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    Final Thoughts on Potty Training Boot Camp

    June 14, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    Since it came up in the comments, and since I’ll likely forget if I don’t write it down, I thought I’d offer up some final thoughts {afterthoughts?} on potty training, as long as it is understood that what I do might not actually work for you! I have no idea if this is the Best Way Ever to Potty Train. It’s just a collection of thoughts on what I do and why…to share for now, and keep for when my girls care about such things.

    But first…

    What I Did the First Time Around
    Harmony asked:

    I’m…curious what method you used with E. and why you ended up changing. My son is 20 months, very verbal, and I’m pretty sure he can learn to use the potty, but I haven’t committed to a plan yet.

    I totally botched E.’s potty training, and it wasn’t completely avoidable. I’m sure I made a lot of mistakes that I’ve now forgotten, but also Life Happened {as it tends to do}.

    I decided to potty train E. right after his second birthday. It actually went pretty well…until we were at a family function when a certain man who shall remain nameless joked with him about not falling into the toilet.

    He promptly became terrified of the toilet.

    Lucky me.

    In the midst of trying to conquer an irrational fear {the hardest to conquer, in my opinion}, I almost miscarried our Daughter A. I was put on bed rest, and remained on modified bed rest for the remainder of the pregnancy.

    This was a disaster. I couldn’t pick E. up or really help him use the toilet, so he ended up in Pull Ups or diapers half the time, and then being “trained” the other half of the time when my husband or some other adult was around. What I learned through this is that mixed messages are the worst, and Pull Ups can compromise the best laid potty training plans.

    I would have done much better to just quit {for a time} and wait until the pregnancy was over. As it was, I started earlier, but he was fully trained much later.

    In addition to this, he wasn’t nighttime trained until many years later. I have no idea if that was due to my training method, his unique constitution, or his sensitivity to citric acid {which I’ll talk about below}. I just know that at one point I thought I’d be mailing him Pull Ups while he was in college.

    Time heals all, though, as they say.

    What I Do Now
    Harmony also asked,

    Brandy, did you make up your own potty-training bootcamp plan or did you buy the “one-day” program?

    Daughter A. ended up being trained around age two-and-a-half. She and Daughter Q. are only 22 months apart, and the age was totally subjective. It was a good time to train Daughter A., and so I did it. I don’t completely remember what I did, except that it was a little less intentional than what I did with Q. and Son O. It is these last two that I’ll discuss.

    Before I trained Q., I spent some time talking with Friend L., who explained to me what she had done. Potty Training Boot Camp is basically what she told me to do, with the added benefit of removing to my parents’ house so that there is less distraction from siblings.

    Here are the basic components:

    • Go cold turkey. No Pull Ups, no nothing. The potty chair is their new reality. We spend a lot of time talking about this before it happens so that they know it’s coming and aren’t surprised.
    • Wait until they display readiness and interest…and possibly ability. Son O., for instance, actually asked to use the toilet a couple times in the month preceding boot camp–and used it successfully each time he did this. Showing a lot of independence {such as correcting his mother when she calls him a baby} is another sign, as is displaying awareness of the elimination process.
    • Wait until it fits your family. Daughter Q. probably could have been trained when she was two-and-a-half, but that didn’t work. Siah had just gotten out of the hospital and was rehabilitating at home. He required a lot of my time and energy, and our home didn’t need the added stress of trying to conquer something new like that. If we are going to go cold turkey, we have to have the ability to focus, so I have found that waiting until I can carve out the time works well for us.
    • Let them go bottomless. Some of them need this. If there is anything around their waist at all, they think they are wearing a diaper. With O., I had him consistently wearing underwear after his nap on the first day.
    • Use a timer. Son O. didn’t need this, but both of my daughters did. They were a little resistant, so I set a timer and they had to sit on the potty chair every so often–fifteen minutes at first. I wrote down when they went until I discovered a pattern–Q., for instance, went consistently every 45 minutes. So instead of having an accident every 45 minutes, I set a timer for 44 minutes and took her to the chair first. It worked like a charm.
    • Load up on drinks. Popsicles also count. Juice? Whatever. This was my biggest hurdle with O., who will only drink water and milk. The goal is to give them as many opportunities to practice as possible on the first day or two. Remember: thirst is the body’s attempt to regulate its salt balance, so you can induce thirst {in a normal, healthy person} by feeding them salty foods. {I used popcorn with O.}
    • Let them fail. Depending on the child, this can be your biggest help. First thing Saturday morning, I woke O. up and took him straight to the toilet. He sat, but didn’t go. I gave him underwear, and told him to tell me when he needed to go. A few minutes later, he was doing one of those awkward dances that tend to indicate the need. I asked him if he needed to go, and he said no. A few minutes after that, he had an accident. He was horrified. I am convinced he didn’t fully understand until that accident. This was the only time he didn’t make it to the toilet the whole weekend, and today is the fourth day and he’s only had one other accident this entire time. Q. had a lot of accidents, so I know this doesn’t work with every child, but allowing them to fail teaches them.
    • Be consistent. With Daughter A., I set aside a whole week, and I’m glad I did because, unlike these last two, it took the full week for her to connect. That means that for a full week I had to be aware of what she needed and never let up on training. A. was also a little younger, and that might have had something to do with it. I am convinced that starting early is the biggest factor in prolonged training. If you want to work that hard, that is fine. I am aware that there are benefits to starting early. But all of this is sort of like teaching children to tie their shoes. You can teach a four-year-old, but it’ll take you months and even then he will need help now and then. Or, you can wait until said child turns six or seven and teach him in about one hour. Early potty training works great for some families, but it requires more work on the part of the parents that I’m just not willing to do. Incidently, math seems to follow this same rule. But I digress.
    • Let them throw some diapers away. We don’t do this, but Friend L. does, so I thought I’d mention it. I am assuming everyone cheers and reminds the child how big she’s gotten lately.
    • If necessary, use a reward. I am not big on rewards because I believe children can learn to love things for their own sake. But potty training isn’t a hill I’m willing to die on. For both of my girls, I gave them dried cranberries as a treat after each success. Son O. lives for praise, so we just did a lot of clapping and cheering. {I do have chocolate-covered raisins up in a cabinet for skipping those dirty diapers during nap and using the toilet instead!}

    Thoughts on Nighttime Training
    Another commenter asked:

    Can you share any night time training tips? My son is trained for when he’s awake, but I’m not sure how to know when he’ll be ready to go w/o a diaper during sleeping. I have heard people say that you shouldn’t give drinks past a certain hour, at night for example, but the way our schedule works, we have to have dinner around that time.

    As I mentioned above, it took years for E., and I’ll never fully know why. In discussing with friends, though, I have noticed that children who sleepwalk and/or talk in their sleep tend to be like this, even if you limit drinks in the evenings {which is helpful, but not always practical}. Son E. actually played elaborate games in his sleep, and even climbed up to the top of a cupboard once! These children are extremely hard to wake, and all we mothers can do is pray they grow out of it before they get married!

    In addition to this, we really turned a corner when we cut citric acid entirely from his diet. I was complaining to a friend that not only did E. not wake at night, but he also seemed to go too frequently during the day. This friend mentioned that his brother had been like that and it was a sensitivity to citric acid, which can interfere with kidney function. We cut it just to see what would happen, and it changed a lot. Of course, considering that E. ended up allergic to practically everything, this might not be as true for other children as I initially thought.

    With that said, there is something I did with the girls that I plan to do with O., but I have yet to know how it works with a boy. Basically, I waited until they woke up dry twice in a row, and then I took their diapers during nap. Yes, that means they wet the bed more than once. This is another “let them fail” moment. I know that it’s a pain to change lots of sheets, which is why I start with nap. But I found that both girls hated waking themselves up wet, and despised having to help me change their beds.

    I made life easier for myself and had them sleeping on a waterproof pad and towel so that it wasn’t too much more, but it still did the trick. A couple failures {after I had that initial sign of readiness}, and they were trained.

    If O. is totally different, I’ll try to remember to check back here and confess it. What I do know is that if it didn’t work after two weeks or so, I’d return to diapers and try again after waiting a bit longer. No sense in torturing myself, right?

    One Word on Discipline
    Word on the street is that you are never, ever, ever supposed to discipline a child during potty training.

    I disagree.

    Well, sort of.

    The vast majority of children do not have accidents on purpose. They do not wet their pants in defiance, and they shouldn’t be disciplined at all for this, though it is quite reasonable to have them help with the clean up.

    What I have noticed is that this has translated {culturally speaking} into not disciplining defiance during training. If I tell a child to go sit on the potty chair and try, this is a reasonable request, and ought to be obeyed. A child who doesn’t obey this in our home is disciplined. We make it quite clear that they don’t have to go…they just have to try.

    I mention this because with one of my children {I don’t remember which one}, this was a lifesaver. I felt powerless, and the child was walking all over me, and it started to bleed over into other areas. Obviously, in a situation like E.’s, where there is real fear involved, we need to be sensitive, but a lot of two-year-olds will stare you down just because they want to, and you don’t have to tolerate that in potty training any more than you would in any other circumstance.

    God Be With You!
    Like anything we do, asking God’s blessing on the endeavor is good to do. If what you are doing isn’t working, ask for wisdom. God will show you a way to help your child.

    If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

    James 1:5

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  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts June 15, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    I used to wake E. up around 10 or 11 after we quit diapers! I totally forgot that. We tried it with Daughter A., but she ended up not needing it, and so I’ve never done it again. I probably should edit and add that to the nighttime training idea list. Thanks!

    This is the first time that I think siblings around might have been just fine. The main reason I did it with Q. was because they weren’t helpful at. all. and I was distracted by them. They needed this, they wanted that, and I just thought I’d never be able to focus on Q. Now, our little “potty retreat” has become a nice bonding time for me to spend concentrated time with just one child. I think I will still plan such things now and then just for fun. I feel like I learned a lot about E. through this that I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise.

    By the way…I like the idea of *giving* away diapers rather than throwing them away. Good idea!

  • Reply Kansas Mom June 15, 2011 at 3:46 am

    My two year old (who will be three in July) just might be training. I tried a few weeks ago (for the first time; with my older two we waited until they were basically trained before making any effort) and it didn’t go well. She’d go on the potty, but she’d also go on the floor and didn’t care in the least. Now she’s nearly accident free (at home only) for two days. The trick? She has shown amazing success when her older brother and sister take her to the bathroom instead of me. (Someone has to hear her go for her to get her treat.) Somehow, they are just cooler than I am.

    I still have to clean up any messes, though.

  • Reply Rachel R. June 15, 2011 at 12:11 am

    Yup. I have one who needed to be disciplined – not for the not pottying, but for obstinacy during our attempts to train her. (We had all kinds of orneriness issues with her; the potty training was just one small manifestation.) Incidentally, I chose to just quit the training for a while and come back to it later because it was not worth it to me to fight her over it so many times a day. She finally got old enough that she didn’t want to be in diapers anymore.

    And if you don’t throw diapers away, I’ve heard of some people having their just-trained ones pack the diapers up to give/send to a baby they know. (Currently, ours are still being handed down!)

  • Reply Mystie June 14, 2011 at 11:51 pm

    Great advice, Brandy! I am all about waiting, as mine never had *any* of the readiness signs except the maturity ones. I also totally agree about going cold-turkey and foregoing pull-ups with one exception: the first grocery store trip. 🙂

    On the nighttime bit, we are just now conquering that one with my second (who just turned 6) and 3 1/2 yo. My oldest was almost 6 before he kept his diaper dry at night, and he *wanted* to keep it dry and wear underwear. We did a progression with three nights dry, move to a pull-up, 2 night dry, underwear, 2 nights dry, get to help Mom make cookies. 1 time wet and you start over again at the beginning. It took my oldest 2 weeks and then he never wet the bed again, except for once out of the blue a year later.

    My second son is a *very* hard sleeper. You simply can’t wake him up at night, and he was soaking through a size 6 diaper (a pull-up would just be a joke). He had never, not once, been dry at night his whole life. Well, come sixth birthday and the size 6 diapers hardly even fit around him and I’m wondering if we’re going to have to buy him Depends. We braced ourselves for loads of laundry and went cold turkey with underwear at night, on the theory that his subconscious was in the habit of using a diaper as a diaper but also in the habit of keeping underwear dry. We’re on week 3, and he’s been about 50/50, and that’s amazing, considering he had never been dry before at night. We did it with the 3yo at the same time, because she was initially dry at night 80% of the time, but then regressed and was wet every morning. She has returned to 80% dry at night from day 1 of underwear. So cold turkey is a good bet.

    I have friends who also woke their children up around 10-11 at night to have them use the bathroom and that seemed to do the trick. You simply can’t wake my son up, and he would stand in front of the toilet staring blankly….it didn’t work for us.

    I like siblings around, myself, since they model what we want (they think it’s funny to be made much of again for using the bathroom) and they help with the cheerleading and excitement. 🙂

    I also think that allowing them to fail helps you see how they’re processing it. How they respond can give you an insight into the best tactic to use with them. All of mine responded differently. The worst was my second son, who at 3 1/2, *didn’t even notice that he was squatting in the middle of a puddle.* Didn’t bother him a bit. My girl was the only one to care that she was wet. 🙂

    I’m glad I have another 2 years before I have to do it again!

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