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27 Jan, Friday
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Montreal Families

Potty training = Patience + perseverance

When my son Max was a baby, I saw someone in the park changing the diaper of a child whom I guessed was probably 2 1/2 years old. I remember being quite shocked and thinking to myself: ‘my child will be trained long before that.’

Yes, I know; how typical of a first-time mom who doesn’t have a clue.

Anyway, in my mind, I had decided that 2 years old was pretty much the cut-off point. So a month after Max’s second birthday, we started the potty-training project during Christmas vacation. He liked his little potty chair well enough – he just wasn’t particularly interested in peeing in it. Friends told us not to be discouraged. He probably wasn’t ready yet. So we let it go for a while.

That summer, we thought: okay, this is it. We’ll let him run around naked and we’ll bring the potty with us everywhere. But he still was not really interested. If we pushed too much, he got upset. We wondered if maybe he physically was not able to control himself. Or maybe it was because I was pregnant, and he could sense that the world’s centre of attention was about to shift.

Our daughter was born in August, and so while we continued to encourage Max to use the potty, it slid down on the priority list. In any case, his daycare teacher assured us that she’d be working on it with all the kids together. We figured peer pressure was bound to work.

But soon he was the only kid in his class who was still in diapers. He was now 3 – a full year after my supposedly acceptable cut-off time. I tried to take solace in the fact that some books mentioned that certain kids “took a little longer;” but I watched jealously as other kids his age happily headed to the bathroom. By the time he was 3 1/2, I was at my wit’s end.

By now, we had tried everything we could think of: different kinds of toilet seats and potties, reading books or watching TV while sitting on the potty, underwear with favourite cartoon characters, multiple variations of sticker charts and prizes. I had even broken my ultimate rule — thou shalt not bribe thy child with candy — and was offering him Smarties just for trying. But even that didn’t work. He’d sit on the potty for 15 minutes, I’d give him a Smartie and then he’d promptly pee in his pants. 

A potty ultimatum

Finally, last summer while on vacation, we decided enough was enough. We put him in underwear and stuck with it for the entire week. At first he yelled and cried, but we offered a bribe: three pee-pees in the toilet and we’d go for chocolate ice cream. He ran to the bathroom, pulled down his pants and did one. The next day we upped it to four. And so on. Of course, once he’d had the ice cream, he’d go back to peeing in his pants, but it got the ball rolling. By his fourth birthday he was peeing in the toilet most of the time.

I have since discovered that our family is not alone with our potty problem. It can be a sensitive issue: while parents are generally willing (and even relieved) to share their potty-training woes, they do not necessarily want them published. Others do not want their last names used. And yet our stories are often so similar.

Sandie, a Montreal mom of two boys now ages 9 and 6, recalls her panic over potty training her eldest.

“I had tried everything,” she recalls. “He just did not care. He’d walk around the house with  the potty on his head.” She became worried and stressed. “When the daycare educator tells you all the other kids in the class are using the toilet, you feel like an idiot.”

Then one day on vacation, when her son, age 3 years and 4 months old, was running around in his diaper and there were guests around, she asked if he wanted to take off the diaper and go pee in the toilet. He said yes, and he did. He never wore a diaper again.

Judy Gradinger, a child psychologist at the Jewish General Hospital, says she definitely sees more toilet-training problems today than in the past. “Families are always on the go: the parents are busy, the kids are in daycare and have activities. To toilet-train a child, you have to stop and devote yourself to it full time. You have to use a single, consistent approach.”

Gradinger’s advice is to choose a time when you are at home, off work and relaxed. Make it a project. She suggests that one person handle the training, in order to have a consistent approach. Get rid of the diapers. Use lots of praise. “With an older child, you have to get their willingness to cooperate. You have to find very strong incentives.”

Parents can’t be ambivalent about it, she says. “I’m all for children choosing what to eat, what to wear, what to do. But there are certain things where the parent has to make the decisions.” Don’t just ask if they have to go pee, she explained: insist that they sit on the potty before the next activity.

Perhaps what I’ve learned is that there is a lot of “one step forward, two steps back” with potty training. Even after my son started using the potty to pee, it was months before he was ready to try it out for his bowel movements. And he was well over 4 before he was fully potty trained. But obviously all the kids get there; just at different times and in different ways. As my son’s pediatrician once told us: “everyone’s trained by kindergarten.”

Tips for potty training

According to the Canadian Pediatric Society, most children will be ready to start potty training somewhere between the ages of 2 and 4. The CPS offers the following tips to help make the process go smoothly:

Ensure that your child is ready. She should show an interest in the potty, be able to stay dry in diapers for several hours, have regular and predictable bowel movements and be able to follow one or two simple instructions.

Make sure you and your child’s caregivers are ready to work together on potty training, which is a process that can take some time. You’ll need enough time to help your child every day, probably for several months. Other caregivers should know of your plans and approach, so your child gets a consistent message about potty use.

Lead by example: let your child watch you use the toilet. And make using the potty easy by dressing your child in clothes she can pull up and down with ease.

Your child will be more secure and stable on a potty chair – so that her feet can touch the floor – than on a regular toilet. If you don’t use a potty, you’ll need a toilet seat adapter and a footstool.

Develop a routine by having your child sit on the potty at specific times during the day, such as after getting up in the morning, after meals or snacks, before naps and before bedtime.

Watch for signs that let you know she needs to use the toilet. Encourage your child to tell you when she needs to pee. Be sure to praise her, even if she tells you after the fact.

When your child has used the potty successfully for at least a week, suggest that she try cotton underpants or training pants. When she is ready, make this a special moment.

Praise your child often. Expect accidents – they will happen! Be sure not to punish or overreact. Try to be patient and positive.

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