Saturday, October 17, 2009

Potty training: What did NOT work

In our experience, the key to potty training success isn't waiting until the right time to initiate; how will you know if it's too early until you try? I think our turning point was striking just the right balance. Potty training for us was like walking a balance beam. On one side there was a pit of toxic pressure, and on the other there was a sea of unproductive permissiveness. When we dipped a toe into either one of those, progress came to a standstill. When we stayed balanced by using gentle but firm encouragement, we had success. The tactics listed below fall on one side or the other of that, and were not useful for us.

1) Paying. My mom and dad gave Suzi change to put in her piggy bank when she pottied successfully. It sometimes worked, but other times it put a little too much pressure on her. Too much pressure, we learned, was the kiss of death to Suzi's potty attempts. One time she had a big meltdown after being promised a quarter if she used the potty. Also, if you start paying a child and she gets used to it, then you have the added task of tapering off and eventually stopping the incentives. We found a high-five, hug, or hearty congratulations to be more appropriate. Children naturally seek to please their parents, so this is all that is needed in most situations. Besides, not having to go around wearing a puddle in your pants is a pretty nice reward all by itself!

2) Candy. Basically the same thing. We did it sometimes, but it wasn't a long-term benefit. We used it to get past temporary resistance, because we figured it was better than letting her go in her diaper when she'd been doing well previously. I just don't think that getting a kid used to a piece of candy every time she potties is a good idea, if you can avoid it. Besides, if you give Suzi one piece of candy she's going to want the rest!

3) Diaper-free days. I'm not talking about the diaper-free concept as a part of elimination communication, in which a child goes diaper-free regularly and from a young age. I'm referring to the extreme potty training days (or weekends) that some people swear by, during which they allow their child to run around the house with no diaper on. This way they can easily run over and sit on the potty if they feel like it, and if not, they will at least recognize when they've peed. Many parents will gladly take the inevitable clean-up in exchange for a major potty training advance. However, we experienced minimal success with this technique. Suzi would hold it and hold it, and often cried in refusal when we asked her to sit on her potty. Then when she was distracted (by a snack, most frequently) she'd pee down the side of a table or something. We had a few successes, but it was frustrating and messy more than anything. It was great for clearing up diaper rash though, which is the main reason we did it. Instead of no diapers, we opted to let her wear cloth diapers so she could feel when she was wet. It wasn't long before the regular potty breaks (every 1-2 hours) became easy for her. Her control got better and better and she started asking to go herself. Then we were on our way!

4) Waiting until she was "ready." You will never be able to convince me that this is anything other than Pampers and Huggies trying to weasel more money out of our wallets. I'm not saying you should put serious pressure on a child, but come on. Not even suggesting a child use the potty until he's two? Maybe even three? How is it that a child is ready to be weaned from the breast "when he can walk up and/or ask for it" (12 months or less?) but yet may not be ready to use the potty by the time he's four? What do these two scenarios have in common? The earlier a child weans, the more formula is purchased. The later a child potty trains, the more diapers are purchased. Wake up people, you're being fleeced! (As an aside, some of my friends' kids are completely potty trained before they wean from nursing, which makes so much more sense to me.) The point, though, is that I think Suzi could have learned to use the potty easier and earlier if we'd only worked with her. By the time we got serious about helping her, when she was around 20 months, she was attached to those diapers and had a hard time letting them go. She cried for them sometimes, and it was difficult. I'm not the only one who thinks it's likely to be harder the longer you wait. This is why I'm eager to begin EC with Ivey!

5) We did not try punishing Suzi in any way for not making it to the potty. I see this as inappropriate and unfair. By putting a diaper on your child's butt from birth, you have taught him that this is where you want him to go. (Read Early-Start Potty Training for elaboration.) It's your responsibility to patiently and gently help him learn the alien concept of using the toilet. Scolding, withholding privileges, and especially yelling and hitting for this reason could have lasting negative psychological effects. It's hard not to get frustrated when your child has an accident or isn't cooperating; we frequently did get frustrated, but we made an effort to control our reactions. She was trying so hard to please us! One time over the summer, for example, Jordan and I were talking in the kitchen when Suzi walked up and started whining unintelligibly. "Suzi," I said, "there's no reason to whine." She stammered for a second before screeching "I NEEDA PEEDA POTTY!!!" That's when a gushing puddle hit the floor. We had just fed her a bellyful of watermelon. It was completely our fault, and we apologized to her as we cleaned up. Even during times when it wasn't clear-cut like this, we didn't seek to make her feel bad. There is usually a reason for an accident even if you can't see it. I seriously doubt she would have done so well if we'd taken action to make her feel even worse when she was not successful.

So there are the stinkers--or at least they were at our house.

What worked for you?


MaryAnne said...

Waiting paid off big time at our house. Was our daughter physically capable of being trained before she trained herself at 3? I think she probably was, but she was so set on staying in diapers that it would have been highly traumatic for the entire family. And it was well worth the wait when she literally trained herself overnight the day before her third birthday. Probably wouldn't work for every child, but it was definitely the way to go with our first.

And, since we use cloth diapers, pampers and huggies didn't get any extra money from us ;)

Lauren Wayne said...

I agree that rewards and punishments for pottying don't feel right to me, either. I remember my parents trying both with my little brother, and as I gained some perspective on it, it just felt all wrong to bribe or punish for elimination.

We did part-time EC with Mikko, by which I mean we were kinda lazy about it and backed up with cloth diapers, but he had lots of experience being on the potty from birth or thereabouts. He was staying dry all the time just before he turned 2, so we went ahead and switched to training pants (cloth) instead of dipes. Just looking at the ages kids used to potty train at (2-ish or before) and looking at them now (up to 4), obviously kids can potty train earlier, no matter what doctors (endorsed by diaper companies) say. But as MaryAnne said, of course, waiting might work better for certain kids and make it less contentious.

Ok, things that didn't work for us in terms of making the big transition from EC to potty trained: Any sort of meltdown scolding, which I'm sad to say I instinctively reacted with on a few occasions when I'd specifically tried to get him to pee on the potty and he subsequently went on the floor instead. Like with your watermelon story, that just made me feel bad and him upset, and staying calm and cleaning it up worked much better. Another thing was being too freaked out about the thought of accidents that we pressured him to try too often. As he got better at holding it in for long periods, our reminders became like nagging and just annoyed him. Now we save them for when we get up, when we're going out, when we've come home, and when we're going to bed. It ends up being about 3-4 times a day, and that seems to work well for him.

Beyond that, patience did work. In our case, patience has been waiting for him to develop the language skills to tell us he needs to pee rather than still doing an EC-like thing where we offer potty opportunities. He's just now starting to alert us himself. Another is that he likes to change up where he pees, and we let him: different potties, the big toilet, the bathtub! I figure there's no reason to fight it, and eventually he'll pee like the rest of us. He still has issues peeing in public, because public restrooms scare him (the echoing sounds, maybe?) — he starts crying as soon as he enters one and won't go in there. So we bought a little travel potty and just keep it in the car for days with long errands when he'll need a pee break away from home.

Oh, and I think using cloth is a good idea, because it's more obvious when they're wet, for both the kids and parents. For training pants, there are a few kinds out there that are absorbent enough to keep a huge puddle from forming if there's a miss. You'll still need to change pants, but maybe not scrub the carpet!

Renee said...

Jenny, I love your post. It's all true in my experience as well. Candy rewards are difficult to disengage for a child who loves sweets, underwear Saturdays with my 18 month-old set us back perhaps as much as five months by stressing her out, and the part about the huge corps that sell disposable training pants fleecing America? All you have to do is go back forty years to find a generation of kids who potty trained WELL before age two using cloth diapers and parental guidance.

Not all toddlers will use the potty willingly before three and a half, but endless disposables are not the only option. A switch to pull-up cloth diapers like Antsy Pants™ (my own design) can work well for even new walkers, not to mention already potty trained kids who still can't stay dry through the night.

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts about what didn't work. I wish your post had been around a year and a half ago when I was learning about potty training.

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