Category Archives: Potty

Q&A: 3 1/2-year-old reverting to wetting the bed

Kecia (another pretty name) writes:

"I need HELP!!!! (please)

My son is 3 1/2.  He has been potty
trained since he turned three.  At about 37 months, he told me that he
didn’t not need a diaper during the night.  I was reluctant, but
decided to give it a try, as his diaper was often dry in the morning.
For nearly two months this worked perfectly.  Not one accident!!

He would drink a 6 oz yogurt smoothie
during his bedtime stories and I would give him water when he went to
bed.  He would sleep for 9+ hours and wake up with a very full bladder
(and pee in his potty).

In late August, we were traveling and he
wet the bed (two nights in a row).  When we returned home, things
improved for a few weeks and then he had several nights of accidents
again.  The situation has continued to deteriorate.  In the past month
he has had an accident every few nights.

I am so tired of waking in the middle of
the night to change his clothing, his bedding, etc.  I want to help
him, but I don’t know how.  The strange part is he seems to have these
accidents without a full bladder.  Some nights his pajamas and pants
are only very damp – not soaked. On nights when I limit liquid
consumption and have him pee before going to sleep, it seems he is more
likely to wet the bed.  This can happen as early as midnight, maybe 3
hours after he last urinated.  I have also tried to wake him during the
middle of the night and have him pee, but this doesn’t seem to help.  I
usually find that he is already wet.  Now when he wakes up in the
morning he doesn’t even need to use the potty!  What is going on?

He has only had one daytime accident over the past few months.

What do you think?

Do I go back to diapers?  Do I continue
to do three loads of bedding every time this happens (comforter,
mattress protector, sheets and pajamas)?"

Aha. It’s the 3 1/2 thing. Did you by any chance read my review of the
book Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy from a few weeks ago? The part of my review that’s salient to your problem is here (Isn’t it just so classy when I quote myself? Sorry about that.):

Ames and Ilg observed that for kids this age, things seemed to run on a
6-month cycle of equilibrium and disequilibrium. So for awhile children
would be fluent and cheerful, coordinated, learning new things all the
time, and happy little kids doing things smoothly. Then they’d go
through a period of being physically clumsy, stuttering, being in foul
moods, and just having things go wrong a lot of the time. According to
them, this is normal, so knowing that will help you wait out the
periods of disequilibrium, and not get freaked out by things that are
developmentally appropriate but seem like regressions (like stuttering).

It sounds to me like that’s exactly what happened, that he was in a
smooth state of equilibrium when he got out of the diapers at night,
but has now moved into the stage of disequilibrium and he just can’t
control his body like he used to. The pendulum will swing back to
smoothness in a few months.

So the question is, what do you do in the meantime? I think I’d ask
him what you should do together. Explain to him that it’s just normal
that he’s going through a stage in which his body isn’t stopping the
pee like he wants it to, and he’ll be able to stay dry again in a few
months, but not right now. Ask him if he wants to go back into PullUps
at night (that would be my vote if I were you, but I think you really
need to make this as easy emotionally on him as possible, so giving
him a vote will help a ton) or if he can get up and change his own
pajama pants in the middle of the night. If he wants to stay out of
diapers, you should try to put as much of the clean-up on him as is
reasonable (maybe give him a layered bed with towels and protective
pads layered so he can just take the top one off after he changes
his pajamas, and no comforter).

I’m going to guess that faced with the alternatives he’ll chose
PullUps for the next few months.

Don’t worry that going back into diapers means that you failed and it’s forever and you’ll
send him off to college with a pack of jumbo size PullUps. It’s just
part of the ickiness of being 3 1/2. And yeah, you could try all the treatments for bed-wetting like the alarms, acupuncture, chiropractic, biofeedback, etc. But all those things are really for bigger kids who are still wetting the bed, not kids his age. Besides, by the time you messed around with all that stuff he’d probably have grown into the next stage of equilibrium anyway.

So just know that there’s nothing wrong with him, and this is a laundry problem instead of anything else, so treat it accordingly. You’re doing a good job.

Response to my cloth diapering posts

Remember my cloth diapering posts from way back when? I recently got this email from Laura:

"First, I just wanted to say how much I enjoy your blog, "Ask Moxie."  I am a mother of 3 kids, ages 6, 3, and 1, work part-time outside the home, and find your non-judgemental, common-sense parenting philosophy so refreshing.  It’s a terrific resource, keep up the great work!

With that preface, I just wanted to comment that your entries (featured prominently on your sidebar) on diapering didn’t sit well with me.  While you try to separate parenting choices from environmental choices in your opening paragraph, I don’t think they are that divisible.  Making responsible environmental choices is part and parcel of what many people consider to be "good" mothering.  Preserving the earth for our children, fostering environmental stewardship in the next generation, etc.  And, generally, I feel like the tone of these entries is not in keeping with the "good-for-you" feel of the rest of your blog.

Aside from that general impression, I want to comment specifically on your hierarchy of environmental impact of diapering choices.  I work in the environmental field as a biologist and environmental educator, consider myself an environmentalist, and researched this issue extensively before my oldest child was born.  The issue is far from clear-cut, and certainly cannot be sorted into the kind of linear hierarchy you present.  I encourage you to take a look at the book "The Consumers Guide to Effective Environmental Choices" by Michael Brower and Warren Leon, published by the Union of Concerned Scientists.  It addresses cloth vs disposable diapering and how it is a non-issue in the whole scheme of things.  Now, you may feel completely free to disagree with their findings, but the point is that there is honest disagreement in the scientific community on this issue and it’s oversimplified, even misrepresented on your blog.

Because the diapering issue is emotionally charged, and far from environmentally clear-cut, I would like to see your diapering entries edited to focus more on the wealth of information you have on how to do cloth diapering.  And to emphasize that diapering is just one more parenting choice that you make based on what feels right to you, for whatever reason.  If the environmental piece is truly a separate issue, as you assert, then why bring it in at all?  In my opinion, it is just a detriment to what would otherwise be a terrific entry on how to cloth diaper.

Thanks again for all the time you put in to this terrific parenting resource.  I hope it brings you as much pleasure as it does your myriad readers!"

Interesting thoughts.

I’d like to address the environmental choices being part of good parenting comment, and give some background on why I wrote the cloth diapering posts in the first place.

When I started cloth diapering my first son I quickly discovered that online it made me a saint. I was one of the good, chosen mothers who cared more about her child and about the environment than those evil, oblivious disposable-diapering mothers did.  Those mothers were to be pitied or scorned for their bad choices.

I really didn’t  buy into that. For one thing, I diapered because it was cheaper and it was just as easy for me to wash a load of diapers as to schlep out and buy more. So how did being cheap and lazy make me better than someone who assiduously researched whether to use Pampers or Huggies or Seventh Generation?

And there was plenty of scorn from the disposable-diapering crowd online, who apparently thought all cloth diapering mothers were tree-hugging freaks who did everything the hard way because it made us feel good.

So my cloth diapering posts were meant primarily to introduce the different ways of cloth diapering to people who were curious about it, but also to dispel the myth that cloth diapering automatically makes you a better parent. There are so many reasons people use cloth diapers, and so many reasons people use disposable diapers (the entry costs to start using cloth diapers are way more than some excellent parents can manage, for example) that it makes no sense to me to make judgments about other people’s parenting on the basis of choices about diapering.

I think that’s why I wrote those first few paragraphs, including the one about the hierarchy of diapering choices, in such a brisk, flippant way. I didn’t want people to start any one-upping or misery poker in the comments sections. Obviously this was before I knew everyone well enough to know you all were as committed to having a safe space to muse and analyze without having to be defensive and posturing.

So I guess my questions is this: Should I rewrite that post? Did you take it to mean that that was the absolute, essential hierarchy of good for the environment? What about someone who found this site through one of the cloth diapering posts? Also, let me know if I need to drop an even broader hint.

Q&A: thrush + diarrhea = diaper rash X vicious combination

Simone writes:

I’ve looked through your illness
section, and while I have found some information about diaper rashes and
teething, I couldn’t find anything that throws thrush into the equation. Three
weeks ago, my 6 mo-old son was diagnosed with Thrush. (Which in itself is weird
since he’s on the older side for Thrush, and I’m no longer nursing.) We were
given Nystatin, and after now our third round it has proven to be ineffective.
Several people have suggested Gentian Violet, and I’ve heard it’s
messy. I’m OK with his mouth being blue/purple for a few days. But is it one of
those things where if he drools, the drool will then also be purple? How badly
does it stain? Is it worth the trouble? I have visions of having to replace
clothes, carpeting, etc.! But, we need to try something different because the
Nystatin is not working. (Plus, I’m freaked out over the sugar content, and also
read somewhere that yeast thrives on sugar…in other words, it sounds like the
WORST thing to give.) During all of this, he also developed diarrhea (5 days
ago), and subsequently a HORRIBLE diaper rash that we’re finding hard to battle.
He’s vaccinated against rotavirus, but we took him to the doc to be sure and
they’ve ruled that out. It took two poopy diapers to cause the rash, and every
time I think we’re on top of it, he poops once and it flares up. So obviously
the poop itself is an irritant. I am wondering if the two things are
related, and that perhaps the Nystatin is what caused the
diarrhea. Has anyone else experienced this side effect? He’s also
teething, which could be a contributing factor, and also why I mention the
drooling/staining thing. In the meantime we are limiting his solids to rice
cereal and bananas in an effort to help the diarrhea. This is a vicious
cycle that we’re anxious to break, and my little boy is miserable!! If
any of your readers have dealt with a similar situation I’d love to
hear how they fixed it.

Oof. This is a big cluster of hideous.

I don’t remember what the guaranteed thrush cure is, but I know it was mentioned somewhere in the comments section of Julie’s A little Pregnant blog back when her son was a few months old. Does anyone remember what I’m talking about, and remember what the cure was? It contained the word "grape" (grapeseed, grapefruit, grape-something) and was topical and was far more effective (and less messy) the Gentian violet and less disruptive to the system than Nystatin.

Now, if the thrush was out of the picture I’d offer that the diarrhea and diaper rash could be caused solely buy the teething if he’s got a ton of drool. Many kids get what’s called "drool stool," which is watery diarrhea-like poop, often with strands of viscous drool in it. Talk about things you could never even imagine before you had kids! Anyway, the poop seems to get highly acidic because of the drool, and that can cause diaper rash that’s really hard to battle. I also think sometimes the body just causes a rash on the anus the same way some kids get a rash on the face around the mouth near where the upcoming tooth is located. The human body is both wonderful and creepy sometimes.

So I’m hoping someone either remembers or can find the archive of the thrush treatment (I really really want to say grapeseed oil, but have no idea if that’s what it actually was) so you can get the thrush under control. Once that’s gone you can start working on the other layers. In the meantime, the more you can keep his poor little butt exposed to the air the better you’ll probably be. If you can just let him roll around on a waterproof pad for periods during the day it might be the only thing that doesn’t make his butt pain worse.

And now let the magic of the internets commence, with the thrush cure appearing in the comments section ASAP.

Q&A: children of the opposite sex in restrooms

Nikki says:

"I have two boys,
one is nearly 4 and the other just 14 months.  I’m wondering at what
age they have to start using the men’s public restrooms or locker rooms
and how you possibly get up the courage to send them in there alone.
Luckily my husband is usually with us when we’re shopping or some other
place that the older one might need to go to the bathroom and there aren’t
family restrooms.  However, I take my son to his swim class at a time when
Daddy can’t go and I can’t imagine sending him into the men’s
locker room by himself any time soon!  We already get strange looks and
both women and girls moving to other rows to change their clothes.  There
is no sign posted about it but I thought I’d seen signs at other places about
boys over 5 not welcome in the girls locker room.  I understand the reason
for an age cutoff from a girl’s point of view, but the protective mommy
point of view is interfering.  Any advice?  Can we only do swim
classes when Daddy can go?  And only shop where there are family
restrooms?  Help!"

I can’t believe people are already giving you strange looks about a child who’s still only 3! That just seems so extreme and nonsensical to me.

I don’t really know what to do about bringing a child into a public restroom at the middle kid age. (For the record, I don’t consider 3 or 4 to be an age at which anyone should be upset about seeing a kid of the opposite sex in a restroom. I do think a 12-year-old can probably go into a public restroom alone, depending on the situation. The years between 4 and 12 are what I mean by "middle kid age" in this case.) My older one is 5 1/2, and I have no plans to stop bringing him into public restrooms with me any time soon. He’s allowed to go into the men’s room by himself in certain places that are technically public but known to us (church, school, my office, etc.), but in truly public places there’s just no way. If anyone gets upset about a 5-year-old in the ladies’ room at an airport, I’ll invite them to come up with a solution that keeps my son safe and still allows everyone to pee in a closed stall.

I do think locker rooms are a different story. People are out in the open, in full view of each other, changing clothes. So I can understand that people might feel uncomfortable being nude in front of a 6-year-old of the opposite sex (but a 3-year-old?!) or feel it’s not right for a child to see an adult of the opposite sex with no clothes on (a bigger problem IMO). But it’s the responsibility of the gym or pool to have a family changing room available for this situation. If they allow children to come and swim or exercise, they have to have a family changing room. If they don’t, I wouldn’t go there, and I’d let them know exactly why. It shouldn’t be your responsibility to come up with a male to accompany your child to swim lessons (what about single moms, two-mom families, or families in which the dad has to work when swim lessons are happening?).

The best-case scenario for locker rooms, in my opinion, is 1) having a family changing room easily available, and 2) having the rules clearly posted about what ages of kids of the opposite sex are allowed in the locker rooms. This makes everything clear, so everyone knows what to do and no one feels insulted, offended, vulnerable, or embarrassed.

Experiences? Advice?

Q&A: early toilet training

Emily writes:

"I’m pregnant with my first child, and have been reading a bit about the early toilet training/diaperless baby movement.  It’s hard to get a read on it because people either think it’s crazy or genius.  I don’t think that early toilet training warps a child psychologically, and I think the environmental arguments for it are compelling.  Also, I’d rather start early than be frantically trying to toilet train the two months before preschool, like my niece.  But I do wonder if it’s doable, or more work than it’s worth.  What do you and your readers think?  I’d be particularly interested in those who tried it and gave up, or those who combined it with daycare."

I think when you call it "early toilet training" people do think it’s nuts, because "training" implies control, and babies just can’t control when they poop or pee.

But when you think of it as "elimination communication" or early toilet learning, it makes a ton more sense, because babies can absolutely communicate. In both directions. If you think about it in terms of the way babies get themselves fed, the process starts to become even more clear: A baby gives little signals–smacking the lips, rooting, eventually escalating to fussing, then crying–to indicate hunger. The adult responds with food, so the next time the baby uses those same signals, and the adult responds and it starts a beautiful cycle that goes on happily until the next thing you know the kid’s saying, "Mo-om, do we have any juice boxes?"

But you can also change the course of that communication to make things more clear if you’d like. From the time my second baby was a few hours old, every time I fed him I’d say "nurse" very clearly just as I put him on. After about 5-6 days, when he’d fuss to eat I’d say "nurse" and he knew I understood and was coming and he’d calm down for the few seconds it took. Some people introduce a hand sign for food when their babies are a few months old, and it has the same effect, and then the child can use the sign to ask for food long before they can use words.

Bodily functions are bodily functions, so you can do the same thing and create a big feedback loop with peeing and pooping. Basically, you just try to notice the teeny little signals your newborn gives when prepping to pee or poop, and then respond to that by changing the diaper immediately or holding the baby over the sink/toilet/receptacle. Eventually the feedback loop will let the child know that you’re going to help them eliminate when they give the signal. But you can also change the course of that communication by introducing noises or hand signals that the child can make long before they can talk. Some cultures do a little "shh-shh" noise when the baby pees, and when the baby is old enough to say "shh-shh" they can tell the adult when they need to pee.

It doesn’t mean that a baby or toddler can actually hold it and wait for long periods of time, but it does mean you’re communicating, and the baby can tell you when s/he needs to go.

Now, in theory it works well, and it also works well in cultures in which parents are with their babies all day and night, everyone in the culture is familiar with it, and people aren’t too picky about what happens to their floor coverings. In practice, it’s hard for most of us in "developed" countries to do a full-on elimination communication without some compromises. There are some  times you just can’t stop and hold your baby over a bowl to pee (on the subway, riding in the car, while doing preschool pick-up with an older child, etc.), or even change a diaper immediately. Which is why the focus should be on the communication aspect of it, instead of the "I have to catch every pee every time" sense that some parents can fall victim to.

Going back to what we were saying in the email from the woman who was smacking her child to sleep, parenting is a long conversation with your child. You don’t have to understand everything perfectly, and say the right thing each time, as long as you’re generally tuned in and you’re able to focus when your child really needs you to. Pottying is the same thing, so you don’t have to catch every single pee to have your child be able to tell you when s/he needs to go. And kids eliminate differently from each other, just as kids eat differently from each other, so you could catch every single drop from birth and have a kid who still wore diapers until age 3 (but was great at communicating with you) or do it part-time when the child wasn’t in daycare and have a kid who was out of diapers at home from the time s/he could walk.

So my advice is to try it, have fun with it, enjoy the extra communication it gives you with your baby, but don’t feel like it’s something that you pass or fail.

Now, comments from anyone who’s done it or grown up in a culture in which it is/was done?

Some updates

Danielle and I were just laughing because she sent me an email from her client (GoodNites) about a free confidential conference call about bedwetting they’re sponsoring with an expert tomorrow (Thursday in North/South America) and then discovered that yesterday’s post was about bedwetting, and the reader even mentioned GoodNights. Ha. Anyway, here are the details of the call:

"The client is GoodNites, the disposable
sleep boxers and sleep shorts for children who have issues with bedwetting. Our
original plan was to reach out to bloggers who are talking about their struggles
with bedwetting (with advice and free product), but when we did a conversation
audit, we were very surprised to find out that NO ONE is blogging about

This is kind of upsetting, because as we all know, the best source of
information for moms is from other moms. If no mom bloggers are talking about
bedwetting, then the only sources of information are on product websites and on
medical sites like WebMD.

So, what we are offering up is a conference
call this Thursday at 2pm CST. The call will be with Judsen Culbreth (her bio is
below). She will answer any questions that anyone has about bedwetting, and can
offer up both professional and personal experience and advice. The call is
anonymous, we are just asking participants to register via a completely
confidential email to an account we have set up. They can also submit questions
via the email, and we will pass those on to Judsen. Also, we are inviting any
bloggers to the call who aren’t facing the issue, but would like to educate
their readers. Oh, and if you want to pass on questions for readers who might
feel embarrassed to email them, you can invite them to post them in your
comments, if you like.

Again, the call is this Thursday, September 20th
at 2pm CST. To get the dial-in information, just send an email to

Judsen’s Bio:
Judsen Culbreth is a mother, parenting expert and author
with both professional and personal experience on the topic bedwetting. 
Formerly Editor-in-Chief of Working Mother
magazine and Executive Editor at Redbook, Judsen’s editorial work has been
honored with many awards, including two Parents’ Choice Silver Honor
Awards.  Culbreth has also appeared on hundreds of TV and radio news programs, including NBC’s Today
show, CBS Evening News, ABC’s Prime Time Live and

2 CST is 3 on the East Coast of the US and Canada, and noon on the West Coast. Check the world clock to find out what time it is where you are. If you don’t want to email in a question you can leave it in the comments here anonymously.

Heather writes:

"Even though I’m only an aunt I read your stuff daily, especially
about PPD which I am scared of.  I’ve bookmarked you series and already
told my husband that when the time comes he is in charge of everything
in those articles.

Imagine my surprise as I was watching Good Eats on the Food
Network tonight and saw him rework rice crispy treats in a way that
made me think of you {it was the flax oil that did it for me}.  I
thought maybe your readers {who aren’t hopelessly addicted to Alton
Brown & Good Eats} might like it."

Recipe for Brown Rice Crispy Bar from Alton Brown at

(For those who don’t want to click, the ingredients are puffed brown rice, flax seed oil, honey, mini marshmallows, slivered almonds, dried cranberries, dried cherries, and dried blueberries.)

"Only an aunt," pshaw. Anyone who’s interested in kids is welcome here. As for these bars, though, well, I love flax seed oil more than most, but I don’t think I could go this far. The flax seed oil and dried fruit would be great for postpartum moms (the dried fruit has a lot of great fiber), but this recipe reminds me of the stuff my mom used to try to pass off to us when I was a kid. (I have lots of memories of going to co-op breakdown day to divide the huge bags of carob chips and wheat germ into packets for the individual families. Good times.) Even the lack of raisins doesn’t make me want to try it. I’d eat the dried blueberries by themselves, though.

And now for an anticlimactic update on my Kindergarten situation: I still don’t like the teacher and don’t trust her as far as I can throw her, but she seems to think my son is kind of funny so she’s being nice to him. I worry that if what my son says is true, the teacher is scapegoating another kid in the class (call me crazy but I don’t think a 5-year-old should be sent out of the classroom three times in the first three weeks of school unless the behavior is violent or seriously disruptive). I’m still going to talk to the principal, but it may be more of a general "what’s really going on with her?" session than a "help my kid" session.

He was fine about going to school yesterday, but then freaked out when
it was time for me to leave, and wouldn’t go back into his room for
awhile. But at least he wasn’t sobbing uncontrollably like before.

Things I don’t want to have happen that have happened to different people in my family: Skip a grade and still end up the smart ostracized kid only younger than everyone else to boot, sit in the back of the room bored reading the dictionary until the teacher yells at you and moves the dictionary too high for you to reach (although you end up with a stellar vocabulary up through the letter H), be told by your kindergarten teacher that you’re too "wild" for school (because you have boy energy) so you barely graduate from high school because you believe her, mentally tune out from school from Kindergarten on because there’s nothing for you there, be told you’re so smart so often that you end up afraid to take any risks because everyone’s invested in your success.

That’s what I’m afraid of, not a little boredom. And there are a bunch of reasons we didn’t end up in a GATE program this year. Once of which was that I felt I was going to be able to trust a Kindergarten teacher, because all the K teachers I’ve ever known have been resourceful, smart about little kids, and kind. I’m pretty gobsmacked by my instant mistrust of this teacher (I have to say that everyone else at the school had been great).

Jenni, I didn’t go in telling her he could read because the teacher and former-teacher commenters here told me not to (not me specifically, but parents) a few weeks ago. They said that teachers figure out the kids quickly anyway, and don’t need or want the parents to bring their own prejudgments into it. I was surprised that she hadn’t picked up on the fact that my son’s reading fluently, especially in light of this whole "read at all costs" thing they’ve got going with the forced reading at the beginning of class.

Speaking of that, I’m finally getting my routine down so I’m not as frazzled in the morning. My son is insisting on school lunch ("I don’t know what it was but it tasted good!" Help…me…) and doesn’t eat anything I pack him ("I ate one grape tomato, Mom!"). So I don’t have to pack him anything. My babysitter meets us at school and takes the little one. But still, the whole set-up is basically for the birds. And I’m still pissed about all the school supplies (it’s not like we can all just pile into the car and stop at Target–it required at least two stores for that list).

How are you guys?

Q&A: recommendations for potty training books

Gretchen writes:

"Okay, I’ve read through the potty training posts I found on your
site, and they seem to echo a lot of what I’ve picked up from reading
the potty training chapters in the toddler care books I have.  But
since Her Royal Highness doesn’t seem to care that she’s wet or dirty,
and refuses to give me any warning that she needs to go, things are
getting a bit messy over here, and we’re on hiatus until after we get
back from vacation.

I’m going to the beach with my parents and my husband to help
watch the kid, so it’s the perfect time to catch up on some reading.
There are approximately 400,000 "how to potty train your child" books
out there, and I have no idea which ones are sane and which ones are
full of, well, you know what.

We’ve already missed the boat on elimination communication as an
infant, since HRH is going on 29 months old.  We’ve taken the low-key
approach, the "look here’s a potty, here’s how mommy goes to the potty,
wouldn’t you like to try, here’s some lovely underwear, let’s try to
keep Dora dry, oh you’ve had an accident, that’s okay let’s just clean
it up and try again."  Interest in the potty ebbs and flows, and the
usual M&Ms or stickers or temporary tattoos don’t seem to provide
the necessary motivation.  Now we’re to the point where she pees on the
floor, comes and gets me and says brightly and with perfect elocution,
"That’s okay, everybody has accidents sometimes!"  Grrr…

I’m not sure if I’m looking for commiseration – there are 10,000
other potty-training moms on CafeMom, and 9,993 of them have it worse
than I do.  I guess what I’d like is a list that says do this, this,
this, and this, and here’s what you do when the kid does this.  I don’t
care if it’s the "right" way to do it, the "old" way to do it, or what,
but I’d like some instructions.

So can we open it up to the readers to give reviews of whichever
potty-training guides they’ve used?  That way I can pick one or two to
request from the library before I go on vacation, and I don’t have to
pack a separate trailer just for the potty books :)"

And, yes, we do have to throw this one open to commenters, because I’ve never read a single potty training book. Of all the random parenting things to have no issues whatsoever with, I got potty training as my free pass. My older one got seriously interested in potty training (toilet training, toilet/learning/whatever you want to call it) at around 16 months and we kind of just did it gradually and I never felt "stuck" in the process long enough to need more than my grandmother’s advice.

She raised 5 kids, and said that kids can’t really potty train until they can see what’s happening and connect it*. So the summer after they turn 2, you should let them run around outside in the grass with pants off as much as you can, and once they can see themselves pee and poop they’ll figure out what’s going on more easily. So we did that (the summer before he turned 2, actually, because he was so fascinated by it), and soon he was going in the potty whenever he was home and pantsless. My problem was figuring out how to get him to stay dry while we were out and about with him in training pants. I was about three days into the problem when we left to visit that same grandmother, and I’d decided just to ask her to train him while we were there. But then he got stubborn and trained himself on the plane rides.

So you can see that I had extraordinary good fortune in potty training, and am therefore not one to be giving advice to anyone about it. (Tip #1: Have a kid who will potty-train himself.) I think if I were home all day with #2 we’d be making way more progress, but he also seems to be on his way. I just lucked out.

But I know that all of you out there have read the books and have tried all the methods. So please help Gretchen out by giving her some ideas of what you think works and what doesn’t. When you’re writing your recs, try also to add details of why you think one particular method did or didn’t work for your kid (age and sex of kid, temperament of kid, comfort level with change, etc. etc.). That way she’ll be able to see which descriptions seem to go along with what her daughter is like, and use those recommendations specifically.

Also, anyone who wants to commiserate about the fact that Gretchen’s going to be reading potty training books instead of novels (trashy or otherwise) while on vacation, please do so. Yeesh. Remember before you had kids? If only we’d known back then to enjoy being able to actually choose what we wanted to do with our time…


* I guess this is the same concept behind those pull-ups that change color when the kid pees in them. Only my grandma’s method is free. And am I the only one who thinks the apocalypse is truly at hand now that they’re making disposable diapers that intentionally feel wet when they’re peed into? It’s like making glue that pulls things apart instead of sticking them together. However, if you’d like to buy Pull-Ups, please click through and buy them here so I make some money off the apocalypse.

Q&A: poop problems

Today we have two vastly different poop problems, neither of which I have any magic for.

Kim writes:

"My 2 1/2 year old is just about potty trained…the only time she wears a diaper is occasionaly to  poop in which case she requests a diaper.  She has pooped on the potty but is leary of it for that purpose.  The problem we have run into is that now she gets the urge to go but stops herself.  She doesn’t really want to put a diaper on nor sit down on her potty.  So now she is constipated and afraid of going because she knows it’s going to hurt…sigh.  It’s awful.  We did a little google research and came up with a name for this "condition", functional fecal retention.  As it is now she has not pooped in 5 days and she says her belly and her bum hurt.  Again, it’s awful.  So what do i do…the poor thing is afraid to poop!  I know I have to get things to be… umm easier to exit.  But is that going to solve it?  Help…!"

I get this question every once in awhile and really don’t know how to solve it. It happened to a preschool friend of ours, and eventually his doctor put him on a stool softener so it would never hurt when he pooped. It still took him the better part of 6 months to get back into the habit of pooping without holding back.

I think the first step is to give her more fiber and cut out the binding things in her diet (rice, bananas, apple, Veggie Booty, and dairy) to make it easier for her to poop. If that helps, then you’re home-free and just need to maintain no pressure on her to poop where she doesn’t want to until she’s ready to. If it doesn’t help, then you’re goign to ahve to turn this over to your pediatrician and see if s/he can refer you to a poop specialist who really knows what to do about this problem.

Elise writes:

"My son is four and a half months old, and he has been sleeping through the night (7pm to 5:54/6am) for a month.  He usually has one bowel movement a day, and these used to typically happen in the mid morning. But for the last four nights, he has awakened crying at 4am with a dirty diaper.  His poop is normal, but it obviously bothers him too much to go back to sleep.  After we changed him, he struggles with going back to sleep.  Do you have any suggestions to get him to poop during the day?"

This is going to sound completely and utterly insane, but my one suggestion is for you to drink a cup of coffee (regular or decaf) and then nurse him half an hour later. (Assuming you’re nursing.) For some reason, some babies seem to react to the coffee in their mothers’ systems the same way most adult men react to drinking a cup of coffee. If it works for your son, then you’ve pretty much figured out how to time his poop.

Overall, though, many kids change pooping patterns when they hit a growth spurt. (Each of mine changed pooping patterns entirely when they hit the 3 week, 6 week, 3 month, and 6 month growth spurts. It was very strange.) It’s possible that your son is going through some kind of growth spurt right now and will go back to what he was doing before in a few days. I certainly hope so, because waking up to change a diaper when your baby would otherwise (let you) sleep through is downright unconscionable.

I hope the coffee works.

Q&A: poop issues with older preschoolers

Today we have two emails about older preschoolers pooping in their pants.

Samantha writes:

"I have a 3.5 year old daughter, Ariana and a 19 month old son, Blaine.
Ariana has mastered the going pee in the potty but refuses to poo but
only in her panties. I don’t yell at her but try and promote that
"everyone" (nana, papa…etc.) goes poo in the potty. Blaine comes in
from time to time to see what she’s doing on the potty. She doesn’t mind
that at all. She is actually happy to see him witness her being a big
girl. I’m not sure what to do about this. I have only 10 pairs of
panties and they last a day. Please, any advice would be great!"

The first thing I’ll tell you to do is buy more panties.

(Seriously, though, you should buy more panties, just to save yourself the aggravation of running out of clean ones.)

I have two suggestions, and maybe one will work for you. The first is to arrange playdates with kids her age who do poop in the potty. Even if she isn’t swayed by your statements that everyone poops*, she may get the urge to do what the other kids are doing. If the other kids are pooping in the toilet instead of their pants, peer pressure could work in your favor. The only catch to this is that she’ll have to be there when the other kid poops, which may be tricky to arrange.

The other suggestion is to have her go bottomless at home as much as possible. When she has to poop, she’ll have to make a decision. With pants on, she just goes in the pants, but with no pants she’ll have to decide whether she’s going to 1) poop on the floor (she’s old enough to think that’s gross and not respectful), 2) ask for a diaper to poop in, 3) ask for underpants to poop in, 4) poop in the toilet, or 5) not poop at all.

Your job is to watch her and help guide her into pooping in the toilet. If she starts out pooping on the floor, neutrally guide her to the toilet, then help her clean up the poop on the floor. (This means she does the cleaning and you help out, not that you clean and she watches.) If she asks for a diaper or underpants, calmly try to persuade her to "try" pooping on the toilet. If she does it once or twice, she might realize she likes not having to be cleaned up so much afterwards.

My only fear with taking the pants off for an older child is that she’ll not poop at all. If she shows any signs of withholding poop, put her pants back on right away. Better to be pooping in her underpants than not at all. Which segues us into the next question.

Rebecca writes:

"My son turned 4 in July.  He still poops in his pants.
Well, some background.  He had some withholding issues and has a prescription
for Miralax that he takes a few times a week.  He still relapses into holding
his stools, so we’ve not put pressure on him to poop in the potty.  (He’s
been pee trained for a long time.)  I don’t know what to do.  Offering
rewards does not work.  Sticker charts do not work.  I haven’t wanted to
use punishment so as not to have him regress into more withholding.  So we
decided to just kind of ignore it and not make a big deal about it.  Well, it’s
almost as if that has backfired because now it IS no big deal to him to just
poop in his pants.  He’ll do it and then just ask to be changed.  I’ve
thought about having him be responsible for cleaning, but how well can a 4 year
old wipe himself, you know?  He starts school on Monday (preschool) and I’m
just hoping he doesn’t poop in his pants during the 12 hours a week he’s
there.  I really thought this would just be something he’d outgrow,
except now it’s as if he thinks it is fine to continue to do this
forever.  I am honestly afraid he WILL be going to kindergarten in a year and
still not fully potty trained.  Please help me!"

I have no idea. We have a friend this same age with almost this same problem, and I wish it could be resolved for both boys.

My instinct is to ask his teachers if they have experience dealing with this. Withholding poop is not a unique problem, so experienced teachers have probably seen it before. They may have some suggestions.

I think if it were me, I’d put him in Pull-Ups because then I wouldn’t have to carry around poopy underpants, and it would be clear that it isn’t a regular thing for him to do. But maybe that would make him feel even worse around the other kids?

I would ask your doctor if there’s a therapist or specialist who deals with this kind of stuff (a poop therapist?) and see if you can get together some sort of meeting with the specialist and the teachers (if they have any insights) to figure out what to do.

I wish I had a magic bullet that could get him to want to poop, and to poop in the toilet. Maybe one of the readers has been through this and can give some advice.

* Please tell me I’m not the only one who imagines Michael Stipe singing every time you see the Everybody Poops book.

Q&A: potty-training problems with a 3-year-old

Teresa writes:

"Our 3-yr-old daughter is still not
potty trained. I know that it’s 99% due to me. I’m a SAHM with a 17-mo-old
daughter as well. We have one bathroom – upstairs, a dog I don’t feel
comfortable leaving alone with either child of course, and did I mention our one
bathroom is the size of a phone booth?

We were doing SO well with the
potty charts, stickers and small rewards for each accomplishment. I think the
only thing we’ve not done is just wear the cotton panties all day – and go with
it every hour and a half or so.

I know what we need to do, but my
concern and question is – since we are halfway there, and the excitement of the
stickers and such has worn off now, are we doomed? Is she STILL ‘trainable’ or
are we looking at a reallly hard struggle for the finalization of

Am I alone in the absolute dread
of the messes, accidents, extra laundry, clean-ups all while rangling a crawler
soon to be walker and crazy pets, stairs and a room with a capacity of 1???

I know I’m a slacker here. I know
I am awful and she should have been trained a LONG time ago….we had some
health issues with our youngest a while back and that also took focus.  She
is so aware and sometimes will tell me when she needs to go but with no real

She thinks that if she goes once,
that’s it…and then it’s time for the BIG reward she wants which is to paint
her toenails pink.

I feel SO inept with this issue –
like I have fumbled it so much already that she will be in first grade with a
diaper on.

Her consistancy is off and so is
ours….so is there any tip or idea that will help us? Or are we a lost

I know I will be thrown out of
the Mother’s Club of Amercia for this. I feel like I’ve missed my window and
have ruined everything.

All of her friends are now
trained. I feel like I’ve just held her back now. ANY help and support on this
will be so appreciated."

Take a deep breath. You are not a shitty mother, you have not ruined her life, and in 2 years you will not even remember how awful this period felt. Once she’s potty-trained it’ll be a done deal and you can move on to other things.

I’m going to suggest something totally radical (as opposed to, like, totally awesome) and ask if you’ve considered training your 17-month-old at the same time. Obviously the 17-month-old isn’t going to pick it up right away, but if the concern is trying to keep the younger kid from messing with toilets and horning in on the 3-year-old’s potty action, you can mitigate the problem somewhat by having the 17-month-old use the potty occasionally, too. And who knows? The younger child could be one of those kids who trains by 2 just to be like her older sister. A mother can always dream.

While you think about that, I’ll suggest getting one (or two or three, depending on how big your house is) potties and putting them in places that are easy to get to for your daughter. Definitely put one or two on the first floor. The goal at this point is to get her to pee and poop in a designated, toiletesque spot every time. Once she’s got the hang of that, she can start going in the bathroom only. By that point all you’ll have to do is the wiping, so it won’t take as long and the dog and younger child won’t present as much of an issue.

For younger potty learners I usually suggest a one-piece potty with no lid since it’s easier for them to get to and sit on. But since your daughter is older and you’re trying to manage a dog and a toddler, I’d definitely suggest the seat potties with lids that you can close. Your daughter may enjoy helping you by emptying the potty into the toilet.

Beyond that, I’d just declare it a diaper-free zone. She’s going to be either pantsfree or in underpants all the time (minus nights, unless you’re doing nighttime training at the same time). In the general lore of potty training, it’s easier for the child to learn with no pants on, so you might want to take off her pants when she wakes up and leave them off all day long while you’re at home until she goes reliably in the potty. Then move on to underpants at home, too.

You are going to have some messes to clean up, unless you really take advantage of the summer weather by staying outside most of the time and letting your daughters go pantless outside. They can pee in the grass if they can’t make it to the potty (another advantage of a potty: you can bring it outside with you for training al fresco). You could also just keep your daughter in a non-carpeted area of your house while she’s pantless and potty training. Wiping up spills on wood or tile or linoleum is a non-issue compared to dealing with pee-soaked carpets. Once she’s ready to wear underpants you could also add another layer of protection for your floors by getting the cotton training pants with the extra layers at the crotch. The underpants will get wet, but they’ll soak up the pee that would go on the floor or her outer clothes.

It seems to me that, especially with an "older" child, you’re already mostly there if your kid wants to be potty-trained. So if your daughter wants to be A Big Girl In Underpants, the process is halfway complete, and all that’s left are the logistics. If you feel like she’s losing steam, see if you can arrange some playdates with potty-trained friends to harness the awesome power of peer pressure. Or renew her interest in the painted toenails with a big challenge by making sure she understands exactly what the terms of the reward are.

Other ideas I have no experience with whatsoever but which could easily work as well as or better than anything I’ve suggested:

1. There’s a book about potty-training in one day using a doll, a ton of fluids, and a bunch of rewards. It’s 30 years old and is controversial (all the Amazon reviews seem to be either 5 stars–"We should have used this method starting at birth!!"– or 1 star–"This will give your child a nervous tic and years of emotional problems!!"), but if you have the kind of child who likes definite rules and rituals, it seems like it might be just the thing to catch their fancy. I wouldn’t try it with a kid who really didn’t want to use the potty, though, or a kid who chafed at a lot of structure or was having any stress or changes going on in his or her life. Read the reviews and use at your own risk, but I have two friends who used the method with their very rules-oriented kids and felt it was both effective and respectful.

2. See if you can get your mother or MIL to potty-train your daughter. I am not joking. There are so many kids who will do anything their grandparents ask them to, and you and your partner both learned how to use the toilet from these women, so it could be a recipe for success that would take the pressure off you (leaving you with "only" the 17-month-old and the dog) until your daughter has the hang of it. If you have a nearby well-loved relative with a proven track record of successful potty-training, see if you can at least enlist that person’s help for moral support, if they won’t agree to run Grandma’s Potty Camp for a few days.

But whatever you do, stop beating yourself up about this. We can only do what we can do at any given time. When the first window of opportunity was there you had other, more important things going on. That’s the only difference between you and someone who hopped on that first window of interest because there wasn’t anything else demanding their attention. There are no extra points on the SAT for potty-training early.

Anyone else want to chime in with advice for a 3-year-old potty learner, or even just "confess" that your child isn’t out of diapers yet? Or tell me why working on training a 3-year-old and a 17-month-old at the same time won’t work?