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Potty Training: Our March into Madness

March 5, 2014

Before I became a parent, I had no idea what potty training entailed.

I still don’t.

This is the blind leading the blind here.  No amount of research or reading I have done has prepared me for this journey of three thousand steps that it feels like we have barely started.

Rule #1 of potty preparedness seems to be body awareness.  In other words, your kid figures out that it feels yucky when they pee or poop in their diaper and wants it changed right away.

My kids are not exactly there yet.

We instituted a sticker chart with two columns:  one for telling us right away that they’ve pooped, and one for sitting and trying on the potty.  The stickers were high motivation for about a week.  Now, we ask whomever is odoriferous at the moment, “Did you poop?”


And then, after we carry them protesting to the changing table, they announce, “Mommy, I pooped!  I get a sticker!”

Oh, kid.  That is not the way it works.



How do you teach your kids that their bodily waste is not supposed to be up against their skin, when it has been their “normal” their whole lives?

How do you teach your kids what “the pee feeling” feels like on the inside?

How do you do any of this with three children at the same time without going batty?

I’ve heard all the strategies.  The potty boot camp that guarantees toilet-trained children in three days.  The M&M reward system.  The new toy reward system.  The underwear reward system.

I have nothing against bribery (I prefer to call it incentivizing).  But I feel like bribing will only start working once we “get it”–once they understand the correlation between feeling like you have to pee and peeing.

This morning one kid sat on the potty (by invitation, not self-initiated) and pooped there.  Huzzah!  We did the potty dance, displayed the poop for the siblings, and flushed it.  The successful kid got to wear underwear as a reward (in addition to a much-coveted Hello Kitty sticker).

Then I shuffled between helping a kid who was still eating breakfast, reminding another kid that I couldn’t read a story just yet, and brushing successful kid’s hair in the bathroom.  During all the shuffling, that kid peed in the underwear.  Which a sibling, newly released from breakfast, tried to inspect and nearly walked in.

This is why the potty boot camp–the naked-from-the-waist-down method–might work but also might march me into madness also.

Because that strategy is great if you can focus on one kid.  One kid’s cues.  One kid’s accident that can maybe still make it to the potty if you catch it in time.  For us, this strategy might require six agile adults and warmer weather.

Then, even after they start to “get it,” Rule #2 of potty preparedness seems to be that the announcement of “I want to sit on the potty” is equivalent to the following:

HOLY SHIT!  STOP THE PRESSES!  CODE RED!  AAWOOOOOGA!  AAWOOOOOOGA!  Drop that kid you’re holding; let that food catch on fire; just GET THAT KID ON THE POTTY STAT!

Then, for us, one of the following usually happens:

  • the kid is “all done” after thirty seconds of trying, or
  • the kid wants to stay on the potty ad infinitum because they really, desperately want the Hello Kitty sticker, so one of us is stuck next to the potty for the foreseeable future.

In either case, 95% of the time, nothing comes out.

The other night, a kid announced they wanted to sit on the potty mid-bathing, and wound up naked on the potty with a head full of shampoo.

We invite potty time a lot.  We do not get a lot of success.  We suspect that one of our children has the bladder control to sit on the potty for ten minutes, ask for a diaper, and then immediately go in it.  (This is tied up with all kinds of anxiety about accidents that is taking its toll on bathtime too…6 weeks of sponge baths and counting…).

I know this has to happen on their timetables, not mine.  I can’t force them to do something only they have control over.

It is hard to be patient.  Not because I want to be done with diapers, or I’m ready for my kids to be “big kids,” but because now I know that “potty training” is this weird misnomer that makes it sound like “basic training”:  tough but finite.

Potty training encompasses the following stages:

  • learning to pee in a toilet
  • learning to poop in a toilet
  • holding it during nap
  • holding it all night, or waking up if you have to go

This takes years.  And we are only just beginning.  Oy.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Emily permalink
    March 8, 2014 5:08 pm

    We started super early (around 3 weeks old) by putting Brianna on the potty every time we changed her diaper. Eventually she just trained herself. She started holding it in the entire time she was at daycare, and going as soon as I put her on the potty at home. So I really have no idea how it’s all supposed to work. I have a feeling our next kid will make us pay for this. Maybe cloth training pants so they feel the wet as soon as they pee? You are really doing potty training the way daycares do. I know at our daycare training pants of some sort are required and a potty watch is highly recommended. I hope it ends up going relatively smoothly.

  2. rayaless permalink
    March 7, 2014 11:19 pm

    Wow, wow, wow. As a hopeful-parent-to-be, this is not a stage I anticipate! (No need to consider Lenten practices this year :-)… Potty-training even the best of triplets is MORE than sufficient!) Missed seeing you and co. today, and look forward to connecting soon 🙂

  3. Neal & BJ permalink
    March 6, 2014 4:24 pm

    Love the title! Can’t even imagine! See you soon!

  4. Lynette Jackson permalink
    March 6, 2014 12:42 pm

    My son calls his bladder his “pen–” brain! You should add to your last star holding it all night, waking up and not going until dinner… I have more anxiety then they kid does and he is 5! Or then there is the dance till you drop (drop your drawers because you’ll have an accident). Good luck.

  5. Josh Polonsky permalink
    March 6, 2014 8:58 am

    The only advice I can offer is, no matter what you do, no matter what they do….try try try not to let it frustrate you in front of the kids and turn it into a negative thing for them. If they see the negative, they shy from it and it takes longer. I’ve been told that girls catch on quicker, and when it’s time for my son to potty train I’m in for a challenge. My daughter began her journey into potty training fairly early (she asked for a potty at only 16 months old). We got one, got her used to it, just being around. It didn’t finally kick in until about 2.5 years old fully, but she was a quick learner once she decided it was time. We did offer up stickers, and small rewards (M&M’s), but ultimately, when she finally understood all of those things you talk about…the feelings of having to go, and that it’s yucky when all of your waste is pressed against you…is when it will all come into place and this will be a mere memory!

  6. March 6, 2014 2:36 am

    Hahaha! You crack me up – so true. Potty training is definitely the pits! With Sienna it felt like it took a lifetime. Good luck and remember…”this too shall pass.”

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