home, I handled it without emotion, just like Linda taught me. I would say to her, “Oh, did you not make it to the potty? Okay, here are the paper towels. And make sure you put new underpants on.”

I had to clean up again after she finished, of course, but giving her the responsibility to take care of it solved the problem, fast.

The PAT training also advised parents to do potty-training with clothes that are easy to pull on and off. We opted to do it with both of our older kids in early June, when we could spend our day in the backyard with little clean-up after accidents and a toilet close by. Elastic-waist shorts made for a fast pit stop.

My 2-year-old is showing a few signs that she might be ready in a few months to give the potty a try. She has tried her best, so far in her short little life, to undo all of my previous notions about parenting. But when it comes to potty-training, I’m determined not to give her an opportunity to throw me for a loop. Mostly because I’m determined not to care. 

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