Power to the Potty

Oh yeah, I was going to write about the potty.

So, over the holidays my mother in law successfully got Audrey to use the potty a couple times. Can I just say that Grandmothers are powerful in the ways of persuasion. We have had a potty in the house for a couple months, knowing that Audrey was probably too young to start (she is 21 months) but wanting to get her used to the idea. The dayhome she goes to has a number of older kids there that are either fully or partially potty trained, so she had started asking about it. She had sat on the potty before, here and there, but never really done anything. Until Grandma suggested. And then it seemed like a brilliant idea.

And then! She realized that using the potty = happy and excited family cheering for her. Which motivated her for approximately 5 days.

You see, praise is just not what gets Audrey out of bed in the morning. I mean, she likes some good positive recognition as much as the next kid, but she doesn’t crave it. And, as we discovered, it only motivate her for so long.

Because she discovered an other way to get attention via this whole potty thing.

What is the number 1 most effective way for a kid of potty training age to get the attention of their parent? Ask to go to the potty.

We react. With lightening speed.

“You want to go to the potty? Okay, lets drop everything, including that request I just made for you to put on your shoes and run upstairs to the potty. Yeah Potty!” *Internal dialogue*”… please please please let my kid use this potty so this diaper stage might some day end

I am guess my toddler isn’t the only one who realized that she now had a very very powerful tool for parental control. She is wielding it with abandon.

Yesterday morning I spent about 15 minutes waiting for her to use the potty. About every 3 minutes she would say she was done. Close the potty. Walk to her bedroom and as soon as I ask her to come over so I can help her get dressed…. “I pee potty” and off she would run to the bathroom. She has not actually ‘used’ the potty in a good couple weeks now.. so its not like this is a productive exercise.

Power. She is sick with it.

I get, 100%, that it is a toddlers job to try and test boundaries and assert themselves. What they really want and need is to know that there are boundaries and limitations, because this structure makes them feel safe. I get that she isn’t doing this to try and drive me crazy or just to be a pain. This is her doing her job as a toddler. Testing the limits.

And it’s not just testing limits- she does want to learn about the potty. She gets that adults and older kids do it and she wants to be big. But it also takes time and practice to learn those skills of self awareness and control.

That being said, I kinda feel like I am between a rock and a hard place. I have two choices (if I have more then these two choices, please please let me know!!).

1. Let her yield the control and ‘use’ the potty as much as she would like. I mean this is an area where she does and should have 100% control. It is her body and she is the only one that can learn to use the potty. The implication is though that our time-lines or requests will also be controlled by her, as she is able to manipulate the plan by yielding the potty power.

2. Encourage her to use the potty, but also set loose time limits so she doesn’t use it to, for example, delay bedtime, getting ready in the morning, picking up her toys or anything else she doesn’t want to do. (I don’t mean delay bedtime my 3-5 minutes.. whatever. I am talking major 20 minute plus delays.) My hesitation with this is that I don’t want to have a battle with her over the potty. I want using the potty to be a good thing, a positive environment.

I don’t know. Maybe I am over thinking this. I get 100% that potty training is a long term process. I don’t expect her to be potty trained by her 2nd birthday. I know lots of people talk about “potty training” in one, two or three days. Which may work for an older toddler who has already had time to develop and practice the self awareness and control skills necessary. We, however, are just getting started and I think she needs lots more time and I am happy to support her to learn in her own time. But I also want to find a way to encourage it without her using it to manipulate. I strongly believe that despite their behaviour, toddlers crave boundaries. I’m just not sure in this case, where those boundaries should be.

Has your toddler wielded potty power? How did you balance boundaries and encouraging potty learning?


18 responses to “Power to the Potty

  1. The Sweetest January 21, 2011 at 9:09 am

    We potty trained our son at 20 months (daytime only). It took about a week for the wee wees, and a month for the poo poos. We used an all-or-nothing approach. We simply put him in undies and set him on the potty, “This is where we put our wee wees and poo poos now. In the potty.” We went through countless pairs of undies for the first 2 days, and then it clicked. Bu day 3 he could hold it awhile and wait for the potty. And by the end of the first week, i was taking him to the potty every 2 or 3 hours. Noe, we just go when he asks or when we are leaving to go somewhere. He wears a pullup at night.

  2. Jen January 21, 2011 at 9:17 am

    The first few weeks we let Kale call the shots completely. That meant on more than one occasion we sat in the bathroom for 45 minutes. What I worked on doing was making it boring as all get out. As in, sure, we can sit on the potty as long as you want, but all we are going to talk about is using it, and we’re certainly not going to joke. I also stopped using diapers at home, which of course translated to accidents, but after a few weeks of me reminding Kale that if he needed to go to just let mommy know (rather than forcing him to try) the accidents lessened and he got the idea that pottying was essential but kind of boring, and so he started taking less time to do it.

  3. Cheryl January 21, 2011 at 9:41 am

    Oh Audrey 😉
    It’s really not something you want to turn into a battle or negative experience for her, like you said, it’s her little body to figure out. Having said that, I think when you’re on a timeline, like for bed or in the morning, there’s nothing wrong with saying, “Okay, let’s go to the potty. I’ll wait five minutes for you to use it and then we have to go.” We had to do that when B was using the potty to delay bedtime. (It’s not a request you can call their bluff on, is it?)

  4. Cheryl January 21, 2011 at 9:45 am

    Sorry for the multiple comments, I should never comment from my phone 😉
    I just wanted to add that potty training is a long process but, as far as I can tell, the more positive you keep the whole experience, the better that process will be for all of you. Good luck!

  5. Heather January 21, 2011 at 10:52 am

    Actually, the idea that at her age she is “probably too young” is a uniquely western concept. In lots of parts of the world, parents work with their babies from the newborn stage to recognize their cues that they need to go – because when you can’t afford disposable diapers and you’re doing your laundry in a river, you don’t want to face 3 years of diapering a kid! Your great-grandmother probably did something similar. This technique has lately undergone a revival with some western parents, who call it “elimination communication” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elimination_communication). I’ve been pottying my son from one month. He’s nearly 8 months now. I’ve been pretty slack about it, but we usually manage to catch one or two jobs a day. My main goal is really that the potty will never have to be “introduced” to him as a novelty that we will have power struggles over. And when I can manage to sit him on that little donut toilet-topper thing and flush away a poop, that’s a red-letter day!

    • amoment2think January 21, 2011 at 2:34 pm

      You know Heather, I have heard a bit about elimination communication… and it does sound interesting. And I can certainly see how it would work for some and probably is practiced around the world. Hmmm. My reference to “probably to young” was two fold. First off, I think we often as parents think about what our kids “should” be doing at any given age, rather then letting them reach the milestones on their own…so I was acknowledging that it was totally normal for my 22 month old to not be potty trained yet. The other part of what I was saying is that I have heard (you know, from the all knowing every present ‘them’) that the physical ability to control being able to go poo or pee is a developmental thing. That ability to ‘hold it’ until one gets oneself to the bathroom. In your experience, is that not the case? Can a younger baby learn the skill earlier because of elimination communication? Because catching signals and putting them on the potty is one thing.. but to actually potty train a toddler they need to tell you a) that they need to go and b) hold it till they get there. I thought that was not developmentally possible until a certain age, like between 18 and 26 months.

      • Lorry January 31, 2011 at 4:11 pm

        I tried and failed at EC with Bean, but by 2 weeks old she could pee on command. Hold it? Not as far as I know, but I could get her to empty her bladder before we left, and again when we got back, in the hopes that she wouldn’t need to while we were gone. So, I wouldn’t really be shocked if they could learn to hold it sooner, but I don’t actually know that.

        I do think 22 months is a good age, though. In a few months, he’ll probably get more stubborn. I’m feeling like I missed the PT boat with Bean, because she used to be receptive to new ideas and now, at 27 months, she doesn’t even want to hear about changing things. She gets upset about not having a diaper in a way she never did a couple months ago. Sigh. Unfortunately, a couple months ago, I was too busy with a newborn to PT!

        Here’s hoping you have better luck than me! 😉

  6. janetlansbury January 21, 2011 at 11:13 am

    I’m trying to wipe the smile off of my face. 🙂 Sorry!

    I think you could actually retitle this “Toddlers and the Power Of Praise” because I’m imagining that your cheering and applause is what brought this little power play on. Toddlerhood is all about will and independence. Toilet learning is a developmental milestone that toddlers take pride in when they are allowed to initiate, lead and drive the process. BUT, as soon as Audrey felt that her autonomous ability to use the potty was fulfilling a wish YOU had for her, it could no longer be a manifestation of her will and independence. Using the potty can’t give her the power of accomplishment she’s craving when it makes her parents way too happy. Driving you crazy over potty time is far more intriguing. My will vs. Their will. (Funny, I can vaguely recall having this feeling when I was child.)

    So, I’m thinking you might want to backtrack, let go of all expectations, temper enthusiasm, set limits (like Cheryl suggests) and let toilet learning be an accomplishment that Audrey totally owns. Remember that toddlers are brilliant and sense our inner dialogue. They hear the “please please please let my kid use this potty so this diaper stage might some day end.“ So we have to really really let go.

    Give her a chance to go the first time she asks, but no going back for seconds. Tell her she can try again later. “We’re not going back to the potty right now. Maybe in an hour.”

    I’m not saying that Audrey isn’t also taking the time to figure out how to make going potty work for herself, but I think the praise became a big distraction for her. When she “accomplishes” on the potty, you might want to do less… “You figured out peeing on the potty. Well, you must be proud.” Or “My, you’ve been drinking a lot, I guess!”

    • amoment2think January 21, 2011 at 2:28 pm

      First off, Janet, sure. Go ahead. Laugh at my pain. I will admit I look like a damn fool jumping up and down and singing and clapping for pee. It is quite hilarious actually. 🙂

      Second. So, you can actually potty train without singing and clapping and generally making a fool out of oneself? I thought this was universal potty training best practice? Really. You are rocking my world here.

      But I am willing to dial it down and give your advice a go. I will let you know what happens. 🙂

      • janetlansbury January 21, 2011 at 9:14 pm

        Noooooo! I wasn’t laughing at you! REALLY. Although I enjoy your silly side, I was smiling about your clever Audrey and the brilliance of toddlers in general. 🙂 They always seem to be about 10 steps ahead of us at this age. Nothing gets by them.

        The term “potty training” is deceiving and unfair, because if we try to “train” in this area, we can easily mess up. The key is to not do ANYTHING besides buy a little potty as soon as a toddler shows a bit of interest, have it available in the bathroom, and then FORGET ABOUT IT. Seriously.

        Training a toddler to use the potty is akin to training her to walk. Praising her for using the potty is akin to clapping because she finishes a bowl of pasta. Some might do those things, but you probably wouldn’t. So, you don’t have to do that with potty learning either.

        All you have to do is assure Audrey though your words and actions that you have complete confidence in her to show you when she’s ready to use the potty. Before, during, even after she’s “done it” several times, and for as long as she wants them to feel comfortable, you will give her all the diapers she needs… happily. You want your precious girl to be the most comfortable, trusted girl in the world. This is not an overnight transition. For some children it is very gradual.

        If you do those things you will find toilet learning THE most effortless part of parenting. I swear. It was for me x3. I asked my husband recently and neither of us can even remember it with our second two. It was THAT uneventful.

        Here’s a post. http://www.janetlansbury.com/2010/03/in-the-toilet/ I actually just responded to a new comment and linked here — kind of a little potty party! (Always a favorite way to spend a Friday night.) 🙂

      • amoment2think January 21, 2011 at 10:29 pm

        Don’t worry Janet- I was just teasing you. I know you weren’t laughing at me. 🙂

        I am with you on the dislike of the word “training”… I agree that the process should be toddler led. I will give the no clapping a try. 🙂

      • Jodie February 8, 2011 at 9:18 pm

        I am the interloper from Janet’s blog, and thank goodness she directed me over here. Because the idea that praise motivated your daughter for approximately 5 days was exactly what happened at our house. We tried the big praise, stickers, tic tacs, you name it. Once the novelty wore off, he couldn’t have cared less.

        I am also enjoying this thread because I realize that there are other parents tearing their hair out just a little bit. Seems like all my friends “just pulled out the sticker book” and “just used a few tic-tacs” and their kids were lickedy split done. It’s good to know that I’m not the only one who has felt like a failure. And especially good to come to the realization that, in fact, I can’t be failing at something that’s not my job! I just have to wait for my son to be ready.

      • amoment2think February 9, 2011 at 3:58 pm

        Welcome Jodie!

        Since I wrote this post I am totally on board with the ‘wait till my daughter is ready’ approach. Actually, I should write a follow up post. But I think there are a lot of things as a parent that we try and ‘help’ our kids with and then feel like a failure when they don’t just pick it up right away. Truth is a lot of those things aren’t our job!

  7. Christine January 21, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    I’m on round three of potty-training and my girl (26 mos) has suddenly lost interest. So I’m about to start doing the same thing I did with her two older brothers.
    Whenever there was a halt in progress, I tried mixing it up: I introduced a second (hand-me-down) potty in a second bathroom – so now there was more than one potty option; I introduced one of those potty seats (borrowed) that converts a regular toilet seat to a child-size one, so they suddenly felt REALLY grown up when they used it; I actually went back to buying regular diapers instead of pullups, telling them, quite honestly, that pullups were just too pricey – they were suddenly much more interested in wearing underwear all the time, and keeping it dry, than going back to “baby” diapers. Keeping it interesting for them helped a lot.
    Having said that, it may fail big time, this time around. . . 🙂

  8. clara January 21, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    I totally suck at potty training. I mean according to my mother I basically trained myself at 18 months (didn’t we all, according to our mothers?) but my first son trained between 3 and 4 and my second one? Who will be 3 in April? He used the potty once about 6 months ago. I bought him training pants (your own special underwear) (those Kushies ones) and he was excited but didn’t want to wear them. Fine, I didn’t push it. Easy does it. Stubborn kid, etc. I know. No biggie. Nothing but time.

    Fast forward to yesterday, when he’s complaining about a bit of diaper rash. And I say, maybe if you took off your diaper…and he freaks. Starts crying. I say, ..your rash will heal. Here, you could wear these special underwear! He cries harder. I pick him up for a hug and he says he’s scared of the underwear.
    “Are they scary?” I say.
    “Yes..” he says, “because they’re made of GLASS. They’re too sharp.”

    So he is terrorized, by something, the rustle, maybe? I don’t know. I offered him some of his older brother’s underpants, all soft and washed 800 times, but no. I really think he will be the first kid to go to college in diapers.

    (You have great advice from your above commenters. I thought I’d add a little WTF to your day 🙂 )

    • amoment2think January 22, 2011 at 8:37 am

      Oh my gosh- where did he get the glass thing? Underwear are made of glass?? You have one imaginative child.

      I am sure he won’t be the first kid to go to college in diapers- but you seem to have a good attitude about letting it happen on his time line.

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