Potty Training a Strong-Willed Child

If you are not currently a parent of toddlers or preschoolers, please feel free to skip this post or pass it along to someone who is in this stage of life--I won't be offended.  But hopefully this will be helpful to those of you in the middle of this insane time of life where we actually get excited about our kids' poo.

My son is currently three months shy of his fourth birthday and my daughter is 23 months old.  We tried this foul business almost exactly one year ago and I was so scarred that I've put it off until now.  If it weren't for the fact that I will soon have THREE children in diapers at once, I'd probably wait even longer, but that thought alone motivates me (along with the fact that we already put down a deposit on my son's preschool where he must be potty trained by the end of August).

I've read the books and done my research.  I'm armed with stickers, fruit snacks, juice (well, mango tea...I forgot to buy juice), movies, a froggy potty, rags, cleaning products, a bajillion undies, a doll to train, pull-ups, a reward toy and promises of going out for ice cream and calling grandparents with the good news.

But here's the thing...my son couldn't give a rip.  That toy has been sitting in my closet for an ENTIRE YEAR.  So I'm going into all of this knowing full well that it will be a battle of the wills...and I'm determined to win.

After last year's sad attempt at using the naked bootcamp method of staring at your kid's naked bum for three days straight without leaving the house and not having a single hit in the potty, this time around I decide to relax.  I'm okay with naked, but will keep the kids in undies if at all possible (and shorts with an elastic band, too, for my son so he can get used to pulling them off and on).  

I'm starting to accept that I'm not a cutsie parent who does sticker charts, dances and elaborate parties--and that's okay.  Kids all over the world learn to control their bowels completely without the help of Pinterest.  I also let my husband off the hook and decided to do it during the week instead of over a weekend.  So here's how it went for us...

Pre-potty training (trying to gear myself up)

I sat in an Adirondack chair with a cup of tea and let the kids run around in the backyard in their underwear all afternoon.  My son had one big wet accident on the carpet in his room at 6:30 pm, but held it otherwise (even though I asked every 15 minutes if he needed to go).  My daughter peed in her underwear 4 times (and I finally put a diaper on her right before dinner).

(Sunday):  Skipped

More backyard nakey/undie play time in the afternoon.  Brought the little potty outside, which my daughter sat on for over 15 minutes without going, then promptly peed on the patio.  I never saw my son go, but I suspect the wet undies weren't from playing in the plastic pool.

The Real Deal

I decided to just go for it.  We pulled up the rugs and I committed to staying home all day for four days, but was ready to bail if it was terrible.

Here's my "method":

Also, last minute I decided to go cold turkey with my son even at night and naps because I figured he'd just hold it until I put him in a diaper.  We put a waterproof mat under his sheet and a portable potty in his room at night and naps and hoped for the best...

Day 1 (Tuesday):  Not terrible.

I started out the day bawling on my husband's shoulder because my son kept announcing that he was NOT using the potty (hey--pregnancy hormones are for real).  But I rallied and we ended up having a low-key morning of cuddling and eating popcorn on towels on the couch.

All day long, I marched both kids to the potty every 20 minutes.  Neither ever went during these times.

My daughter was the first to pee in the portable potty.  She went while she was watching T.V., but I suspect it was just luck because I probably changed her undies six times throughout the morning as she played around happily without even noticing the rivers she was leaving on the wood floor.

Later in the morning, my son announced he needed to go potty, then went in the regular toilet like it was no big deal.  I was so happy that I CRIED.  Honestly.  I never thought this day would come.

Hugs, cheers, kisses and high fives seemed to be enough of a reward and he didn't even mention previous promises of rewards.

He went once more right after his nap in the portable potty--all by himself in his room without prompting.  No pooping all day.  No accidents, either.  Hallelujah!

Day 2 (Wednesday):  Failure...

Neither kid went in the potty all day long...not once.

My son started out the morning by unloading his bowels into his undies twice in 20 minutes.  Throughout the day, we continued parading to the potty every 20 minutes with no results.  During non-nap times, we watched movies and the kids played outside in the backyard.  My son held his pee from 8:30 am until 5:30 pm (nine hours!), then let it whoosh after sneaking into another room. My daughter started resisting sitting on the potty and would go on the floor minutes after our bathroom trips. Hopefully vinegar will be enough to cover any potential smells...

Feeling discouraged.

Day 3 (Thursday): Success!!!

We woke up at 5:30 am to my son shouting, "Mommy, Daddy, I pooped in the potty!!!"  It was his first time.  We stumbled into his room, admired his "present" in the portable potty, gave hugs and high fives and "let" my son flush it down the toilet.  Grandparents and uncles were called later in the day.

The second time he went #2 was right before his nap--alone in his room.  He also peed in the potty two or three other times throughout the day and stayed dry otherwise (even at night and naps!).

I didn't even bother taking them every 20 minutes because my son never once went during any of these times, but always went of his own initiative.  Oh, the strong-willed child.  So frustrating, but so lovely in their ability to surprise you.  Later in the afternoon, he remembered the promised toy he has admired in my closet for the past year and we decided it was finally deserved.

I had my daughter in her undies in the morning as they played outside in the sprinkler, but gave up and put her in diapers in the afternoon after more accidents and no hits in the potty since the first day.

Day 4 (Friday): An Outing.

My son has been dry for over 24 hours (sleeping times included), so I decide to attempt an outing.  We went out for frozen custard and french fries--at 10 am.  I put my daugher in diapers, but brought a change of clothes for my son, a towel and threw the froggy potty into our van for good measure.

About 30 minutes into our time at the restaurant, my son said he needed to use the potty, so we rushed into bathroom and he bravely scooted onto the much larger public toilet to do his business.  I was glad it wasn't an automatic one, because I wasn't ready to deal with that trauma.  He did it!  More cheering, hugs and alerting of the family members.  We headed to the park for a little bit after that and made it home without any accidents.

1 Week Later...

Up to now, my son has had just one accident and has stayed dry while sleeping--for an entire week.  In that time, he's gone at church, at restaurants and even peed off the hiking trail with daddy. We've jumped right back into life as usual and trust him to tell us when he needs to go. But what's surprised us the most is how this new skill has transformed him.  He is more confident, willing to try new things and glows with pride in himself.  He can control something very important in his little life and this knowledge empowers him. 


  Here's my take-away:

1. Wait until they're older, not just "ready."  
My son was very content to stay in diapers forever, so I couldn't just wait for him to tell me he was ready, but I think the fact that he was older made it all go so much more quickly. I keep thinking of it like picking fruit--would you rather pick fruit prematurely and have it sit on your counter for a week to ripen, or just wait and pick it when it's good and ripe?  My son was ripe and ready for this.  My daughter? Not so much.  But she's two next month and we'll try her again when the time seems right.

2. Relax.  
Don't take it too seriously and be willing to wait if it doesn't work for you right now. 

3. Be willing to go against "the books."  
My son certainly didn't follow the potty training script--he never ONCE went when prompted, stayed dry at night and naps from day one, and seemed more motivated by our smiles and praise than by stickers and prizes.

Ah, parenting.  I never thought I'd see the day when I'd look in the toilet, see a huge turd and start smiling and clapping. 


What's your experience with potty training?  


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What we did and how it went when we attempted to potty train my strong-willed son.


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