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In search of potty-training tricks of the trade

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I have four children between the ages of ten and two. Three of them are fully potty-trained. What that means is that I was able to teach bright, albeit somewhat incoherent human beings, how to control their bodily waste removal function. Three times. Me. The girl who’s too lazy to wear shoes with laces.

It’s interesting because if I knew someone who had taught three children under the age of three on three different occasions how to crochet a doily, I’d call that person a doily crocheting pro. If I knew someone who thrice taught children how to make Chicken a la King, I’d say they were probably The Queen of Chicken a la King. Three successive attempts at teaching them to change the oil in the car? You guessed it. The Oil Changing Authority.

Yet, teaching a small child to consciously hold the pee/poop phenomenon until the underpants are pulled down and the butt is positioned on the special chair which, incidentally, has a gaping hole in the middle. THEN adding to their lesson the tricky functions of wiping and flushing before redressing? I�m sure most parents would agree that it HAS to be just as daunting a task as teaching said child how to crochet end table d�cor. So much so, in fact, that I’m back to being an amateur with each new primate, er, child-in-training.

My 29-month-old, otherwise known as #4, is the ambidextrous, multi-tasking girl known to eat with her right AND left hand while singing Itsy Bitsy Spider and playing a quick game of I Spy. This precious thing puts on her own shoes every morning, peels her own bananas, and points to her eyes when asked where her ojos are. No doubt Harvard, Yale, or Princeton is in her future… IF she ever learns to announce that she’s just peed all over the kitchen floor. At this point I’d settle for the announcement, as opposed to the NOT peeing on the kitchen floor.

The good news is that she�s quit hiding under her bed at the mere sound of the word potty. But her eyes don’t light up at the sight of shiny-new Dora the Explorer underpants like they did with #3. Offerings of frozen refined sugar concoctions if she’ll just “sit there” for three more minutes have no meaning to her, either, much the way they did when potty-training #2. Situating the potty in front of the TV and giving up the remote used to do the trick with #1; # 4 seems to think she’s in time-out. Or maybe hell.

I know the experts will tell me she’s just not ready. They’ll say she’ll surely be potty-trained before college. They’ll tell me not to stress. Above all, not to make HER stressed. And I agree with all that. But what were parenting blogs invented for, if not to research ideas on what works when she DOES decide to join the non-diaper-wearing portion of society?

So if you, dear reader, have The Golden Ticket to potty-training, please feel free to pass it forward. On behalf of my kitchen floors, thank you.


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  • comment avatar Angela Klocke September 14, 2007

    Uh…honestly? I’ve blocked all that out. Seriously. Every time I’m asked for advice, I am surprised that I really don’t recall. Can it have been that horrifying?

    Good luck, hon. You already have a great track record on your side!

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson September 14, 2007

    As you may recall, my daugher is 3 and STILL refuses to train. And unlike you, I don’t already have a great track record on my side!

  • comment avatar Shawna September 14, 2007

    My daughter potty trained herself really. She just decided she wanted to use the toilet on her own after seeing older kids do it. She was 20 months.

    Frankly, I’m scared about how I will figure out how to potty train my son. I played such a small role in my daughters toilet skills. Right now I’m going to cross my fingers and hope he does it the way she did it.

    Have fun!

  • comment avatar Jamie Johnson September 14, 2007

    My 3-year-old completely refuses to even try using the potty these days. Early on she loved the concept but never totally bought into it. Now even the mention of the potty puts her in a defensive stance. After completely backing off for a few weeks on the potty thing I offered my daughter one of her potty reward treats with no strings attached. I didn’t even mention the word potty I supply handed her the piece of candy. She immedatly backed off the candy and said, “I don’t want to go potty.” I said, “You don’t have to go potty.” She immediatley shot back a questioning look and stated again that she didn’t want to go potty. After many times trying to explain that she didn’t need to do anything with the potty that the treat was hers for the taking she finally slowly grabbed the candy and ran away. So to make a long story short, I feel your pain!

  • comment avatar Gretchen aka mopsy September 14, 2007

    I have six kids. Five are successfully potty-trained.

    My #1 advice: don’t try a minute before they are ready. No rewards. No anger, no tears. It is a matter-of-fact. Big kids go in the potty, shrug. You don’t get a reward for putting a banana peel in the trash. Why get rewarded for putting pee in the toilet, where it belongs? Getting to wear Lightning McQueen or Ariel on one’s tushie is reward in itself.

    I sit back and wait. My five oldest all made the jump, themselves, when they were between 3 and 3 and a half. The bonus? No accidents because they had the communication skills and a good grasp on cause and effect.

  • comment avatar Annie September 14, 2007

    I will echo the advice of the experts and add that I have never seen a child go to kindergarten in diapers. I know that doesn’t make you feel any better, maybe this will.

    What is your child’s currency? Once you have figured out what they really want, you can use it against them, er, I mean, use it to your advantage, er, I mean, inspire them them use the potty.

    Mini Me wanted to go to the snow cone stand really bad. I wanted her to go number two in the potty really bad. I was feeling the pressure to have her fully trained. We were going on a cruise in a few weeks and I didn’t want to pack diapers.

    We played with the Fisher Price Little People and pretended that they went poop in the potty and then they ate snow cones. 9:55 that same night, she went poop in the potty for the first time. The snow cone stand closed at 10! We couldn’t fail her. We made it there in the nick of time. I tell ya, those snow cones never tasted as good as they did that night.

  • comment avatar Tea and Bon Bons September 14, 2007

    The easiest solution I ever had was with my oldest. Send her to day care and let THEM do it.

  • comment avatar Aimee September 14, 2007

    We tried at certain points and if he wasn’t getting it, we’d put it aside.. and then one time we tried again and he GOT IT. We just kept trying at intervals till he was into it.

    Of course, he is still in Pullups at night at age 5, so what do I know?

  • comment avatar Lizzy September 14, 2007

    I am in the same boat at this very moment. In fact, I am quite prepared to strangle the next person who insinuates that I “Should be a pro at this by now.” But today I felt brilliant as I finally realized what I need to do to make this one a success too. I am simply going to put a sign on my door, put a message on my answering machine, and print myself a T-shirt that says, “Potty Training in progress, please leave me alone.” And then I will make sure to have a babysitter lined up every evening. It is no longer about poop in the potty, it is all about me staying sane.

  • comment avatar HDW September 17, 2007

    I liked Tea and Bon Bon’s idea! My son is three, and he was in an in-home daycare. I wouldn’t say she did it all, but certainly, my son was around other children his age, and they all wanted to do what the other was doing. It took about two or three weeks to really get things going. The best advice I received was to not get upset when there are accidents or mistakes, but heap on the praise when things go really well.

    Good luck!

    (And great blog!)

  • comment avatar Carrie September 17, 2007

    We are painfully making slow progress. The potty chart is working for pee but I honestly think that sometimes my three year old can’t even tell that he is pooping in his drawers. My #1 potty trained himself very early. I think that I am starting too late with #2. He doesn’t yearn to impress me like he used to. I read some books and was surprised to see the average age of successfully trained kids, was getting older and older. Seems that Mom’s trained their kids before the age of 2, not more than two generations ago. Perhaps it is the fast-paced “working parents” syndrome that is affecting our kids.

  • comment avatar MaryS September 20, 2007

    I have 3 boys, all potty trained now. My oldest (now 14) was closing in on his FOURTH birthday and still wasn’t interested in potty training until my mother stepped in. He was helping her in the garden and she asked if he needed to go potty. He didn’t respond so she told him that if he needed to pee, he could do it on a tree. He LOVED the idea of peeing outside and that night he interupted my slumber with an announcement that he had to go outside. A quick whiz on the bushes and he was back inside for sleep.

    I figured I would be getting funny looks from the neighbors either way – a pre-schooler in pull-ups or a naked tree-waterer – so why not save myself the work of changing diapers? He caught on to pooping in the toilet after he stopped wearing pants and spent many afternoons outside. The only downside is that the target now (toilet bowl) is much smaller than the trees and bushes he used during his early lessons. Aiming is NOT his strong point.