Sunday, January 18, 2009

How to potty train your child in (about) three days

In some ways I wish I had some hilarious escapade to report from our weekend of potty training. A fierce battle of wills, disastrous or comical accidents, emotional breakdowns...these stories would make for far better entertainment than my simple report that it worked.

Last Saturday, when she donned her first pair of tiny turquoise underwear covered in pink kitties and purple doggies, Madelyn was exactly 2 years, 3 weeks, and 6 days old. She was aware of the potty, and had even sat on it a few times in the past, but other than that we intentionally did not make any effort to encourage her to use it until our potty training blitz began last weekend.

I hope you will read (or even re-read) my deliberations on the impending matter of potty training that I wrote in November. Of course I wasn't contemplating whether or not to potty train Madelyn, just how soon to begin, and whether life without diapers would be superior to our comfortable routine with them. While those questions remained, I was pleased to have stumbled upon a potty training method which I discovered was principally in line with my instinctual beliefs on the matter. Some of my opinions which were supported in this program, and which remain intact afterward are:
  • You can't force a child to go to the bathroom
  • The child must have accidents in order to learn
  • The accidents won't be effective in a diaper, pull-up, or padded training underwear
  • "Gradual" potty training is confusing and sends mixed signals to the child
  • Allowing the child to wear a diaper at night sends mixed signals too
  • It is important to transfer the responsibility of going to the bathroom to the child
  • Setting the child on the toilet at regular intervals won't help her learn when she's about to go or how to hold it when she's not near the bathroom
  • Asking if she needs to go potty might trigger obstinance from a stubborn child
  • Positive reinforcement is always better than anger or punishment
  • Bribery may be effective, but isn't the best way to learn for the long-term

While I had some gut feelings about what I did not want to do, I wasn't about to go through trial and error to figure out the right way. As I stated previously, I wanted the proverbial instruction manual to guide me step by step to success. Lora Jensen's 3 Day Potty Training provided exactly the manual I sought.

I'll interject here that while the reasoning we followed was successful, I don't intend to be smug. Every child will learn how to use the bathroom one way or another. There just aren't many eight-year-olds walking around in diapers, because sooner or later they figure it out, in spite of what the parents did or did not do along the way. There are plenty of potty training methods, books, videos, magazine articles, and testimonials from friends that have proven effective. What I found in this method were guidelines that were compatible with my personal philosophies on potty training, the instructions to accomplish it in a focused period of time, and the confidence that Madelyn could be successful. I admit I have to resist the urge to get on my soapbox when I listen to other parents share tales of potty training misery, though.

I scheduled the three days on my calendar in advance so that there would be no interruptions. I purchased the necessary supplies (about 25 pairs of underwear, lots of appealing beverages, some little rewards, etc.), and read over the e-book again, making my own summary of the main points for easy reference. I am lucky enough to have a husband who was not only available, but also interested in participating in the potty training process. We were on the same page before we began, and tag-teamed the effort.

At the end of Day One, Madelyn went to bed in her 17th pair of underwear. This didn't bother me, because the first half of the day Madelyn was getting into the rhythm of new expectations and new sensations, and we were learning her communication signals. By the afternoon, we were already making progress having gained valuable knowledge from the morning's experience.

On Day Two, Madelyn went to bed in her third pair of underwear. This equates to having had only two accidents, and one was during her nap. I can confidently say that Madelyn understood how to go to the bathroom in the toilet during the day within 24 hours of beginning potty training. Madelyn's favorite reward was unrestricted access to a Valentine's Day rubber stamp, which I allowed her to "boop boop" on her arms and bare legs after a successful run to the potty with dry underwear.

I am happy to report that we didn't have a single "poopy" accident. Madelyn just didn't have a bowel movement on the first day, and by the second day she understood the concept well enough that she just did it in the potty without any trouble. I understand some children have a fear of going poop in the toilet, or for other reasons parents have a harder time getting their kids to learn that part. But for some reason, Madelyn didn't seem to differentiate between number one and number two when it came time to go. I am thrilled that we didn't have to deal with any traumatic experiences OR messy clean-ups!

Nights and naps have been a bit more of a challenge, yet I still do not regret our decision to get rid of the diapers cold turkey, day and night. Yes, we have had to groggily change the sheets several times this week. But following the suggestions Ms. Jensen outlines in her e-book, we are steadily making progress and have already had four completely dry nights out of the eight since we started. I believe the worst thing we could do at this point is to put a diaper back on in an effort to reclaim a few minutes of shut-eye. Moving forward with consistency and encouragement is helping Madelyn understand and improve.

During the last few days our confidence in Madelyn's new skill has grown, and we aren't by her side every moment of the day, as we were last weekend. A couple of times today I discovered her in the bathroom by herself, taking care of business without having even called for us. She does still need assistance once the business is done, so we're never very far.

If I am making this all sound too good to be true, let me correct that assumption. This method takes dedication, focus, and patience. We had accidents. We got frustrated. We wondered if we were right to potty train so soon. We have to wake up in the middle of the night to take her to the bathroom, and sometimes change the sheets. It is not easy, but it does work. I feel that a few days of dedication to the cause is far more bearable than months of on-and-off training or struggling against a child's stubborn resolve.

I have been contemplating our decision to potty train Madelyn at just barely 25 months of age. On that first difficult day, my husband and I quietly wondered if it was the right thing to do. After observing her triumphantly conquer this challenge however, I feel as though I have given my daughter a gift. By allowing her the opportunity to master an important skill, of which she was obviously capable, I believe we have nurtured her confidence and self-awareness. Why delay realization of potential? Plus, we are excited for Madelyn to start Montessori school next fall, and now the potty training is done. Finished! We won't have to worry about it again!

Until another baby comes along, and then it will just be a matter of picking the three days. We'll already have the courage to do it.


Bridget said...

I love what you said about giving Madelyn a gift. I feel the same way and I agree with all the principles you outlined. We also went "cold turkey" to panties with Miriam and I wouldn't recommend any other in-between way.

I still hated potty training, though. It remains my least favorite parenting experience (the process, not the end result). If anything, I think I'll do it earlier next time so that I have less of the child's will to break. I think sometimes when parents wait so long to potty train their kids, they're making a mistake because a 3-year-old has a lot more will than a kid who's barely 2. Just my opinion.

(Maybe "will" isn't the right word, but I hope you understand what I'm trying to say.)

M and Em said...

your tale makes me almost want to potty train Andrew before this baby comes in May, but he doesn't have any of the signs of being ready yet - sigh. Plus after his graffiti accident, I think I'm nervous about boys being able to pee ANYWHERE - yikes!
I'm so proud of Madelyn, it just shows what an awesome Mommy you are to lead her through that process

jaeyde said...

*secretly wonders if Bridget will still feel the same way about potty training when it comes time to teach the kids how to drive* I was thinking about a sinister chuckle at that thought but then I remembered that one day I will be there and then it wasn't so funny. ;)

I'm glad to hear this method worked. Going to file it in the back of my head for the future.

By the way... did you hear Kristen? I'm ENGAGED!!!

guentherfamilynews said...

I am so glad that this worked for you.. a couple things to remember. First off kids have set backs at times. Not trying to discourage you, just a fact of life. My kids had both gone months without wetting the bed. They were sleeping all night, getting up in the morning, going potty, no issues. The last few days though they have both wet the bed every night. So frustrating... so it is time to start waking in the middle of the night again.
Another thing to remember is that each child is different. Madelyn seems very smart and so she got it fast. Some kids do not mature mentally as fast (and that does not mean they need speech therapy or any other therapy) or are VERY strong willed... and so this method wouldn't be as easy to use on them. With Lillie she is VERY stubborn at times, and while she does good most of the time, she gets in a I want to pee my pants mood... and you do have to make her go. She can be a little brat at times. But in the moments she gives us attitude we simply make her go (when she starts dancing) and let her know she is not the boss of the house. She gets over her moods pretty fast, so it is not normally a big deal.
Anyhow, I am glad Madelyn is doing so well with it! Hopefully you will not have any major setbacks!
Hope to see you soon!

Mikael said...

Thanks for all the advice! I totally agree that you should throw away diapers and just go for it. You are also so lucky you did it before any babies came. I really have no clue how to "dedicate 3 days" to makenzie when I have baby twins to nurse and take care of. This is my HUGE issue!
I think every parent just knows when their kid is ready. My sis in law (Anne curtis reeve) says she waits until almost 3 yrs old with each kid and has no problems, potty training in a day! She thinks the older they are the more ready they are and less issues. So I think it is a case by case basis.
As for me and my 2 1/2 yr old, I KNOW she is ready. I KNOW she will do it, but am I ready? Can I devote all this time to her without any interuptions.... no. But wait, could I potty train in 2 days? Maybe I should try a weekend when derek is home!
THANKS for this post!!!!!!!

Annie said...

Hurray! I think we'll use this method for Mr. Smiley who will surely NOT be potted trained by the time Soldier Girl deploys. I like the cold turkey idea and will look for the ebook myself just to remind myself. After all, it's been at least thirteen years since I've done this! Ouch!

Kristen said...

Thanks, everyone, for your support and words of wisdom.

Bridget, I absolutely know what you mean. "Will" is part of it, and then the habits are more ingrained, attachments are stronger, and older children have a higher capacity to purposely disobey or annoy a parent.

Em, I have to admit I was shocked when I first learned you planned to wait until after baby is born to potty train Andrew. With a newborn you will have your hands full, not to mention be tired beyond belief. So you might lack both the motivation and physical capacity to do it then. I recommend you get the e-book and read Lora's take on the "signs of readiness." The only thing she really wants to see is the child's ability to communicate his wants/needs. I know that Andrew has that! :)

jaeyde, first of all CONGRATULATIONS on your engagement! I am really happy for you. Secondly, I want to let you know we've been getting Madelyn up to go to the bathroom before we go to bed, just as you suggested. Thanks!

Jeni, I appreciate your sound advice, and want to make sure it's clear that my post was not intended to be boastful in any way. We're still figuring things out, and I realize the journey is far from over. My personal belief is that this method would actually work really well with a strong-willed child, but I can't explain why without going into all the details.

Mikael. Oh, Mikael. I am so glad you appreciated my post. After reading about your attempt with Makenzie, I felt a little bit guilty writing my opposing experience. But I hope it does help you. Lora has suggestions for handling multiple children, and even a section on training twins! (for later.) I would definitely suggest that you start on a Saturday when Derek is home, then by the time he goes back to work on Monday, you may be surprised how well you can handle it alone, and how well Makenzie is doing.

Annie, welcome back to the wonderful world of Toddlerhood!

GrandmaW said...

I loved all your details about Madelyn's toilet training experience. And you know I'm a BIG supporter of that type of toilet training method. When I used the "Toilet Training in Less Than a Day" book when you kids were small, it was a novelty, so I didn't have a lot of support from friends. But there was no way I wanted to do it the way everyone else seemed to be doing it. You know, pluck the happily-playing child out of the sand box to tell her it's time to go potty, where the PARENT is responsible for "remembering" to go. This concentrated teaching experience helps the child understand, through trial and error, what she is supposed to do.

I congratulate both you and Gary for your tremendous dedication and patience. It is a huge commitment with huge benefits, and now you know that from personal experience. So congratulations again to all of you!

Anonymous said...

way to go, Madelyn! and you too, mom. :) nice work.


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