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Potty Training 101

By Molly Aley

Potty training, in essence, is simply changing a habit. I mean, hey, we trained the baby to go to the bathroom in a diaper, and now we must simply retrain baby to go in a different spot. But, as with all ingrained habits, it takes the person time to learn to adjust from one way of doing things to another.

Most mothers attempt to potty-train and give up after one day of disaster, thinking that either they are doing something wrong or that the child isn't ready. In actuality, everything was going just as it should. Of course a young one, habitually trained to let urine flow out whenever he/she feels the urge, isn't going to naturally remember that urine now belongs in a toilet! It will take some time (and many wet spots in the house) before the child learns to control the urge to urinate until he/she is in the appropriate place!

Personally, I always potty train earlier than most parents--but that's not because I'm a better mother or am "more on the ball with my children" than other moms are. It's for very selfish reasons, actually. You see, I hate (hate!) changing toddler diapers! There is nothing more disgusting to me than to change a 2 year old's poopy diaper, and so I'll go through a lot in order to save myself from that experience. As a consequence, when our children hit two, we begin the process of "re-training" their bathroom habits to something more suitable to Mommy's nose. *grin*

How to tell if your child is old enough to potty-train? It's simple. Can they follow simple commands--are they able to come when called, do they understand basic words and concepts? Most two year olds are perfectly able to do these things, and are therefore more than ready to be potty-trained. The question really isn't if they are ready--it's if you are ready! (One note: please don't try and start training until they are at least 22 months old, unless they are just really wanting to).

I always start potty-training a few months in advance. First of all, I start happily jabbering away about how big boys/girls don't wear diapers, about how diapers are for babies. It really helps to have a new baby around, which we always seem to (heehee), because you can talk about these things naturally as you change the little baby's diaper. I don't make it a shaming thing--nothing of the sort--just planting the idea in their head that big boys/girls wear "Big Boy/Girl Pants" instead of diapers. I rattle on about it, here and there throughout the day--making them fairly DROOL to wear such coveted things as "Big Boy/Girl Pants."

Unless you want to prolong potty-training success for a year, do NOT succumb to the "pull-up diaper" trend, where you potty train them while they are wearing pull-ups. That doesn't work, simply because the child needs to feel the wetness. And let's fact it--a pull-up is a diaper, no bones about it, and it wicks moisture away from their skin, feeling no different to their bottoms then what they've been wearing for the past two years! You need a radical change--not merely a new form of diaper. I'm not saying that pull-ups are bad. I always use them for trips to the store or for naps/night at first, until the child is well-trained (because an accident in the middle of the grocery store is just plain no fun--ask me how I know!). But if you really want to potty-train your child, and be over the worst of it in a week, don't do pull-ups for your normal daily use.

So, about a week or two before we officially potty-train, I go out and buy some sort of gender-specific underwear for them--something pink and lovely for girls, or something manly and "tough" for the boys. (Get a couple packages--enough to give you at least 8-10 per day, because that's how many you'll go through during the first couple days of training--you can wash tehm all that night so they'll be ready the next morning). When those little eyeballs see what's in that package, they literally BEG me to let them wear them on the spot, but as I take them out of the package and lay them out for all to see, I nonchalantly say, "You know, I'm not sure if you're big enough yet? Only big boys/girls get to wear these, you know... Do you think you're big enough?" Of course, you know their response is always a loud, "Yes!"

After I've whet their appetite to join the Land of Big Boys and Girls, and after we've displayed the lovely undies for a week or so, and after (this is important!) I've checked our schedule to make sure I have a week where I can stay at home as much as possible, we begin.

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To start with, you need to consider the lay-out of your home, because many accidents will take place while the toddler is running to the potty chair. For this reason, I've potty-trained most of our children in the kitchen, as opposed to the bathroom! The kitchen is an "uncarpeted area," a very easy place to clean up urine spills and whatnot. So the potty chair gets set in the middle of the kitchen floor (or wherever the easy-access uncarpeted area is in your home) and is made quite an honorary chair--one that is only for Big Boys and Girls to sit on. (In the summer, when children are outside, I've been known to put the potty chair on the porch where it's close to them, and where accidents can simply be hosed away). After the initial first week of training, when most of the frequent accidents are passed, then the potty chair is moved into the bathroom, where it stays until it is outgrown.

Also, as has been said, you need to understand that this will usually take a few days before the concept even *really* hits their brain. That means a couple days of constant accidents. But as they continually experience the unpleasant sensation of urine flowing down their legs (and continually getting their precious big boy/girl pants wet--oh no!), they will begin to associate the urge and the potty chair together, and will come to understand that the only way to keep their wonderful new big boy/girl pants dry is to go do "business" in the chair.

No getting mad, Mom--and that's important. This isn't a discipline issue, it's a retraining issue. No yelling, no going nuts (if you need to scream, run do it in your room into the pillow or something!), just patient reminders and a calming presence. They are learning something new--and on one can learn in a hostile environment (or, if they can, it takes them ten times longer!). You are the calming reassuring adult who reminds them gently, "Oh my, honey. Your big boy/girl pants are wet. Oh, that is so sad. Well, we'd better take them off. We don't want wet pants, do we? Oh my, no. We like our pants dry--just like Mommy's and Daddy's (and big brother or sister, if there are any) are dry." And then help them get the wet pants off and put on some dry ones (yes, you'll be doing a lot of laundry).

During the first two days, I reward all "potty hits" (meaning, the urine hit the potty chair instead the floor) with a little treat. You can use whatever little treat you like--little candies, little raisins, etc.--just something small to help motivate them to do it again. After the first couple days, don't give treats anymore (the delight of going in the right spot is usually a treat enough to them!).

And set the timer to remind them during that first week. Every 15-20 minutes is usually a good setting--have them just sit on it and "try" whether they feel like going potty or not (and give that treat for trying, too!). I give my children a lot to drink during those first few days, too--I want the urine pouring through them, because that means more practice for them (and practice makes perfect!). After they drink a cup of water or juice, it'll be ready to come out in 15-20 minutes, so set that timer unless you want a guaranteed accident. After they grow used to the new habit, you'll not need the timer very often, but at first it can be a very good friend!

Potty training at night or through naps? I don't do it at first, because I'm concentrating on waking hours, not sleeping. My oldest child trained at 22 months, but didn't wake up dry at night till she was 3.5 years old. My second daughter, who has mild cerebral palsy, trained at 24 months, but still doesn't wake up dry now, at 4.5 years old (the girl is a deep sleeper!). She can't help being a deep sleeper, and I'm not going to make an issue out of something a child can't help (that would be cruel!). We just buy pull-ups for her and she wears one every night. She'd love to wake up dry--she hates having to wear a diaper, but we try not to make a big deal out of it and tell her that one day her body will learn and not to worry about it. My third child, and first boy, trained at age two and instantly began waking up dry (for naps and for night!). So it just goes to show you--each child will be different, and there is no point forcing night-time dryness on a child until that child's body is ready.

I hope this helps you as you begin your potty-training adventure. I think the government should hand out medals, personally, for survivors of that first harrying week of training, but after that week of wetness, you are coasting, Momma, because your diaper changing days are a thing of the past! For me, it's worth it!

© Mrs. Molly Aley
Molly is a home schooling mother of four children and WAHM owner of:


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