Ok, not really. But kind of.
First and foremost, this is a story of my toddler's path to potty independence. I set out almost a year to the day to potty train my son, and as I type, I can finally say we have succeeded. It took three tries (yes, three), and I wanted to share my experience with other parents out there in the struggle. You aren't alone on this wild ride, and I hope our story gives you some encouragement along the way.
Check out my other blog post Potty Training Tools for books, potty chairs/toilet covers, and other calming methods and distractions we used.
Once Michael turned one, my family was encouraging me to start thinking about potty training. The earlier, the better - sooner rather than later. I took the advice and was optimistic the process would be better than expected. Michael has taken to every kind of training very quickly (sleep training, breast to bottle, bottle to cup, feeding himself - you get the picture.) Around age 1.5-year, I bought a training potty and sat it out for him to get used to its presence.
At our 1.5-year doctor's visit, I proudly told the pediatrician we were already thinking about potty training and looking to start within the next few months. She recommended Oh Crap! Potty Training: Everything Modern Parents Need to Know to Do It Once and Do It Right as the potty training bible. I immediately ordered it, read it, and prepared to potty train my 22-month-old.
For those not familiar with the "Oh Crap" method, it's basically hunkering down with your little, keeping them naked, and watching them like a hawk for any signs of pee pee coming - then rushing them to the potty when you either see a sign or they start going. The thought is that within three days or so, you'll have some potty success and move on to clothes and short outings. It's a very informative read, and I highly recommend it.
Round One: 22 months old
I will go ahead and say that this was WAY too early for my son. In terms of language, he was kind of saying pee pee and poo poo. In terms of physically understanding that he was relieving himself - he had zero awareness.
For three days, we tried the naked, full immersion potty training schedule. I followed the instructions on the potty book to the letter. The first time around, I looked for visual cues my son might be about to go (eventually, I found it was when he became very still) and would try in vain to put him on the potty as he peed. He simply refused to acknowledge the potty and would stop by the time I sat him on the chair. For the record, moving a toddler who is in the middle of urinating is not exactly easy or clean.
At the end of three days, I was exhausted and frustrated. My son hadn't made any progress and showed zero interest in the potty. The book mentions taking a "reset" in these kinds of situations, and my husband and I agreed it was the best option. We kept the potty in the bathroom so he would see it and tried to explain to him that we would try again later.
Round Two: 2 yrs 5 months old
I'll call this the "Covid-19 quarantine potty round." As the global pandemic that has become known as Covid-19 started spreading, I figured sheltering in place was a good time to try potty training again.
At this time, my son was much more aware of the bathroom. He could say "pee pee" and "poo poo." Overall, his level of communication was much more advanced. We showed him multiple potty tv shows (highly recommend Sesame Street: Elmo's Potty Time and the "Daniel Tiger" potty episode.) He also had quite the collection of potty training books, including "Elmos potty" - see Potty Training Tools.
For this attempt, I decided to sit him on the potty every 10 mins and asked him to try and go. We were still following the three-day naked method. I gave him books to hold while he sat, sometimes toys or other distraction methods, and would have him sit for a couple of minutes. This method worked ok at first, but he never went to the potty and eventually understood that if he could wait it out two minutes, he was free.
After nap time on the first day, he started rebelling against sitting on the potty. We were also still using diapers during naps and overnight sleeping, so he used that time to relieve himself. The most significant difference this time around was his ability to HOLD his pee pee until either nap time or the extremely rare moments when I was distracted.
Fun story: at one point on the third day, I locked us in the bathroom with books, toys, a water cup, and his potty. I had read a story of a mom who did this to make her son fully focus on using the potty and had great success. Unfortunately, I was also trying to manage a coast to coast move (see blog post here) and had to take a call from a moving company while locked in the bathroom. My son had stubbornly refused to go near his potty, and I knew he would need to go soon. While on the call, my son peed on my foot. Legitimately came over, stood next to me, and PEED on me. I couldn't believe it.
While this might sound frustrating to no end, it was actually encouraging. I learned from this second attempt that my son had control of his bladder and bowel movements. Control is probably the most critical aspect of potty training, especially once you start venturing out. My son was aware of the sensation and understood how to hold it. I also realized that while he had control, he did not have the desire to use the potty.
In this situation, other parents would probably push through and focus their efforts on getting their kid to WANT to use the potty. I did not do this. After three days of rebellion and trying to manage a cross country move during a global pandemic - I called it quits again.
My husband and family all encouraged me to try and keep at it. I felt guilty for not finding some way to make my kid want to move on from diapers. The reality is, I wasn't in a rush to make him do something he clearly didn't want to do. I explained to my family that he had already accomplished the biggest hurdle (control), and I knew we were on the cusp of him being 100% ready to potty train.
Round Three: 2 yrs and 10 months old
A little after turning 2.5 yrs old, my son started letting me know when he had a poopy diaper. I would ask him if he wanted to use the big boy potty, and his response was always "no." He started hiding when he needed to go number two, and I knew it was finally time.
I marked out a week in July to start my third attempt at potty training. We had settled into our new home, and I wanted him potty trained before turning three. I was going to start on a Monday. The Friday before, he had a heavily acidic bowel movement while napping that left a diaper rash by the time I was aware of it. I pulled out the diaper rash cream and hoped all would be better by Monday.
Saturday morning came around, and he had another acidic diaper overnight. I took the diaper off to air out the rash and asked Michael to tell me if he needed to go potty. To my surprise, he responded with, "Potty chair mama?" I asked if he wanted his big-boy potty, and he said, "Yes, potty downstairs." He remembered that his training potty was in the storage area of the basement.
Cautiously optimistic, I brought the potty chair upstairs and placed it in his view. Low and behold, a few minutes later, he sat down on the chair and went pee pee. We celebrated, I let him flush the pee down the toilet, and we practiced washing hands. The rest of the day, I kept him bottomless, and we had 100% success of him sitting on the potty every time he felt the urge to go. He did not have any more bowel movements on day one. I also still used a nap time and bedtime diaper.
In the "Oh Crap" book, the author recommends putting bottoms on your little as soon as they grasp the process, so they don't associate only nakedness with using the bathroom. She also recommends bottoms (like pants) but not underwear.
I put my son in shorts, and within the first few hours of the day, he had an accident. The bummer about shorts is that they don't absorb any of the urine, and we ended up with a big puddle. I talked to Michael about how we "only pee pee in the potty, not on the floor," put more shorts on him and tried again.
Day two was honestly a draw. We had more accidents and a couple of successes. I ended up taking the shorts off to see if he still understood the process while naked, and he started using the potty again.
We started this day off naked, and then after nap time, I put him in pants. I hoped that with pants, he would feel more of the sensation if he wet himself. This strategy ended up working - he wet himself once, was uncomfortable, and moving forward, made an effort to get to the potty.
At this point, we still did not have a bowel movement in the potty. Michael was instead waking up and using his nighttime diaper for number two (before I could get to him.) Honestly, this didn't frustrate me too much as I knew that milestone would take more time.
Day four was probably my proudest moment.
Up to this point, Michael understood he needed to get to the potty when he felt the urge to go to the bathroom, but he had yet to initiate a potty break without the urge. On the previous days, when I tried to sit him on the potty and asked him to use it, he would say "no pee pee" and run away, only to come back a few minutes later when he felt the need. On day four, I really wanted him to understand how to relieve himself on his own terms.
The day started off frustrating, with Michael fighting the idea of making himself potty. Still, with a little bribery (yep, I definitely offered chocolate in exchange for potty sitting) and stubborn will on my end - he finally did it. I could see the moment it clicked in his eyes. That "oh hey! this is how it works!" epiphany.
We also took a short car ride to test how he would do on an outing. Michael used the potty before we got in the car, we went out for a chocolate milkshake to celebrate, and had zero accidents.
We finally had a potty bowel movement! I caught Michael in the morning before he had a chance to go poo in his overnight diaper. He's incredibly regular, and I knew to be on the lookout for a BM. It came while we were in his playroom, and he sat right on the potty. This process was strange for clean up - especially since we're using a sitting potty and not a toilet cover. Luckily I had flushable wipes and wet wipes on hand.
By this point, Michael was able to initiate going to the potty before the urge hit him, and he was now somewhat comfortable with number twos on his toilet. I still made a point to remind him to go, especially before and after naps, outings, and meals. In all, it took about a week (plus all the previous tries) to consider him potty trained.
As I finally finish this blog post, Michael has been potty trained for about two months now. A few takeaways from this experience are:
- Child-led potty training was the best option for us. I gave Michael the tools/knowledge he needed to accomplish his goal, and when he was ready, he did it
- It's important that your little can express and understand what it means to "go potty" and say "pee pee/poo poo"
- Accidents WILL happen. To this day, we still have them occasionally, mostly when he's distracted with an activity and I forget to remind him to potty
- Don't keep them naked for too long once they grasp going on the potty. When you do transition - put your little in PANTS that aren't loose. If they wet themselves, they'll feel it more.
- We are still using diapers for nap time and overnight. I'll work on sleep time potty training a little down the road. Sometimes his diapers are dry when he wakes and sometimes they aren't. If he sleeps in the bed with me at night, he'll wake up and let me know he needs to go potty (which we do - yay 2 am potty trips.)
- Michael isn't comfortable with a toilet seat cover yet, and prefers his little potty chair. I'm working on that as he'll need to use the actual toilet in school.
- Every child is different. There is no point in comparing where you are in this process to others. Try to learn from different experiences and realize your own will be unique.
And don't forget to check out my other blog post Potty Training Tools for books, potty chairs/toilet seats, calming methods, and other resources we used during this adventure!
Good luck and happy potty vibes!