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Parenting Tip of the Month
By Heather Totten

Parenting Tip #2 ~ Potty Training

I'm in the middle of potty training my third child, and I thought this would be a great topic for this month. All three have been a little different, but I used some of the same techniques on all of them successfully. Sydney, my third, is a little more stubborn then the other two, but is becoming really successful at it and has had only two or three accidents.

First, I don't want to be potty trained. I want my child to potty train. So I wait for what I call my first sign of potty training which is the child's readiness pull their pants down mostly by themselves. You really don't want to have to go to the bathroom, pull their pants down, wipe them, pull their pants up, and wash their hands EVERY time for a year. If you are going to do that, it is easier to change a diaper. Allow them to feel that independence and accomplishment of going potty. So they get their pants up crooked. Give them a big hug and straighten them out without them really knowing. They get it right soon. To help this process, put them in a pair of pants with an elastic waist for easier pulling up and down. Get rid of those onesies that snap in between their legs, and don't even consider overalls (even though they are rather cute). I think around age two, I slowly begin weaning back my assistance in getting them dressed in the mornings also. This helped them to learn how to get dressed, which is valuable for potty training. Before long, they get the idea and started being able to pull their pants up and down. Little did then know it was all about potty training at first.

Next, as they begin to get curious about the potty, we have an 'open door' policy and allow the potty trainee to watch. Of course there are those times that have to be private, and you need to explain to the trainee that company is not included in the open door policy - or you might get less visitors then usual. But, a few times during the day I'll mention to him/her "Mommy has to go potty, want to help?" They go running to the potty to tear toilet paper or open the door for me. They 'hear' me go potty and I talk a little about it. We flush together and finish with washing of our hands and talk about why we do it. This part of the process plants the seed in their mind to 'think' about going someday soon.

There are also some simple potty training books out there with their favorite characters that you can read to your kids. I used to keep mine in the bathroom so they could look at pictures.

The next potty readiness step is to make a big deal about wearing new big people panties or underwear and have the child pick out a new pack when you are out shopping. If there are older siblings have them mention to the potty trainee that they wear big boy/girl underwear. We used to mention all the favorite people to my recent potty trainer in order. For instance, "Sydney, mommy wears panties, doesn't she? And Maria wears panties. And Alex wears big boy underwear. And daddy wears underwear." Etc. She would proudly repeat us. When the day came that Sydney put on her new panties, we repeated the above and then said "Sydney wears big girl panties too - yeah, Sydney!" Her face beamed with excitement to be included the list.

With step 1, 2 and 3 well underway, we take a weekend or a few days with NO plans to try a 'dry run.' Or a not so dry run as it sometimes ends up. The potty trainee with all three steps mastered still might not want to move from diapers to underwear quite yet. But, we give it a try. We set out treats for rewards. The older siblings make sure to make a huge deal about going potty.

We put on the new underwear and do somewhat of an underwear dance and wait. And wait. Set the timer for about 30 - 45 minutes. When the timer goes off remind the child to 'try.' If they get really resistant, back off a little and try to watch for clues such as holding one's self, or clinching their legs, or trying to hide in another part of the house. The first successful potty sets the tone for the remaining potty training time. You have to catch it and make a huge celebration out of it. The easiest one to catch is either the first one after they wake up or when you are drawing the nighttime bath. The child has to learn 'how' it feels to go potty because since day one, they just went when the body needed to go. Now they need to feel the sensation, hold it, get to a potty, and then be able to release it.

That is it. Pretty simple, isn't it? (I am laughing, by the way!) Now if potty training was that easy, then it would not be such a struggle for us. Situations will arise. Problems will rear their ugly heads. Tempers might even flair. So, the next few paragraphs are things I have encountered and how I overcame some of the larger problems.

The first situation you might come across is that the child is clearly not ready. If they potty in their pants and just keep walking even when you point it out to them, they are really not ready. If they go to the bathroom on the potty, but still sit there and wait not mentioning to you of their success - they are not ready. You might want them to be ready, but remember this is really about them. THEY have to be successful or it will be one long drawn out mistake after mistake for both of you. There are times you think they might graduate high school in a diaper, but trust me - they won't. So, just put all the treats, panties, and such away for a few weeks and try again later. Keep up with steps 1 and 2. Rest knowing you've planted the seed, but you want to keep it a positive experience for both of you. So give it some time and try again later. If you create too hostile an environment you will really dig yourself into a hole and will get the child to refuse all together. Remember, most of us are trying to potty train the 'terrible two' who delights in resisting our every want. So you must treat lightly and hang in there.

The second situation you might come across is the child figures out how to pee, but absolutely refuses to poop in the potty. From what I've heard, this is very common. I am a hard core believer that you MUST train both right up front. DO NOT give into putting a diaper on them in order for them to poop. They can't hold it forever. They WILL go. Sydney, my current trainee, is afraid of pooping. I did not have such an issue with the older two. So I can tell when she has to go because she screams and clinch her butt cheeks as to chase it away. It will go away for awhile, but much to her disappointment it comes back. One way we combat this issue is we sit on the potty and practiced blowing a balloon up. She concentrates on blowing the balloon and it takes her focus off of 'holding' herself. The blowing force is similar to a 'grunt' and within a minute she is successful. We celebrate, wiped, and waved good-buy while we flushed, and wash hands. It might take a few more times of blowing balloons, but soon they figure out it is not scary and feel accomplished.

The third situation you will come across is going out into public. Like the poop thing, I am a firm believer that you must progress forward and not regress backwards to pull ups or diapers in order to make it easier on YOU. Don't potty train two days before a wedding. Don't potty train right before vacation. It can wait a few weeks so you can take small public trips so the child can feel successful. Remember their success is your success. Yes, I know it is easier to just put on that pull up and run to the grocery. But, you know from experiences in other areas that your child is smart. They will figure out the diaper will come and 'wait' until it is time to get the pull up on and go in public in order to go potty. A once perfectly potty trained toddler will now completely regress and throw tantrums for their diaper in order to go to the bathroom. They'll even hold it to the point of constipation. Then what do you do? You have a huge mess to undo. So, just don't even go there. When you make the commitment from diaper to panties - unless the child is not ready, don't go back. So, when you go out, be prepared. Put wipes, new panties, new pants, and new socks in a large Ziploc bag. If an accident should occur, you are ready. You can quickly fix it and go on. If it makes you feel better, have another bag of things in the car so you are never on your last spare. And please DON'T ever scold the child. He/she will be embarrassed enough that they wet their pants in public. Just tell them it is okay, that we all make mistakes, clean them up, and nicely explain to them to try to listen to the body clues next time and that you will make sure to get them to a potty quickly. Sometimes being away from the potty they trained at is hard.

Finally, the last situation you might encounter is the 'regresser.' That is the child who has potty training mastered and then it seems they completely forget and make many accidents in a row. Only for this situation do I give a little more tough love. And this is for the child who regresses, not for the parent who allowed the child to regress by allowing the public diaper crutch. For this child who has successfully potty trained for weeks and even gone out in public without accidents, I have them take responsibility for their mistakes. When the accident is at home, I have the child take their wet/dirty clothes off. Then they need to get a wipe and clean themselves up. They also need to clean the floor up (of course I clean up again after them, but they need to do their best at cleaning and taking responsibility). Then they need to get fresh panties, put them on, get dressed again, and start over. I don't ever yell. In my house we say that yelling means I am not listening to you and I don't care what you have to say. So, if you honestly feel that angry because, for instance, they make a mistake on your new couch, go outside for a few minutes and get your composure, come back inside, and approach it then. The child will notice how long it takes to clean up their mess. They will see how yucky it is to clean up and after a few times they will conclude it is much easier to just go on the potty. The attention they gain from cleaning themselves and their mess up is not worth it.

Hopefully, with all the above you will soon have a successful and proud new trainee in the house. Good luck! And remember be patient; it will not all happen overnight. And as I'm sure you know, they all start training at different times. Usually boys are later they girls, but in my family my son was the earliest with my third being the latest. Just look for those 'pre' potty clues.

PS . . . I also NEVER do two things at once. For instance, I don't move them out of a crib and potty train at the same time. I don't take away a bottle or pacifier and potty train at the same time. And I don't potty train during the day and during the night at the same time. This is to keep the amount of change for the toddler down to a minimum. Toddlers hate change and will be resistant to it all if you give them too many things at once. Nighttime potty training will come all on its own. Waking up wet in the middle of the night will discourage and embarrass even the very best daytime potty trainers. For night time help, I buy a different brand of diapers or pull ups than what the child was previously wearing. That way we can call them 'nighttime panties' and the child won't associate them with the diapers they had grown to love for many years. The first thing we do in the morning is take off the nighttime panties and go potty. After we go through a pack of dry or almost all dry morning diapers, I take them away, we have a little celebration for moving on to panties at night and I usually get almost no nighttime accidents. By this time you should also have no problems with daytime, longer car trips, public restrooms, and accidents. Don't take them away until you have many weeks of dry mornings. Some children sleep sounder then others and those nighttime panties will be around for a while. Others will essentially train both right away. But, I would still give them that extra comfort for at least one pack. Remember, you want them to be proud and successful. Allow them that opportunity to grow. GOOD LUCK!

Heather Totten is a stay-at-home mom with four children and a busy husband. She is incredibly organized, and shares her sense of family, parenting, and organization with us in her monthly parenting tips column. Read what's new with her family in Heather's Parenting Journal.

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