Saturday, 19 October, 2013
Yeah, this is going to be a post about toilet training. You may want to stop reading here.
Toilet training is a yuck topic until you have to do it and you have to figure out how to train someone else to do something that you just do automatically yourself—namely, recognise the signs that your body is telling you and leave yourself enough time to go. (Well, toilet training in its entirety is a bit more than that, but that's the most important thing you want your child to learn.) Strangely, my parents seem to remember as much about it as I do—that is, not very much. (My mum did recall recently that she used to read me Mr Men books while training me.) So I thought it might be worth me writing about the experience to ensure that I don't forget. And also it might be helpful having something to point others to should they ever ask me.
People started talking to me about toilet training Astrid long before I was even thinking about it. I remember taking Astrid for her shots and check-up around the time she turned 2 and the doctor was encouraging me to start then. I thought, “Really? At two years old? Isn't that a bit young???” Fortunately other people were also telling me, “Wait until she's ready” and “Wait until you're ready”. Which is also good advice. But I think what I hadn't realised is that it's kind of a long process with many stages, and that when people talk about it, they could be referring to any stage along the journey.
Which makes things very difficult and confusing. See, for example, around this time last year, Astrid started showing interest! (This was long before I was ready.) She mentioned about wanting to do something on the potty, so I got it out and put it in the bathroom. (My stepsister had given it to me since they had no need of it anymore, but I didn't actually know how to use it. It looks like this—basically, a little seat with a removable cup that catches all the stuff, which you can then dump in the toilet. You can take off the top and put it on the toilet as a child-friendly seat, and the bottom turns upside down and converts to a stepstool. I was also given a Thomas the Tank Engine toilet seat as well as a Baby U Cushie Traveller folding padded one by my sister-in-law, so I felt like we had so much equipment, we didn't need to install a dual one. [Though I do think that it would be nice if they just made those standard everywhere because once you have a little person, you realise how unfriendly the world is towards little people. Just the other day we were in the Powerhouse Museum and found that the sinks were too high for Astrid to actually reach.])
What was I saying? Oh yes. So Astrid was interested in using the potty at around two and a bit years, and we did get it out and encourage her to use it for a while, but then I think we kind of stuffed up because we didn't know what we were doing (not that there is a right way or a wrong way, but I think that in hindsight, we could have worked on familiarity and awareness a bit more). I think she was interested because she saw kids using the toilet at childcare. The toilets at childcare are small, however, and big toilets made for adults are a little more daunting. Childcare told me to get her used to the big toilet so that she would associate going with the toilet rather than the potty. I think that was a mistake: I think we should just have encouraged her to use the potty and then gradually transition her over. After all, there's nothing wrong with potties!
Anyway, because she was interested, we kind of freaked because we weren't ready. We had all this stuff, but since we lived in a unit on the third floor that was fully carpeted, I wasn't keen to do what a lot of mums were recommending—that is, going out to buy undies, having a “Goodbye nappies” party and then going for it. Instead, we bought her pull-ups, which are more expensive than nappies, in the hope that because they were easier to get on and off, that would encourage her to go but then prevent any nasty accidents. (They didn't. In fact, later people were telling me I needed to ditch the pull-ups because even though they claimed to make the child uncomfortable so that they become aware of what their body is doing, the child will still tend to treat them like nappies and do whatever in them. They don't actually provide much of an incentive to get out of nappies.) Really, I would have been better off keeping her in nappies and using cloth nappies to teach her what her body was doing.
Anyway, time went on—summer, then autumn and then we were well and truly into winter when I thought, “Hmm, it's about time we did something about this.” But winter is like the worst time to do intensive toilet training because it's so cold and the toilet/potty is cold. (One mum told me that her son went backwards and started having accidents again, and she worked out it was because she had trained him in the autumn and then winter started and it was cold in there, which made him not want to go.) I promised myself that when spring came and the weather warmed up, I would do it. I figured she'd be three by then and that she'd be ready.
So with that in mind, I started reading stuff. And immediately I hit a lot of frustration because a lot of the toilet training advice is quite general because all kids learn differently (see, for example, this, this and this). This had a quiz to determine your toddler's readiness and I found question 5 quite amusing:
If I give my child a simple direction, such as, “put this in the toy box,” she:
- Doesn't understand or doesn't follow directions.
- Will do it if I coach or help her.
- Understands me and does it.
—because it really needs option d: “Understands me and refuses to do it until I make her do it”.
General guidelines can be helpful, but then enormously unhelpful when you're trying to work out what you should actually do with your child.
The following are some links that I found quite helpful in comparison:
- Slate's Definitive Guide to Potty Training: The headline is just a joke; they have no idea either. What I found helpful about the article is that they looked into some of the (scant) scientific research behind potty training, as well as the history of what seem to be two definite schools of thought when it comes to methodology: the Brazelton method (which is more gradual and about getting your toddler used to the whole thing) and the Foxx and Azrin method (which is faster; they claimed you could toilet train a child in less than a day). Much of the teaching about potty training I found on various websites and in various books stemmed from those two methods. (Also, if you're interested in the history of this sort of thing, also check out “I'm Supposed to Do What to Make My Baby Poop? When He's How Old?”.)
- How I Potty Trained my Daughter in 3 Days!: This was interesting because the mum outlined exactly what she did with her daughter.
- Potty training in three days or less: Again, this was helpful because it outlined exactly what to do, step by step.
However, please note I was concentrating on the Foxx and Azrin method and I knew my child was going to be three when I attempted it; I think if you're child is younger, it might be worth doing it another way.
I also talked to a heap of people about what they did. My Parentals group on Facebook provided a wealth of knowledge and experience. So did my sister-in-law and other mums at church, as did my neighbour who works as a professional nanny. A couple of other tips that I found helpful were:
- (For the three-day method): keep your child bare-bottomed so that they really notice when their bodies do something;
- Keep a potty in the room you will be using the most and make sure there is easy access to the bathroom;
- Take the potty with you when going out—e.g. to the park. (I think that is why a lot of parents like the Potette—because it's basically a portable potty that you can use with plastic bags, but not as bulky, plus it fits over most normal toilet seats.)
- Put a plastic tablecloth, a mattress protector or even a Brolly Sheet on the couch or on the floor for when she is watching TV or playing;
- Put a towel underneath her when she's on the highchair;
- Put a solution of water mixed with vinegar in a spray bottle and use that to get the smell out of the carpet.
- TV-watching is a perfectly acceptable option if both of you are going crazy;
- Make her a reward chart of increasing difficulty. I was using a free printable Winnie the Pooh one, but it was a little complicated and had all this stuff I didn't necessarily need. So I made my own:
(the idea being that after 10 successes, we'd give her a toy—which was these cars from the movie Cars that I had bought at Target. [Ben and I decided on toys rather than food as rewards, and I decided on Cars things because they were there and I thought Astrid would be really into them.]). But after speaking to my neighbour, I thought perhaps it might be better to make it like this:
—that is, after five successes, she gets Mater; after 10, she gets Sally; after 15, she gets Lightning; and after 20, she'd get Mack, the biggest toy. After that, we would ditch the chart and hopefully she would just get it and wouldn't need incentives;
- Keep the nappies for day naps and night bedtimes until she can stay dry in them for at least three weeks. Then gradually cut back on those too. (See? Seemingly contradictory advice! But it makes total sense because toddlers will master daytime dryness before nighttime dryness. So when you have a “Goodbye nappies” party, you are not necessarily saying goodbye to all nappies all the time);
- If she's not getting it after three days, put her back in nappies and try again in a couple of months;
- Make sure you have nice things planned for the evenings or buy yourself nice treats to give yourself something to look forward to at the end of the day because toilet training is exhausting.
Then I set aside a week to do what I called “intensive toilet training” (that is, implementing the three-day method). I figured that the best time would be when all three sets of grandparents were going to be out of the country. I would keep Astrid home for the entire week instead of sending her to her regular childcare sessions, and we would work on it.
She was definitely ready. Now that she was three, she had been moved into the big room at childcare, where most of the children were toilet trained and there was a routine of everyone going to toilet at set times (e.g. before and after mealtimes). Often she would go if others were going too (peer pressure!) She told me that she wanted to wear undies (perhaps to be like the big kids), and I told her that she needed to learn how to use the toilet if she was going to wear undies and that I would teach her. So she had lots of motivation going in.
I was worried though. I'd never done this before. I wasn't sure I had enough patience to keep cleaning up accidents. (I was also a bit worried about our carpet and furniture.) I was also really anxious about the state of my mental health at the end of the week: Astrid and I are occasionally alone together for the entire day, but we haven't done that all day every day since she was about 18 months old (which is around the time I decided to put her in occasional childcare). Looking after a toddler is already exhausting; surely toilet training on top of toddler care would be even more exhausting. Friends advised being really really prepared because of the stress involved. I thought also that perhaps I could put in place plans to save my sanity. Since I plan my week anyway, I just made extra lots for “Morning”, “Afternoon” and “Evening” so at least I felt like I had semblance of control, even if the best-laid plans I made ended up overturned. So this is what I did:
- I took Astrid shopping for undies months before and let her pick out a bunch. I was told that we would probably need lots and that we might decide to throw some away if they ended up too gross (and that's OKAY.)
- I stocked the bathroom with a whole bunch of books—most of which I'd gotten cheap at a bookstall outside our polling booth on election day. (For posterity's sake, they include: The Monster at the End of this Book, Big Bird's Big Red Book, Who's Poo? (which is the only scatological title we own), Mr Bump (large size), Mr Tickle (large size; isn't it nice that history repeats itself—that my mum read me Mr Men and now I read my daughter Mr Men too), Richard Scarry's Best Little Word Book Ever! and Bertie and the Bear.)
- On the weekend leading up to intensive toilet training week, I put Astrid back in cloth nappies as much as possible (apart from sleep times, of course). I thought they would help her feel when she needed to do something. I think perhaps they did. I then skipped evening church on the Sunday night to finish all the preparations I needed to do for the week ahead—stuff like making lists of activities we could do at home together to occupy the time (since usually we tend to go out a lot and I knew we wouldn't be), printing out sheets to colour in, printing out the reward chart and sticking it up on the back of the bathroom door (I also had Cars stickers to use on it), putting everything where I needed it to be for the following day, having a shower so I wouldn't have to in the morning, and so on. (I really didn't get enough sleep because I stayed up doing them, but then I think I was also quite anxious and didn't sleep well anyway because of that.)
- On the Monday (Day #1), I let her wear her nightie but nothing else, and she went around the house bare-bottomed. I put the potty in the lounge room as well as a toilet seat on the toilet in the bathroom to give her a choice and also lessen the distance if she suddenly had to go. (She got her Care Bear to sit on the potty.) I explained to her the reward chart (or maybe Ben and I did that together; I forget.) I took her to the toilet every half an hour, and sometimes she did something and sometimes she didn't. If she did, she got one sticker on her reward chart. (And I offered her other Cars stickers for her sticker book but the novelty of that sort of wore off.) Friends with kids came to visit and we played with toys and did some salad spinner art. (I had this mad idea that Astrid and I would make Christmas cards.) The friends left just before lunch, and by then, Astrid had had only one accident and I was still feeling rather sane. After lunch, I put her in a cloth nappy and insisted on “quiet time”—mostly for my sanity rather than hers. That gave us both a bit of a break from the whole thing and she actually had a little nap. Then in the afternoon, friends came to visit, and we played with more toys and did some more salad spinner art, then went down to the park (me carting the potty with us. I put it near the bushes). She had a few more accidents in the afternoon, but overall it was going pretty well. And around it all, I also tried to do housework (mainly laundry; I vacuumed and mopped the previous day). Then in the evening, I went off to BFF support group and left Ben to put Astrid to bed. By the end of Day #1, she'd gotten the first reward: Mater.
- On the Tuesday (Day #2), I cancelled Swim School (which is fair enough!) and we did more home activities—colouring, puzzles, playing Memory with Play School cards, more toys, TV-watching. Then we had lunch and quiet time (and during quiet time, I had all this stuff to do that I normally would have done during Astrid's childcare sessions: working on comics with artists, doing design stuff for women's ministry at church, answering emails, etc., so it wasn't really a restful time for me), then we watched Cars 2 in the afternoon (with popcorn!) until Ben came home and helped take over from there.
- Since she was doing so well and not having very many accidents (though I was still taking her every half an hour to an hour, so she still needed prompting and wouldn't always realise that she needed to go), I said she could wear undies on Wednesday (Day #3) and helped her learn how to push them down and pull them up (the back is hard). She got her second reward (Sally) during the morning of Day #3. In the morning, we did more home activities: TV, toys, more salad spinner art (which she was quickly losing interest in), reading books, I forget what else. I was hoping my neighbour would stop by as I invited her on the Monday, but she couldn't make it, so it was just the two of us. I wasn't going crazy, though, so that was a good sign. After lunch and quiet time (during which I had to review more comics stuff for my artists as well as put in our application for an Artists Alley table for Oz Comic Con next year and write a few important emails), I coaxed Astrid out of the house and down to the cafe down the street, which is one of the most child-friendly cafes I know because it keeps a box of toys up the back, plenty of highchairs, plus there's a fold-out change table in the bathroom. I took the portable fold-up toilet seat, but I asked Astrid if she needed to go before we left the house (she didn't), I made her sit on the toilet when we got there (she did nothing) and then we had a milkshake each, and then I made her go again before we left (and she did something—yay!) And then we went to the park for a bit and then we went home.
- Thursday (Day #4) presented something of a problem for me because we needed to leave the house. I remember feeling so anxious about it, I woke at around 4 am and decided to present my concerns about Google. Days #1-3 had helped me see how you deal with a toilet training child while at home (or even at the local park); what do you do when you're out??? Fortunately more than one parent in the world has already struggled with this question and posted it on a forum somewhere where other parents have answered. And they suggested things like taking your child to the toilet before you go out, taking them when you arrive at your destination, noting where the toilets are, taking the potty with you (if necessary), compromising and putting them in nappies for the time being (particularly if it's a long car trip), getting them to sit on a towel and/or an open disposable nappy, emphasising to them that they will not be able to go while in the car, etc. They also had a good list of things to take with you when you go out—including:
So I packed all that, including all the stuff I needed for the day, and we set off—first to my dentist appointment (which is the second time Astrid has visited the dentist, but she still didn't want to ride in the chair or let the dentist take a look in her mouth), then to the park for a bit (where she used the public toilet), and then we drove south to my brother-in-law and sister-in-law's place, where we ate lunch and she played with her cousins (and used their toilet) and they very kindly kept an eye on her while Paul and I met up to talk about graphic novel layouts. Then when they were going off to swim school, Astrid and I drove home (with no accidents, much to my relief, since she'd had three that morning while at home) and I fed her dinner before our babysitter came to look after Astrid for the evening while I went out to Ben's Sydney Fringe Festival show.
- Portable toilet seat
- Cloth nappy inserts to wipe up spills
- Disposable nappies (as a back-up if you just can't cope)
- Nappy sacs (to dispose of yucky things if you need to)
- Spare undies
- Spare change of clothes (or two)
- A bag for dirty clothes
- Sanitary hand gel
- By Friday (Day #5), I was pretty tired but I was confident that she was getting it. She was having less accidents, she was learning to pull her undies up and down, she was keen to keep on going and so on. In the morning, we went down to Magic Yellow Bus at the local park (where I got to catch up with my neighbour who always goes). Then we came home for lunch and I forget what we did in the afternoon; maybe we watched a movie or something until Ben came home.
- Saturday (Day #6) we had arranged to visit The Train Shed with Ben's brother, sister-in-law and their kids (so it was nice that Astrid got to see her cousins twice in one week). I'd bought some deal on Living Social that entitled the kids to a certain number of rides for half the price as normal. Ben and I had never been to The Train Shed before and Astrid loves Thomas the Tank Engine, so we packed a lunch and headed out there. It was quite a hot day and it was a bit of a hike to get to the toilets at the place. But nevertheless, in between rides and food and the like, I took her to and from the toilet, and a couple of times she actually went, and had no accidents throughout the day. And then we had a quiet rest of the afternoon and evening when we got back. (She got her third reward [Lightning McQueen] on this day.)
- Sunday (Day #7): I took Astrid to morning church. I wasn't sure what to do while she was in crèche (especially as she didn't seem to want to go on before crèche time began), but fortunately a girl I knew from evening church was there, so I gave her the toilet seat and asked her to keep an eye on Astrid and help her if necessary. It turned out that Astrid initiated and said she needed to go and took herself! (Yay!) And then the rest of the day was mostly spent at home and it was much of the same thing: us reminding her and taking her, and so on.
She got her fourth and final reward (Mack) on the Tuesday after this. Her completed reward chart looked like this:
(Notice how all the Lightning McQueen stickers got used first!)
Since then, she hasn't been accident free (and some of her accidents have been quite gross, quite frankly. One of them I could have avoided by putting the potty in her room or putting her in nappies for quiet time). We still need to remind her most of the time to go. We are still diligent about taking her before we go out or when we arrive. But she's still in nappies for sleeps and will be for quite some time, I expect. Still, she's very motivated and happy, I think, to be in undies.
So in a sense, toilet training isn't quite over. She still needs to learn for herself when she needs to go (which may happen when she starts informing us when she needs to go rather than us telling her she needs to go now)—especially, most unfortunately, for #2s. She still needs help wiping her bottom after #2s. She still needs to be reminded to flush and wash her hands. She still needs a toilet seat when we're out because she hasn't quite yet mastered the art of balancing on her hands while using an adult toilet (not that I've made her do that much). She's not dry at night or during day naps (which means I am still supplying pull-ups to childcare). But she's well on her way there and I am glad that we no longer have to buy so many nappies anymore.
/Karen/ had a thought at 2:35 AM
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