14 January 2012

Potty Love: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pee

After exhaustive research, I’ve come to a remarkable conclusion: kids are not made in a factory, assembled with interchangeable parts. I know. I am baffled. But all evidence points to the truthfulness of this statement. In fact, one might go so far as to say that every child is unique, and therefore what works with one child might not work with another.

That caveat firmly in place, I will now relate Successful Strategies to Toilet-Train Eamon Wolfe. They might work for your kid. They might not. As I stated in the previous entry, I’m not an expert in toilet-training; I’m just an expert in Eamon…and even then there are some things about him that remain a mystery to me. Mothers looking to potty train in the future: do what you will with this information. It worked for our specific child at this specific point in time.

Strategy #1: Wait Until He’s Ready.
Eamon is very bright, very socially advanced, and very emotionally immature. He’s tall and looks older, but he’s physically immature in controlling his own body. Toilet training at age 2 was never realistically considered. He would use the toilet at school but other toilets scared him. He wasn’t ready.

And Eamon, like his father, puts a lot of pressure on himself. I don’t think I’m going too far when I say that failure probably would have scarred him a little emotionally, and we would have had to wait even longer to toilet-train to get over his fears. So even though it meant cringing slightly at all those Facebook posts from mothers with younger children who successfully toilet-trained, I’m glad that we waited. It was right for Eamon.

Strategy #2: No Pressure.
Eamon is a perfectionist. He always has been. His father is the same way, and I have seen first-hand the defense mechanism that can go along with caring too deeply when you are secretly afraid of failing: the desperation to convince everyone that you don’t care at all, that you never cared, and that you think it’s all a waste of time, anyway.

I didn’t want this to happen with Eamon. Other than the first day in which I allowed him to change underwear if he peed, there were no rewards or punishments for using or not using the potty. I was pretty firm about this, despite the advice of almost everyone. I know my husband, and I know my kid. I also taught a few students like this, and the only strategy that ever worked was to logically lay out their options, explain the pros and cons of choosing each, and leave them to make their own decision. They’re smart enough to realize when they are being manipulated, and it only makes them rebel.

Therefore, when we introduced the potty to Eamon, we explained the benefits: no more sitting around in wet or poop-filled diapers. You will get praise at school. You can wear superhero underwear. There are no superhero pull-ups. Everyone will think you’re a big boy. But we can’t make you. It’s up to you.

There were no M&Ms, no sticker charts, no toys or cars. Ironically, I had been saving up kids’ meal toys since Eamon was born for a toy chest JUST FOR THIS PURPOSE, until I realized this would be the worst possible thing for Eamon. I knew Eamon would do use the potty if he wanted to. If he didn’t, no inducement in the world would make him; in fact, it would offend him to the point where he would dig in his heels even further.

It worked. He cared more than anyone about doing a good job. Without any added pressure from us, he gets upset if even a drop of pee gets on his clothes, and we find ourselves reassuring him that it’s OKAY, that he’ll GET IT, and he just needs to keep practicing. I can only imagine how much more upset he would have gotten knowing that in addition to not being perfect, he also lost a chance at a coveted toy. It would have been too much.

In the end, he used the potty because he wanted to.

Strategy #3: Prepare for the Worst
At first, I was so worried about Eamon being successful that I asked too often if he needed to use the potty. In trying to ensure success, I put more pressure on him. There were a couple of very tightly-wound, unpleasant days in the middle until I learned to just stop asking.

This meant being prepared for accidents. Instead of asking him 50 times if he needed to pee before we left for work/school in the morning, I just got up about 10 minutes earlier so there would be time to clean up/change clothes after an accident. Instead of insisting he use the potty before we got into the car, I just put a towel down in his carseat and packed a change of clothes. Conversations that had been filled with yelling and tears now went something like this:

ME: E, do you want to use the potty before we get into the car?
EAMON: No, no, no!
ME: Okay. The movement of the car often makes people have to pee, but I’ve put down a towel in case you wet yourself, and I have a spare change of underwear and pants here. Come on, let’s go.
EAMON: (thinking) Mommy, I want to use the potty.

Not surprisingly, as soon as I relaxed, Eamon relaxed. He peed on himself a couple of times, then learned how to tell when he had to pee and hold it until we made it to the potty. I just accepted that I would be doing more laundry, and now he’s almost mastered it.

Strategy #4: Don’t Ask for More Than He Can Physically Do.
As I have said, Eamon is not physically mature. Even though we suspected he was ready to train during the day, no one had any expectations of him making it through an entire night. He can be a heavy sleeper, and wakes up pretty soaked every morning. That would have invited failure and tears on everyone’s part.

Therefore, we just casually slip a pull-up on before he goes to sleep. We don’t even talk about it, so it’s not a big deal. We put his precious underwear on over it.

Interestingly, when we wakes up in the morning, one of the first things he often says to me is that he has to pee. Even though he has a pull-up on, even though it’s already wet, he doesn't want to use the pull-up.

We’ve even seen this at nap-time. The first day he protested wearing a pull-up to nap, and I said that if he could wake up dry from naps for awhile, he could forgo the pull-up. And gosh darn it, he has woken up dry for about 4 days in a row. We will see. Wearing an unused pull-up doesn’t hurt anything.

Strategy #5: Lots of Extra Love and Attention
If Eamon successfully used the potty, we gave him lots of hugs and kisses and told him he should be proud of himself. When he successfully pooped on the potty, there were even more hugs and kisses and phone calls to grandparents to let him know what a milestone this was.

And when he didn’t make it to the potty on time, there were lots of hugs and kisses and assurances that it was fine and that we loved him so much and he was really doing a great job.

It's a stressful time. He needed it. And I'll always take advantage of any excuse to hug and kiss him more.

So, that’s it: our no-frills strategies to toilet-training Eamon Wolfe. For anyone else who is toilet-training out there: good luck, and may your training be as successful and seamless, no matter what strategies you use.

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