Adventures in Potty Training


This past week I finally forced myself to confront a task I’ve been dreading since before Luella was even born: potty training.

It’s funny because when I was pregnant I naively thought that nappy changing would be one of the hardest parts of child-rearing. Projectile poo stories fill the internet. But in three years I’ve never had an unmanageable explosion.

Nappies are easy. Even cloth nappies, which we used exclusively for over two years. (All our cloth nappies seemed to either fall apart or Luella outgrew them around the same time so for a while we got lazy and supplemented with eco-disposables.) They don’t take a lot of planning, you can change them anywhere, stuff them in a wet bag and move on.

Getting my kid to a toilet in time and convincing her to use it? That’s where it gets complicated.

But the time had come. I introduced a potty in our home before Luella was walking. Her interest in it was on and off, but never amounted to much. I’ve always tried to take things at her pace, allowing her to learn things when she was ready.

All the advice from the experts I read, the authors I respect, and the fellow parents I find myself most aligned with, said the best way to “train” is to simply wait until they’re ready. Blog posts abound with stories of toddlers ditching their diapers of their own accord before the age of two.

Yet here I was with a daughter rapidly approaching three, with a baby on the way and plans to start preschool in the new year. Not to mention the raised eyebrows and thinly veiled judgment in the “Oh, she’s still in nappies? How old is she?”comments from everyone from random mums on the playground to my chiropractor.

So when Jim needed to take 5 vacation days in June or lose them (#firstworldproblems), we decided we might as well take this time to do work around the house and finally tackle potty training. And if Luella wasn’t going to come to this on her own, we were going to have to try to find a way to motivate her.

I hemmed and hawed over various “methods” that didn’t really align with my personal approach. Finally, I decided to implement a sticker chart. A sticker chart?? Ahhhhhhh… one of those things I swore I’d never do as a parent. I rationalised that it wasn’t the same as a chore chart or behaviour chart.

Learning to clean up after herself because she’s part of a family, and we all help each other is a lesson that Luella’s easily learned because it makes her intrinsically happy. She’s learned manners without us forcing them down her throat because we respect her, and she echoes it back. But using the potty? What benefit is that to her? She doesn’t mind nappy changes and loves performing them on her dollies. As much as I tried to convince her of the independence it would bring, it became clear she was going to need some external motivation.

And that’s how I found myself in Dollar King picking out the perfect cupcake stickers and orange poster board, along with countless activities to keep Luella entertained as we buckled up for a potty party.

My chart involved a three-tiered reward system. Three rows of 9 boxes. One sticker for a wee on the potty, two for a poo. Fill a row and get a reward. The first two rows: chocolate biscuits. The final row: an ice cream sundae from our favourite shop. (Can you tell what motivates my daughter??)

We began the festivities on Thursday, knowing we’d have 5 days ahead of minimal commitments. I set it up as big surprise game for Luella and she was very excited. She got the “rules” straight away, obligingly left her nappy off and dove into the various activity books and toys in the treasure box, even happily sitting on the potty.

A Pinterest Perfect Potty Party! What could go wrong?

A Pinterest Perfect Potty Party! What could go wrong?

Then it came time to do a wee.

The rest of the day was filled with tears and screaming. And not just hers. She’d hold it in until she was busting, wail like a woman in labour as I held her hands, and finally sat on the potty and relieved herself.

It wasn’t a fun process. I felt awful, like we were torturing her. As much as I reassured her, tried to make her feel safe and comfortable, it still felt like a betrayal. But good things were happening too.

As tearful as her trips to the potty were, her mood instantly changed when she got to add a sticker to the chart. She beamed with pride, hugged us and went back to playing.

And the accidents were almost non-existent. As soon as she felt a little dribble in her pants, she’d ask for a nappy and we’d get her to the potty instead. She stayed dry through her naps and each day got a little easier.

On Saturday, Jim and I had chiropractic appointments, out near his parents’ house. Lu stayed dry through the car ride and we left her with Jim’s sister to look after her. Though she didn’t use her potty while we were gone, eventually she used it when we came back and stayed dry in the car ride home. On Sunday Jim braved a bike ride to the park and back with her and she was asking to use the potty with a smile.

Poos have been a different story. She’s done two in her pants, and held one in all day yesterday until she put on her bedtime nappy. We might have to investigate some different tactics for handling those.

But looking at the successes, as of this morning, Lu is just 5 stickers away from her ice cream sundae. She’s brought the potty to day care which will be another big test. She was VERY teary at drop-off and I don’t know if it was potty related, but I’m eager to find out how she goes away from home.

After we get a hang of poos, the next step will be moving to a proper toilet. We invested in a leak-proof travel potty which I’m happy to throw in the stroller when we’re out and about at friends’ houses, the park, etc. But sooner or later we’re going to find ourselves in a public place where whipping out the potty isn’t going to work and Lu’s going to have to use a proper toilet.

But I think (I hope!) that we’ve passed the hardest part and that as Luella’s confidence with it grows, it will be easier for her to master this big milestone all on her own. And I’ve learned a lesson as well.

On day one, I feared that we were undoing three years worth of gentle, respectful parenting. But what I learned over the coming days was that a strong attachment isn’t something you can break with one interaction. Though we pushed her to face something she was terrified of, we sat by her side and encouraged her the whole way. And so far, she appears to have come out unscathed – maybe even stronger!

So perhaps it’s ok to sometimes step outside my parenting comfort zone, and away from ideology, so long as I continue to build solid relationships with my kids. (Eep! Kids! Plural!)

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