What My Kids Taught Me About Potty Training
I wanted them to go right now. They had other ideas.
You’d think that writing articles on parenting would make me a better, smarter mom. Think again. While researching a story about potty training a few years ago, I got all kinds of wisdom from the experts: Let your child set the pace! Don’t worry about accidents! Keep up the praise! I spoke to moms who’d been training their kids since birth – no painful rashes, no used diapers polluting the planet.
I didn’t dare tell them that my son was 3 ½ and still pooping in his Pull-Ups.
All my mom-friends had helped their kids make the transition with M&M bribes and encouraging words, but I hadn’t been able to coax Daniel, smart as he was, into making the switch. Not so unusual, says Dr. Mark Wolraich, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Science Center, who literally wrote the book on potty training for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Says Dr. Wolraich, “The age range you see is from 18 months to 3 years, but you certainly get a number of kids who would be the outliers.” Well, that’s not much comfort when you’re spending year after year buying diapers in bulk. Every time I hoisted my 40-pound child onto a ladies’ -room changing table, I was sure everyone around me was thinking, My child was trained before he could walk. What’s wrong with that mom?
Just when I was beginning to think I’d have to send him off to college in training pants, Daniel woke up on a Monday morning two weeks before his fourth birthday and announced, “Mommy, I don’t want to wear diapers anymore. Give me my big-boy underwear.” He slipped on his Power Ranger briefs and never looked back.
My daughter turned two later that year, and this time I had experience and research on my side, as well as a potty seat, a reward chart and books with titles like Time to Pee! “Girls are much easier to train,” people assured me. Apparently I was blessed with the exception to that rule.
After one early success at 2 ½ , Sarah lost interest and nothing would bring her back. Month after month we tried. Tactic after tactic failed. The reward chart was a bust. Scheduled bathroom trips were met with, “No-o-o! I don’t have to go-o-o-o!”
I bought pretty underwear, hoping Sarah would try to keep it clean. Uh-huh. Tell that to the pairs of Dora and Tinker Bell undies that ended up in the washing machine or the garbage. God forgive me, I even resorted to the Big No-No: punishment. Now she was avoiding the toilet and mad about losing a day’s TV.
Sarah was especially resistant when it came to pooping. She’d go in her pants less than two feet from the bathroom door, then deny the deed like a disgraced politician: “I didn’t poop! But don’t check my pants!” One day I moaned, “Sarah, when are you going to start using the potty?”
She gave me a cool stare and said, “When I’m four.”
In September, we were all devastated when the preschool we’d chosen told us that by law, they couldn’t take children her age who were still in diapers. After waiting a few weeks, they gave Sarah’s spot to someone else. If I weren’t already feeling like a failure, this would have clinched it.
Finally, I decided to bring up the subject at Sarah’s next checkup. Our pediatrician, as commonsense a woman as has ever donned a stethoscope, didn’t even blink.
“Does she know when she has to go?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Tells you when she goes?”
“It’s a control thing,” she shrugged. “She’s smart. She knows what she has to do; she just doesn’t want to. It’ll happen when she’s ready. So she starts preschool a little late? Big deal.”
I got the message: Chill, Mom!