Monday, April 16, 2012

Let's Talk About Potty Training!

Though I mostly talk about birth and breastfeeding here, I figure other parenting topics certainly have their place, so today's discussion is about potty training or potty learning! I'm lucky enough to be in the midst of potty training my middle son, SB. He turned three in December, and though I had every intention of having him out of diapers before the baby was born, or at least before he turned three, we're only just now starting to have some success in that department.

First, I hear that boys are more difficult to potty train than girls, and that girls typically learn at a younger average age than boys. I have no idea if this is actually true, although from casual observation of friends, it seems to be the case. I think maybe girls are just more likely to be bothered by a wet and/or dirty diaper and are more interested in emulating mommy? I have no idea. All's I know is that neither NJ nor SB cared one bit about getting out of diapers until we forced the issue, and that both would happily walk around in a dirty diaper for hours, even lying about whether they needed a change, from about 2-1/2 until they were potty trained.

Before I had kids, I couldn't believe that parents would let their kids stay in diapers until they were three. I was aghast when I saw that they made diapers big enough for a three-year-old. Once NJ became a toddler, I realized quickly that it's not always up to the parent, and you can't force a kid to use the potty. Indeed, toileting is one of the few things a small child truly has control over. He has to decide that he wants to use the potty, that wearing underwear and being dry is way better than wearing a diaper. Whether that's through a reward system, simple maturity, or some combination of both, if the child doesn't want to use the potty, you'll be cleaning up a lot of "accidents." I'm amazed when a parent tells me their child was potty trained at two, or earlier, but I am certainly no longer enraged by parents who "let" their three-year-olds stay in diapers! Goodness me, I'm one of them!

So, let's start with NJ, my strong-minded, strong-willed child. By 2-1/2, he was very verbal and would willingly sit on the toilet at daycare. We thought, great, let's potty train! SB was a few months old, and we were already tired of having two in diapers. Plus, NJ was so big that he was in the largest size diapers there were, and we didn't know what we would do if he got much bigger and still wasn't using the toilet. For a week, we tried to help him learn to use the toilet, but he didn't seem to have the awareness of when he needed to go. Every other day, we sent him to daycare in underwear and he'd come back with three or four dirty pairs of underwear and no toilet success. The in-between days, he'd express that he just wanted to wear a diaper. It seemed to be very stressful for him. One day, he didn't pee all day and in the evening was complaining of pain. We thought he might have a UTI from holding his pee all day and took him to the ER. That was a traumatic experience all on its own, and we decided then and there to put off potty training.

It took a full year before we finally got fed up enough with his wearing diapers to give it another try. We wanted him to move up to the preschool room (and out of the toddler room) at school, which he couldn't do until he was potty trained. His teacher said he was totally ready, just needed a little push. Push we did. We had to force him to decide to try using the toilet, but once he did, it was about three days until he was in underwear all day, accident-free. The first day, a Thursday, was very hard, but by Monday he was using the toilet. And he was big enough to stand to pee at a regular toilet and to sit on a regular toilet without a potty seat or a stool, which made everything easier when he had to go to the bathroom when we were out and about. There are definite advantages to waiting until they're older!

At this point, SB was 16 months old, and we knew we wouldn't push him. We thought he might be ready sooner just because he had his older brother to emulate, but we didn't want a repeat of that tough, unsuccessful week. Plus, we quickly learned that diapers are way easier than the early months of toilet-using. For months, NJ would announce, in the middle of dinner at a restaurant, or at the far end of Walmart or Costco, that he had to go potty, and one of us would have to interrupt what we were doing to take him there. It can be annoying. At home, it wasn't so bad, because he became independent in the bathroom pretty quickly, so we could just send him off to use the bathroom on his own. But, obviously, we couldn't do this in public! Another reason not to rush SB, in our opinion.

Flash forward to 2011. Not long after GI was born, SB suddenly started showing interest in the potty. He wasn't yet three, so I was very excited that he'd be potty trained earlier than NJ had been. He did well for about a week or two, but we didn't push him at all, not wanting to scare him off from it. I have one memorable picture of coming downstairs to find SB sitting on his frog potty in the middle of the living room, playing with my iPod. It was hilarious. I promised him a big present when he was in underwear all day, cheered him on whenever he was successful on the potty, but after a week or two, he just as suddenly decided he wanted to go back to diapers. Since I had a newborn and didn't have the energy to argue the point, we allowed him to go back to using diapers. Every so often, we'd try to entice him back to the potty with promises of presents and new underwear and pointing out how babies wear diapers and wouldn't he rather be a big boy like NJ?

When he turned three, we tried again, briefly, by putting him in Pull-Ups instead of underwear (because I so didn't feel like cleaning up accidents), promising him rewards, etc. He had no interest whatsoever and was actually very defiant about it, refusing to try, insisting he didn't have to, then going in his Pull-Up five minutes later.

Finally, two weeks ago, I'd had it. His Pull-Ups weren't holding his poos, so I was cleaning him up from poop-overflow every day. Plus, we've decided to try to send him for a couple of weeks to summer camp at my mom's preschool this summer, and for that he needs to be potty trained. So I said, that's it, we're doing it. I'm forcing the issue. I put him in underwear and kept reminding him to use the potty. I bought jelly beans, and after peeing in the potty, he'd get one jelly bean, and if he pooped in the potty, he'd get three. If he pooped in his underwear, I'd throw away the underwear, hoping that would upset him enough that he would try to go in the potty instead. He's basically good with pee at this point - even went at Walmart today! - but poop is still iffy. I've thrown away quite a few pairs of underwear and even a pair of pants that were not worth trying to salvage. Ew. I'm not sure if the poop issue is that he "can't" go or that he doesn't want to. I've seen him do it, so I know he can. He's so funny, though. He knows what he gets as a reward, so whenever he successfully uses the potty, even totally on his own, he'll go and take just one jelly bean (or last week, during Passover, it was macaroons - the kids loves macaroons. Heck, I'd go potty for macaroons, too). Honest kid. So cute.

My husband bought him a really big (literally) present to give him when he's accident-free for a day or two. If he doesn't poop at all during the day, he's pretty much accident-free. But if he poops, it's more likely to be in his pants than in the toilet, which is very, very frustrating. I'm hoping something clicks soon. I figure that by the time July rolls around, he'll be good to go (literally, ha!). Hey, he's only 3 years and 4 months. NJ was a full 3-1/2.

Of course, now we're back in the territory of reminding him to go to the bathroom constantly (but not too often - don't want to annoy him and risk regression), of being interrupted in the middle of shopping or dinner to help him in the bathroom, of bringing extra clothes and/or Pull-Ups wherever we go in case of accidents. And SB is considerably smaller than NJ was at this age, so he's not comfortable sitting on a "big toilet" on his own, without a potty seat. He can use a urinal, though, and the beauty of having an older boy too is that NJ takes SB to the bathroom! He showed him how to use the urinal. Love that. I'm not comfortable saying that SB is completely potty trained at this point, but we're surely going through fewer Pull-Ups, and he's been clean all day today (so far - it's 5:45pm as I write this). We still put him in a Pull-Up at night, as we did with NJ, although he's usually dry in the morning anyway. NJ started wearing underwear at night around when he started kindergarten, and that was totally fine with us. He rarely wets the bed, and even rarely wet when he was wearing a Pull-Up, but we let him wear it for his own peace of mind.

It will be interesting to see how GI does, with two big brothers to follow after. I wonder if using cloth diapers more with him will help him learn the sensations faster, if I'm still using cloth with him when the time comes. (I sure plan to - I bought some more!)

My basic feeling about potty training is thus: You do what works for your kid. For SB, he needs the cookie or the jelly bean as motivation. NJ didn't. He just needed a push, and then he pottied for potty's sake. SB needs that carrot of a BIG present. NJ got a big present, but we didn't have to have it sitting in Daddy's closet for him to see and wish for. SB needs to be reminded fairly often. NJ didn't. And it's interesting that I have NJ to help me potty train SB and to give him some tips of the trade. And he wants NJ to help him, which is pretty cool, too. (A lot of this has to do with their overall close relationship, and the fact that NJ just likes to help "parent" SB and GI anyway.)

So when my friends ask me for potty training advice, well, as with sleep, I can only say what worked for me. As far as I know, every person has a slightly different potty training experience, even with each kid. And then there are the lucky ones whose kids potty train themselves. I don't know what magic causes that, but it's pretty amazing when it happens.

I have to say, though, that the first time you see your little one's adorable tush in underwear instead of a diaper, it feels like a huge milestone. Suddenly, he's a big boy.

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