Potty training marks a milestone of independence and a significant decrease in feces contact for parents — a well-earned and much-desired goal. Why then did I resist potty training my second child, a boy?
While our oldest, a girl, quickly took to potty training, it’s been a whole different ballgame with our nearly 4-year-old son, Cal. In the seven months since we began potty training, there have been moments of promise followed by a complete and gleeful disregard for the whole process. That idea about how “girls are easier to train than boys”? It might just be true.
If I’ve learned anything about potty training, it's that the kid and the parents must be on board with the process.
Not helping the situation: I psyched myself out expecting potty training my son to be hard and so lost the nerve to “allow” for potential accidents. I’m not proud of this but early on, I’d opt to leave Cal in pull-ups instead of taking a chance with underwear. And seriously, why would a kid care whether he's potty trained or not when he has these disposable don't-stop-the-party pee-catchers on?
We might still be meandering if it hadn't been for a hard deadline in July when our son officially starts pre-K. He’ll be attending a half-day program four times a week and — here’s the kicker — potty training is required. They don’t do diapers or pull-ups, which I get; it’s developmentally appropriate to expect potty training and not fair to the other kids. So with that deadline in mind, I took a deep breath and got truly serious at the end of April.
My personal Captain Underpants
For the record, it wasn’t as if we were forcing our son to do something he wasn’t ready for. My husband and I knew Cal was capable. He kept his pull-ups mostly dry for long stretches and even the occasional nap time. He could use the toilet when asked and he got upset if he had major overflow or leakage. Our challenge, it seemed, was making the jump to big kid underwear.
With our daughter, we painstakingly waited until she kept her pull-ups completely dry before taking the leap. This time, we didn’t wait for perfection. I went ahead and purchased big kid underwear. This served as an aspirational goal but also removed any obstacles for me to fully commit. That’s right — if I’ve learned anything about potty training, it’s that the kid and the parents must be on board with the process. Together, you’ve got to establish routines and allow plenty of time to spend in and around the bathroom or you’ll be stuck in “Pull-Up Land” forever.
We had our first test in late April. After Cal woke up from a nap, I put him in underwear instead of the normal pull-up and we went to go pick up my daughter at school. That first time out was tense and probably made worse by me continually checking in every five minutes. “Are you OK? Do you need to go potty? Remember to keep your underwear dry.” It was a confidence building moment but still a premature harbinger of success as accidents and inconsistent enforcement quickly followed days later.
One trick helped. Although we never did “sticker charts” for our daughter, I realized we needed some kind of structure for Cal (and me) to stay focused. At the beginning of May, I had him pick out three new trains at Top Ten Toys as future rewards. I told him that if he could stay dry all day while he was awake with no accidents in his underwear, he would get a sticker for the day. Once he racked up seven stickers, he could have one of his trains. It didn’t even need to be seven consecutive days and believe me, it wasn’t at first.
At home Cal would sometimes whine and protest when I’d remind him to take a potty break, but then I would say, “I want to help you get your trains.” That let him know that we were all in this together. Potty breaks weren’t punishment; they were the gateway to getting some neato prizes and being a big kid. The first train took more than a week and a half to get. But soon, Cal caught on. The next time it was exactly seven stickers in seven days and then train, followed by another seven stickers in another seven days then train.
Over just a few weeks, Cal went from being largely uninterested and inconsistent to a rock star potty user. I even had to go buy him some more underwear. The even bigger news: We stopped our Amazon subscription for pull-ups. He now only uses them when sleeping.
Just the other day I was sorting through some of his keepsake baby clothes. There happened to be one tiny unused newborn-sized diaper mixed in. It was so cute! I flipped it over and remembered when Cal was so small and helpless. For a moment I became a little nostalgic about diaper-changing… and then I came to my damn senses. High-five for potty training!
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