Using The Potty Is A Matter of Time

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Jul 12, 2016

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Using the potty is not a popular subject, certainly among adults; no one actually wants to hear about poop, and definitely not when it comes to your kids’ potty. In this kind of conversational isolation, potty training a toddler can be nerve-wracking; at least, it was for me.

Despite the hush, there’s an unspoken peer pressure to potty training. My husband and I first felt it on our son’s first birthday, when he was gifted a giant (and rather hideous) giraffe-themed potty. The older he got, the more the comments poured in: “Oh, haven’t you potty trained him yet?” No. No, we hadn’t.

I found the concept of potty training a little odd, inherently. It sounds a lot like something you’d do to an animal, not a child. Children need to learn to use the toilet, of course, but I wondered if this might be something they can accomplish by themselves, naturally and with minimal but well-timed support from parents. But I caved to the comments around me. Apparently, it was past time to start.

My son is a strong individual. He is curious, funny, loves to explore, very independent – and therefore resists everything I try to do. His favourite reaction to anything is, “No.” I’m told this is a developmentally appropriate response in 2-year-olds. The no’s give him character, which is great. But I blame this phase, as well as his own temperament, for all the difficulty in advancing on the toilet-training front.

Because I tried everything: We turned time spent using the potty into reading time, poring over each page of the Prince of Potty; we sang the Sesame Street Potty Song and even let him watch television while on the toilet. We tried the 3-day potty training method, the 1-day method, the week-long method and many others. None worked. The moment my son had a diaper on, he decided to finally poop.

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Those were the good days. As potty training began to rather consume us, the agenda totally threw off his routine. The bad days were when my son started refusing to do potty at all and refusing to eat in the morning, which made him hungry, more tired and definitely more cantankerous throughout the day. There were mornings when I would yell or chase him all over the house for more than an hour, just to get one piece of fruit in his mouth.

The worst days held definitely more than just the few “accidents” that most toilet-training advice predicts. My son began to detest the bathroom and his potty seat and sometimes protested by deliberately relieving himself on the floor or in hard-to-reach corners.

Eventually, we abandoned trying to get him potty trained. The beautiful blue and pink plastic potties we had bought him, the toilet ring, even a step ladder to the adult potty all lay around, unused. We had failed.

It was around this time that I came upon studies by Dr. Steve Hodge (summarized here), which suggest (rather obviously, in hindsight) that toilet training at my son’s age is simply developmentally inappropriate and causes everything from poor diet, to constipation, bed-wetting and even painful urinary tract infections.

In an effort to understand  more about what it actually means for a child to be able to ‘go,’ I learned that kids my son’s age have yet to develop bladder or bowel muscle control. And two years was too early for him to understand that he was supposed to go to a particular place in response to a particular feeling. And amid all of this pressure, he probably found comfort in wearing a diaper. In other words, he wasn’t physically or emotionally ready.

This is why you don’t give into peer pressure. Sigh.

Time and patience was the only way to solve the physical barriers. It wasn’t until around three years old that my son, like most kids, developed the cognitive skills to understand what a bathroom is for and the physical ability to control his bladder. He was interested in where mummy and daddy went and stayed dry for long periods of time.

But the emotional barriers proved more difficult to overcome. Whenever I offered him the choice of underwear or a diaper he chose the diaper. And – particularly heart wrenching – if the diaper ever leaked, he would burst into tears and yell, “I’m not bad! I’m not bad!”

I was puzzled; we had never punished him nor told him that not using the potty was a bad thing. If anything, we had been easing up.

Yet perhaps he had perceived disapproval in his parents’ eyes, or maybe from teachers at school. I realized then – if I thought toilet training was a headache, it was probably nothing compared to the stress my son had felt.

Emotional readiness usually comes last, or at least, it did in my son’s case. I have a feeling that it is the most fragile and also most powerful determinant of whether a child is ready for the toilet. We tell kids to focus on the feeling of having to ‘go,’ and in doing so, tell them to ignore their other feelings – feelings of worry, uncertainty, fear, which, in my son’s case, became physiologically debilitating. Perhaps if we give kids a chance to grow and learn to deal with both feelings, toilet training wouldn’t be half as hard for them or us.

One fine day, I decided to do what we had never done before: trust our son. I told him I expected him to tell us when he wanted to go and that he would no longer have to wear “horrible wet dirty diapers.” I bought him colourful underwear. I let him pick the pair he wants to wear every day.

My son is now using the potty on most days and tells me when he wants to go most times. Are there accidents? Sure, but we’ve all learned to laugh. It may have taken a while, but who needs a book? I’ve got the Prince of Potty after all.

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Written By Varna Sri Raman

Varna wants to live in a world where kindness and intelligence reign. A researcher by trade, she’s fascinated by human beings, wombats, velociraptors and other queer creatures, in that order. When she’s not working on her day-job, PhD, son, photography-firm, part-time projects or any of her other gazillion pursuits — you can find her curled up by the window, watching leaves fall or howling at the moon.

 

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