Hop Aboard the Potty Train | Do Try This at Home: Hop Aboard the Potty Train

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Hop Aboard the Potty Train

I have to thank my son, age two and calling himself "Um" at the time, for the title to this post. I was listing his friends, attempting to invoke a little peer pressure, "Jay's potty trained and Amy's potty trained, and Sam is potty trained...". To which he answered, "Um wants to be on the potty train!"

And so he did board, one month before his third birthday. Not because he had a ticket, but because I ran out of diapers the night before Thanksgiving. There was just no way on earth I was going to enter a store the day before Thanksgiving for a child who could already change his own diapers. I'd like to say it was some kind of awesome parenting on my part that I can count his total "accidents" on one hand, but I'm pretty sure it was more of a fluke.

In any case, between my own two kids and five years of teaching preschool, I figure I can technically claim to have been potty training children for seven (albeit nonconsecutive) years. I've noticed a few things and occasionally give out advice, including the following:

The biggest and most typical problem parents face is power struggle. If and when kids figure out that you have a vested emotional interest in one of the few areas of their lives they can control, you're in
big trouble. Nothing delays potty training like a child noticing their bodily functions are a constant topic of conversation. If you feel anger or find the topic taking up more than its fair share of your gray matter, it's time to take a step back and try again in a few weeks or a month. It's their poop and children WILL win if they decide to dig in those heels.

Pull-ups: more expensive yet less convenient than diapers. I can almost guarantee that your child's preschool teacher wishes your family would skip this step. The toddlers and preschoolers are evidentially not watching enough Pull Ups commercials to realize that fancy expensive diapers are supposed to make them feel like big kids. The preschool teachers treat them just like diapers, except that if a child poops, teachers are likely to have to remove their pants, shoes, and socks instead of just a diaper.

When to switch to underwear: when your child has some control and you have some patience. Most parents know the physical signs of readiness on the part of the child. The only thing I want to add is that it is just as necessary for the adults to be emotionally ready. Make friends with the washing machine first and foremost and try saying "Oops! We'll have to wash that!" with as little rancor as possible a few times before you even begin.

When to switch to underwear at preschool: After your child has been successful for a week or two at home, he or she is ready to come to preschool sporting underwear. Children are successful sooner in their comfort zone, so it makes the most sense to start at home.

Sitting or standing? If you're the one who has to clean the toilet...well, let's just say I know a women who asks not only her boys but also her husband to sit. At my preschool we have child sized toilets not to mention janitors, so it really and truly makes no difference. At home you might want to consider whether your child is tall enough to stand and how stable he feels if he does stand on a stool.

Fear: I have a child afraid of the potty almost every year. There's the precarious position, the scary sound, the water which looks much deeper to a child who may not be able to swim. I've had a parent ask me every year if I think their child is afraid because he or she has been traumatized or is suffering somehow. To me chances seem slim. The potty can just be a scary place. Try offering to flush after your child has left the bathroom.
Bribery: This is supposed to be a no-no, but y'know, sometimes it works. Smaller bribes seem to work on occasion, but the more successful bribes usually go something like, "You'll get a huge kitchen set for Christmas if you poop in the potty." It's winds up escalating what is probably already a power struggle, but if you have the means and your kids aren't that stubborn, maybe it's for you.
With just a small change in semantics, bribery can turn to the Premack principle, otherwise known as "grandma's rule", a perfectly acceptable form of parenting. This is the ole' "As soon as ______ happens, _______ will happen."

Bribery: If you clean up your toys, I'll take you to the park.
Premack principle: As soon as you're done picking up your toys, we can go to the park!

Bribery: If you poop on the potty, I'll give you a cookie.
Premack principle: After you sit on the potty, you can have a cookie."
See how the Premack principle assumes that mission will be accomplished while the bribery sort of has an element of begging? Done with the consistency and without negative emotion, the Premack principle can be a friend in more areas than just toileting, as opposed to bribery which will always feel like bribery.

Note that "You can't go to the park unless you pick up your toys!" or "You can't have a cookie unless you poop on the potty!" turns the situation away from presumed compliance and back toward coerciveness.

One family who had been involved in a power struggle of rediculous proportions had their problem solved when summer came around.
I'm not sure if dad presented this using the Premack principle or if it was more of a natural consequences type thing. After months of struggle, Joey was potty trained seemingly overnight when told that the local pool did not let children swim in diapers.

Of course you want to ask your pediatrician if things seem to have gone awry, but generally the more relaxed you are about potty training, the better it will go. So to speak. Good luck!

22 comments:

disa said...

aaaah, a topic close to my own heart. do you think the air hostesses would be willing to go in and flush after me when ive used the loo on the plane? those things still scare the snot out of me!

Lynn said...

Wow, all I have to say is that I'm very happy those days are gone for me. Well for now anyway. Thank goodness none of my kids are planning on having any kids for at least 4-5 years according to them.

Theresa said...

I'm going to forward this to my sister who is raising a child that intends to go to college in diapers because as he told me Sunday, "it's just easier for me!" He was 3 in June.

Ms. Q said...

Wow. Clever title and I'm I had no freakin' idea what all went into getting children potty trained. I don't see using this information in the foreseeable future but it sure was informative. Of course, my favorite part was The Semantics. I love the Premack principle. I can see using THAT.

Derek Wong said...

This entry was pretty amusing, as well as informative. Even if I'm not going to be using this anytime soon. How blissful it was to just be free and not care about holding in your bodily fluids. I wonder, sometimes, if I long for childhood. Ha.

toners said...

ah, I am so glad that my potty training days are over...I wont' say any more except that the part you mentioned about control is sooooo true :)

Irisi said...

Ah, lovely. My parents potty trained me by bribing me with little gold and silver star stickers (I'll let you guess which merited which) that I coveted. With my little brother, however, it became a massive power struggle, the magnitude of which is still seen today at 12 (now, there is a power struggle over the fact that he keeps plugging up toilets and refuses to learn how to use the plunger or eat more fiber).

I think a lot of potty training is child dependent. I sympathize with my mother for having to train someone as crabby and retentive as my brother.. >.<

Saradevil said...

This may sound nutty but in Korea most of the kids begin potty training at about two months. Mothers time things very carefully and will take the children into the bathroom, hold them over the diaper and make a shushing noise to encourage the kids to go for it. By they time the are walking they are on the potty.

In the states that actually have what they call the Diaper Free Movement. I think this is pretty much the only way to be, but it might be a bit extreme for most folks.

In defense of diaper free and early potty training I was on the pot by eighteen months which is probably why I think things like this are good ideas. Of course, I also don't have kids so it makes it easy to say this, don't it.

total-spender said...

Having recently sh!t myself on several occasions, I've decided to print this post out and keep it in my wallet for future reference...

SJ said...

____ happens ;)

DJ Kirkby said...

I LOVE the premack princple! Write a book woman, write it now!

Jill said...

Disa - Can't hurt to ask, right?

Lynn & Toners - Yeah, I love not buying diapers!

Toners & Irisi - I forgot to add to this piece that I think if a child is fighting THAT hard for some control, it might be worth thinking of other areas of life where you could give him or her some!!!

Theresa - What a character - too funny!

Ms.Q - aren't semantics just amazing?!?! :-)

Derek - I dunno...you'd lose the great excuse of having to leave a long, boring meeting for a trip to the bathroom...

Sara - Wow, that sort of takes intensive parenting to a whole new level...

TS - :-0 :-0 :-0 Glad this post has multiple purposes...

SJ - Sure does, doesn't it? Nice when it happens into the proper receptacle though!!!!!! :-)

DJ Kirkby - Thanks! I tried to, but I lost focus about 1/3 of the way through...

total-spender said...

@sj

Indeed it does. Although for this commentator, it happens in all the wrong places !!!!

Jill said...

TS - I'd like to say something along the lines of "great minds" but I'm POSITIVE that isn't appropriate here...more like, no wonder I laugh reading your blog!!!!!!!!!!!

Noelia said...

As you know I am now in the process of potty training and I'm so glad you posted this. I like the Premack principle as opposed to bribery, that makes so much sense!

P.S. "All aboard the potty train" I think I might use this since Josh loves trains right now ;)

Maureen said...

I can't even remember potty training my daughter... it was so long ago. Must not have been traumatic (for her OR me).

But hubby? Not for potty training obviously, but I'll have to remember that Premack thingy to get him off his butt to do some work around the house sometime.... hmmmm. Thanks for that!!!

Noelia said...

oh I forgot...I tagged you.

Derek Wong said...

That's true that it's useful to be able to go to retreat to the bathroom sometimes. Not just in boring meetings but also in awkward situations, embarrassing times, safety from someone of the opposite sex, etc. Okay so I guess that I don't actually long for childhood, but sometimes it'd be nicer than having to sit in traffic for hours on end while having to go to the bathroom!

Bastet said...

I am so sorry that you have been potty training for seven years! Maybe it is time to write a book on it! ;)

And thanks for the advice...I can't wait to try it!

delmer said...

I remember when my middle child made the initial step to potty-training-dom (oh, so long ago).

He decided after the first day that it wasn't really worth his time and wanted to go back to Pull-ups. I explained to him that wasn't really how the process worked and that there was no turning back.

Jill said...

You're welcome Bastet!

And Noelia & Mareen - glad to see the Premack principle will get some good use!

Delmer - yeah, sometimes it boils down to who can out-stubborn who!

Derek - Yeah that traffic thing...and it's so hard to find a good clean bathroom when there are only a certain number of blogs devoted to seeking them out!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :-) :-) :-)

DJ Kirkby said...

The premack principle is working...just thought you'd like to know!

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