From the Diary of Potty Training Nightmares – Part One

A few months before my second child was to be born I decided it was time to potty train my first. I pretty much fretted and stressed over the day that I would have to confidently begin this process. When he was younger I tried to implement some “pre-potty training” activities with failing results. I still shuddered at the memory of the day his first potty arrived in the mail. He eyed the little chair with a hole in it with concern. He couldn’t really talk at this point, but if he could I am sure he would have asked me how someone could sit on something they might fall through. The potty was very obviously a doorway into hell as far as he was concerned. I promptly took off his pants and tried to get him to sit on it with no success. I then tried to get him to sit on it with his clothes on and still, no go. I put the potty in the bathroom and tried to coax him on each time we would go in there. It took a long time before he felt confident to use this seat. I wondered how I was supposed to potty train him when he would refuse to sit on the potty.

Up to this point my potty training experience only applied to the three Guide Dogs for the Blind puppies I had trained. I figured a child was smarter than a dog so he should catch on at some point. I had visions of my son in High School using the lawn to go the bathroom and me following behind him with a black plastic bag to tie and keep in my pocket until I could find a place to throw it away.

I began my initial training experience armed with knowledge I had gathered off of the Internet. It was confusing and strange trying to gather information I could use. One professional insisted that children should not be trained until they are at least 3, while another provided statistics that waiting too long would only make the process harder and create bladder and bowel problems. Already I had conflicting information from two different schools of thought on the subject. Some moms insisted that boys were harder than girls to train and other moms boasted their children were trained over night or in a week after some light coaxing from them or another family member. I longed for such a miracle to happen with my experience. I took one look at my stubborn son and decided that this was going to be awful.

Like most parents I looked to this day with fear. I wanted to just get it over with. I wanted the miracle child who woke up one day and said “Mummy, I want to use the potty!” I wanted someone to do it for me. And I wanted it done yesterday.

To make matters worse Isaac was just entering that horrible “no” stage. Children are smart about the use of the word at first, so it sort of sneaks up on the parents. At first we were amused at his use of the word. I would hold out a favorite cracker and ask, “Isaac do you want a cracker?” and he would mumble “no” as he grabbed and devoured the offering. Tyler and I would chuckle and muse over the cute interaction. We were also proud. After all, that counted as one of his first words next to “mommy” and “daddy.”

The next trial of “no’s” Isaac began to have more meaning behind the word. He would say no to just about everything. There is a certain kind of comfort and joy knowing what the answer to every question will be. Predictability I came to expect and look forward to hearing. I would tell Isaac, “It is time to wash your hands.” Isaac would put forth his inevitable ‘no’ and look distressed for a moment. To most watchers it may seem he might put up a fight, but once I picked him up and started the task he would calm and do it anyway.

As time went on the ‘no’ was still a staple answer and although I began to tire of hearing it I still felt comforted knowing it was coming. Even if at this point he was beginning to shout it out and adding more venom behind the word. I even started to have a bit of fun.

“Isaac, do you want a BMW?”
“Isaac, do you want a foot rub?”
“Isaac, would you like a personal chef to create a confectionary masterpiece in which Gregorian Monks of the Swiss Alps grow the ingredients?”

Isn’t this a fun little game? See what I mean by the ‘no’ providing predictability bringing comfort and joy? “Soak up the comfort and joy,” I would tell myself.

Just the other day I was in the store and saw a weary mother pushing her toddler in the grocery basket. The toddler was in a feisty mood and was exclaiming ‘no’ to just about anything the mother offered. She finally asked in a huff: “Do you want me to buy you a private island?” The little girl screamed out a “NOOOO!” and the mother gave a little smile to herself and mumbled, “I thought you would say that.” I could practically taste the comfort and joy dripping off her. Other parents were playing the same game. It must have been universal. I wondered if I visited the poorest villages of indigenous countries if the parents there were having as much fun.

The key is to ask for something the child doesn’t quite understand yet. Otherwise it backfires.

So I began potty training. I started out when Isaac was a year and a half, just making him sit on the potty when I would go to the bathroom. Six months later Isaac was still refusing to sit there. He also became more deliriously angry to follow me in there as time went by. I decided that the easing into potty training method was not working for either of us. I started to do some more research. And by research I mean I read just about every book available by a creditable author on potty training. I also took notes and created a behavior plan. Don’t judge me, I have a Master’s in child psychology and after seven years of school they practically bore the natural mother instinct out of me. I have to read to fill in those instinctual gaps. And create behavior plans.

With charts.

And graphs.

(and ok I admit…the occasional statistical data. BUT you have to admit the charts and graphs are meaningless if you don’t have the means and averages to back them up!)
I measured Isaac’s fluid intake and noted the average time it took for him to urinate. I filled in the data on my chart and began to draw predictions on when his next urination session would occur. The graph was color-coded.

I decided a blind study was not conducive to my experiment, so I decided to explain to my test subject the nature of study.

“Isaac,” I started “We are going to begin potty training.”
“No,” he replied dutifully.

I love it when my test subjects are as excited as I am.

“You will use the potty to pee and poop.”

I felt the stirrings of comfort.

“You will no longer wear a diaper. You will only wear cotton underwear or nothing at all when we are at home. I haven’t decided what we will do when we need to go out.”

I felt joy.

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