Potty Training 1: What I Did

Note to self: When using auto-post, make sure you click 6 a.m. instead of 6 p.m. Sorry for the delay on this post.

As I said in the previous post, I used a communication approach to potty training. Which was really the only reasonable approach, since we started way earlier than most people do nowadays, and certainly long before the magical 27-month mark some experts say is the earliest a child can control his or her bladder. To understand why I though the 27-month-mark was full of it, you have to understand one of the principles behind elimination communication (which I’ve never done, BTW): The idea is that babies are born with the ability to let you know when they need to eliminate, the same way they let you know when they need to eat. If you start paying attention and letting them go when they need to or changing their diapers right away, it forms a feedback loop and the older they get the more obviously they signal that they need to go (just like they signal more obviously that they need to eat as they get older). In essence, when we put diapers on our babies and ignore their signals that they need to go, we train them just to go in the diapers whenever (diaper-training, instead of potty-training, as it were).

This totally made sense to me. In some cultures they just follow the kid’s signals until eventually the kid can go on his own and doesn’t need to signal anymore, so they don’t even have a concept of potty-training. So I reasoned that if you start working on gettting a kid to pay attention to the body’s signals about when it needs to eliminate, a kid could get back the ability to signal long before the 27-month mark.

And this is where I started–trying to get El Chico to pay attention to what his body felt like so he could eventually tell me before anything happened.

When he was 16 months he started getting extremely interested in all things toilet. He wanted to come in with us while we went, and he started really trying to look at his diaper as I changed it, etc. We were visiting my mom and she wondered why not just buy him a potty? So she bought him two (one for his room and one for the living room) of the one-piece Baby Bjorn little potties. (I think these are a great choice for kids who are still kind of small, as they can easily sit down on them. They’re also one piece which means you can get them completely clean every time, with no cracks or crevices.) It was summer, so we followed my grandmother’s advice and just took off his pants outside all the time. He watered my mom’s lawn a few times (and was fascinated to watch it come out) and fertilized it a few times. But once it happened a few times he really started to get that he pooped and peed, too.

After that it was all about talking talking talking and watching. We watched our cat go in her box (and talked about it). We stopped to watch dogs on the street go (and talked about it). He became our bathroom attendant, standing there holding the toilet paper for us and spraying us with cologne and asking us what we were doing. We read books about it. We watched DVDs about it. (If you only get one toilet-related video, get the Bear in the Big Blue House one. No video is going to teach your kid to use the potty by itself, so you might as well pick one you like. The songs are funny and it won’t drive you nuts if your kid wants to watch it a million times.) We talked about it as we changed his diaper and in the tub and at dinner. It became as important to him as construction and dump trucks and fire engine and tools.

Winter came and went, and when the weather started to get warm enough, I took his pants off at home. I’d take them off in the morning, and not put them on again until we went out. The first few days he peed a couple of times on the kitchen floor. But after that he’d start to run to one of the potties and pee in them. Some days it was one hour diaperless, and some days it was a few hours with no pants. He really thought it was fun to go in the potty.

After a few months I decided to press my luck and take off his pants before his morning poop. The first day he looked at me and said "I have to poop!" with some alarm. I casually asked, "Why not sit on your potty and do it?" He tried it (I think because I didn’t seem invested in it) and it worked. After a few days that became part of our routine, too.

After awhile we started putting on underpants (we used the Gerber lined ones, as everyone we know told us Pull-Ups were a huge rip-off and would actually delay training) and going on short excursions outside. We’d pee before and as soon as we came back into the house. The first day it was 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, then 15 minutes.

I would have continued this plan indefinitely (increasing the times we were out gradually), but we had to travel to see my grandmother in another state. The day we were supposed to levae, El Chico refused to put on a diaper for the trip. So I put him in the one pair of training pants I had that was waterproof, and hoped for the best. He told us when he had to go, and stayed dry through a taxi ride, a short flight, a 90-minute layover, a longer flght, and a two-hour car ride. He had just decided this was it. Over the next few weeks he had plenty of accidents, but he was essentially trained.

I guess I could summarize what we did:

1. There was very little pressure. I followed his lead and backed off if it seemed to fast for him.
2. I didn’t believe people who said, "Oh, he’s interested now but he’ll stop being interested in a few weeks." He hadn’t stopped being interested in construction vehicles, so why would he stop being interested in poop?
3. We had fun. When you accept that you may have to wipe up some pee every once in awhile, the whole thing becomes kind of a game.
4. It was all about his mastery of the signals of his body, not a timetable, although obviously I was hoping he’d be done with diapers soon than later. I just tried not to communicate that to him.
5. We tried not to get too excited when he did go in the potty or toilet. Sometimes too much praise can be its own kind of pressure.
6. My husband was unemployed and home for a lot of this time, so they got to do "boys pee together" routines an awful lot for reinforcement. I think it helped it click for El Chico.

You’ll notice that it took a full year from when we started (16 months) to when he was in underpants all day (28 months). I’m sure it would have gone sooner if we’d started later or if I’d really pushed. As it was, he was still trained months earlier than any of the other boys his age, and all but two of the girls we knew.

Questions? Suggestions? Doubts? Unrelated thoughts? What’s another potty-training method we shoudl talk about?