Q&A: potty training or weaning?

Clare writes:

"My son's three and a third, very smart, physically well-coordinated, and absolutely determined not to use the potty. He's tried, and succeeded at, using both the little toilet seat on top of the big toilet and the potty, but really doesn't want to--we suggest it and he says 'no, thank you,' and, if we get more insistent, gets less polite about his refusals. The last time I tried letting him run bare-naked at home, he got out a changing pad, lay down on it with his legs in the air, and shouted: 'Put On My Diaper!'

Part of the problem is that he goes to a babysitter during the day while my husband and I work, and she and I haven't yet coordinated--she'll suggest it to him, he bursts into tears, and she drops the question.

I'd be fine with letting him wait until he's ready, but he's signed up for half-day preschool in September--which I think he'll really enjoy--and this school requires them to use the toilet and just sends the kids home if they have accidents--and, after all, it's pre-k, I can see their point. I'd hate for him to miss the chance to start school with a terrific teacher, which he's mildly excited about, because he's behind with the potty training.

I've let the matter drop for now, except for sometimes mentioning it to him in passing. We've got a family vacation coming up at the beginning of June, and when we get back, I thought I'd get the babysitter on board and just have him wear underwear all the time while he's awake. Is that reasonable? Any suggestions?

The other thing is: he's still nursing. Just at bedtime and when he first wakes up in the morning, but he's so enthusiastic and aggressive about it, I don't see him self-weaning, or even weaning with mild pressure, anytime soon. I'd always planned to nurse for the first year, but the last two have been all his idea--I'm willing to keep doing it a bit when it seems so important to him, but I'd like to stop sometime in the foreseeable future. Any thoughts? He co-sleeps with us, which means he's very used to his routine nursing then, and often (but not always) nurses to sleep, but he's able to fall asleep without nursing when I'm not there."

Heh. He sounds wonderful and hilarious and like the kind of strong-willed and assertive kid who is going to alternately drive people crazy and completely charm them. Perhaps a future senator or maverick CEO of a high tech company.

It seems daunting that he has to be trained for a September deadline, but it's good that you know you can't let it drag on indefinitely. You really don't want him to be older than 4 and still working on potty-training anyway. The trick is going to be figuring out how to glide softly into full training by the end of the summer so the first week of school isn't a huge trauma.

It sounds like you're asking if I think the nursing is a problem and if you should think about weaning. I think you can either wean or potty train, but not both at the same time. Pick which one you want to do first, and just forget about the other one until the first thing really takes. When I was in this situation I decided I could stand to nurse until my son went away to college (and I would have been willing to FedEx bags of milk) if it would finally get rid of the diapers. I think he actually nursed a little bit more during the real transition period of the potty training, but then once we did wean (after he'd been out of diapers for 5 months) it was relatively easy. (Except that I felt guilty about it, and then he got the worst cold of his life exactly two weeks after we weaned, and I was convinced it was my fault. Right. I think a mother's natural state is Guilt.)

Since he can fall asleep without nursing and without you, I think when he is ready to stop (or ready to be convinced to stop) it won't be such an issue. Since you don't seem to be bugged by the nursing, I'd just focus on the potty stuff first.

I think you're totally on target with switching him to underwear after the vacation. If you read my post on switching into underpants, I talked about the two kinds of training pants. Think about which kinds you'll use most and get them. Since you live in the city and are out and about at playgrounds, I'd also get the $10 portable potty (excuse me, "potette") from the website or Buy Buy Baby so you and your babysitter can have it along at the playground.

And you're definitely right about needing to get on the same page as your babysitter. Not only should you both be committed to potty-training, but you both need to agree on how to do it. My first line of psychological offense might be peer pressure. So if the babysitter has other kids there, she should let your son "help" them go to the bathroom as much as possible. If she's one-on-one with him, see if she/you can arrange some playdates with potty-trained kids so he can catch the toilet-training fever. If it's not possible for your babysitter to do this, see if you can get together with another kid on the weekend who is potty-trained to see if that will do it. (Or maybe you'll luck out on your vacation and he'll end up spending a bunch of time with another kid and he'll decide to potty-train during that week. A mom can dream, can't she?)

This age is so tricky for potty-training because it seems to degenerate into a real power struggle very easily. That's why I'm suggesting peer influence instead of a method that involves your convincing, cajoling, or bribing him to do it.

DId anyone do anything with an over-3 potty-trainer that got past refusal?