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Going potty

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, “What until she's ready” and “What 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 read 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:

  1. Doesn't understand or doesn't follow directions.
  2. Will do it if I coach or help her.
  3. 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:

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:

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:

She got her fourth and final reward (Mack) on the Tuesday after this. Her completed reward chart looked like this:

Reward chart filled

(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.

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