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Potty Training In the Real World

Potty Training In the Real World

By Amalah

Amy,

I love reading your blog and advice column. You actually helped me calm down and talk to my husband (calmly) about standing up to his parents. Even though she ended up seeing them twice in the visit to my parents (my mom had been up there and said their daughter had been cleaning since her boyfriend had been hanging around) and they broke the simple rules my husband and I agreed on but he needed that nudge to stand up to them and has been much better.

Anyway the real issue is potty training. My daughter is 21 months and we’ve been told she’s too young but she is definitely ready, age aside. She has been telling us for months when she has to pee, and gets upset when she does in her diaper and insists on sitting on the toilet afterwards, and she consistently wakes up dry from 2-4 hour naps. We’ve been putting it off trying to give her time to adjust to other milestones first. So we’ve given her time to get used to her twin bed (she could get in and out on her own before we put her in it, promise) and that was the final one we felt we needed to get done before potty training.

So we started potty training a week ago and it’s going miserably. She is holding it for ever! She will tell us she has to go and start spreading her legs and bouncing around and once we get to the toilet she cries and screams to get off. I try to calm her down and distract her and she’ll sit there forever and nothing, ten minutes after hopping off she’s peed or pooped all over the floor (we’re doing no clothes, underwear are just too distracting for her for some reason). We have potty seats in our living room and her bedroom for quick access and a reminder to her but she just plays with them. She has always followed us into the bathroom and watches us go. We have a “potty bell” so she knows it’s time to at least try to go. I push liquids, lots of watered down juice and milk and it is amazing how long she will hold 3 sippy cups of fluid! I bought M&Ms and I’ve had no reason to give her any so I started giving her one just for sitting on the toilet to maybe get her excited about it and no luck.

We’re being consistent. I just don’t know what we’re doing wrong, I mean she obviously doesn’t like peeing in her diaper or the floor but doesn’t realize there’s only one other alternative. The only thing I’ve noticed is she knows that if she can hold it long enough she will get a pull up at night, I figure she will eventually start holding it through the night like she did with nap plus I have a small washer and it takes 5 loads of laundry to wash everything on her bed or basically all day. Please tell me this will get better or I’m not doing it right. And I’m sorry if this is something you’ve covered I’ve searched the archives and couldn’t find anything like this.

Frustrated With The Potty

Oh, potty training! It really is the worst. And from where I sit, with two potty-trained children down and one still in diapers whom I have no intention of pushing out of diapers ANYTIME soon, things are actually going pretty typically for you. Yes, you hear story after smug story about kids who trained in a day or five days, but the reality is that it can really take a few weeks before you even hit the first “lightbulb” moment. Some people will probably chime in and say that your daughter is just too young, but she’s so borderline and showing enough signs of awareness/communication and you’ve put in a solid week of “being consistent” already, so I’d encourage you to keep with it. You’ve done all this work and by giving up and going back to diapers, you may very well be setting yourself up for an even bigger battle later, because she’ll know you will give up eventually if she doesn’t cooperate.

The whole “holding it” problem is a VERY common one (and there’s no single magic bullet solution for it, I’m afraid), but it’s actually — really and truly — a sign that your daughter IS ready to train. She CAN control her bladder and “where” she does and she can keep herself dry. You just have to get her to work through whatever other side issues she’s got going on that are keeping it from being a seamless transition from diapers to potty. (“Seamless transition” being the Mythical Flying Unicorn of potty training, by the way.) She might be scared of the potty (also common), she might be simply testing you in a battle of wills (OH YOU BET THAT’S COMMON), or she might simply not grasp the benefits of what you’re trying to do and need some baby-steps rewards in the meantime.

So I would continue doing what you’re doing, with a couple possible tweaks:

1) Put her back in underwear, distracting as they may be. Start talking up her “dry pants” Ask about her “dry pants.” Praise the freaking heavens out of her dry pants and make a big deal out of her dry pants. DRY PANTS! You can even give M&Ms or stickers for dry pants at first. Then do one reward for dry pants but TWO rewards for actually “going.” Warn her when she sits (or refuses to sit) on the potty that she needs to go or else she’ll have “wet pants,” and wet pants are SAD and NO FUN. (Not “bad” or “naughty.”) Since she hates being wet in a diaper, see how she reacts to a 10-minutes-after-a-potty-break accident in her big girl pants that you’ve spent ALL DAY praising her for. She (hopefully) won’t like it one bit, and in my experience, the accidents-while-clothed tend to have more impact than a mess on the floor.

2) Give her some responsibility post-accident. She needs to put her own soiled underwear in the hamper or laundry; she should help you mop up the mess on the floor. This isn’t some manual-labor shamefest or anything. Just be matter-of-fact about it that big girls need to clean up their toys and their potty messes, and hey! Next time, right? Next time we’re gonna get this stuff in the potty! DRY PAANNNNTS!

3) Pick a single potty style/location and stick with it. This isn’t anything you’re doing “wrong,” exactly, just a different approach. We NEVER had any luck with having multiple free-standing potty seats, for whatever reason. I think they just confused my kids more than anything. They watched us use the real toilet, but here! You pee in this small modified bucket thing in the dining room. Once we switched exclusively to the Baby Bjorn seat adapter on the full-sized toilets, we actually saw some progress. Your mileage may vary, of course: If your daughter seems scared of the real toilet, by all means stick with a small potty chair. Just move it into the bathroom (that’s where you want her to go, after all, and where you’ve been modeling all this time). Use the “dry pants” prompts as a reminder to her instead of the seat itself.

4) Get a good waterproof mattress pad for her bed, and consider covering her pull-up with a waterproof diaper cover or nighttime training pant. Accidents — especially at night, when she’s likely too young physiologically to keep herself dry even if she WANTS to — are par for the course. I’m sorry, for you and your overtaxed washer. Keep as little bedding and as few toys on her bed as the weather and her comfort allows.

5) Give yourselves a break. Does she have any other regular childcare provider? A babysitter, Grandma or some other “favorite” relative? Have them come watch her while you and the hubs go see a movie. (Argo is excellent!) Give them the rundown on your potty training approach and have them continue it. When your daughter sees that oh, EVERYBODY is going with the potty-training new world order, something might click and you’ll see some success. (Or even if it doesn’t work, hey, you guys got out of the house and away from the puddles and the tears for a few hours.)

Don’t give up! It’s always darkest before dawn — or maybe just the dampest. Your daughter’s breakthrough a-ha! moment could be right around the corner. Don’t beat yourself up because it’s taking longer than you thought — this is just the not-so-fun reality of what potty training looks like in the real world, for lots of kids and parents.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Myriam
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Myriam

Frustrated With The Potty, I’m right there with you! My daughter is 22 months old, and has been showing a lot of signs of being ready since June. We have not started to “potty-train”, but we are encouraging her to sit on the potty before bath, and at each diaper change. She had no patience for it and will hop off in a matter of seconds. I work full-time and I did not ask the daycare provider to start that yet. We got lucky over the week-end when she actually peed in the toilet (we use the big one with… Read more »

Andrea
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Andrea

One thing that worked well for my son, was that when he did actually go in the potty (even if it’s just a drop or two)….we made a HUGE deal out of it. We called every grandparent and he got to tell them what a big boy he was. They all got so excited for him, told him how proud they were, etc, etc. He was so proud of his accomplishment that he just wanted to keep doing it. M&Ms also worked, but I think the phone calls were the tipping point for him and it was smooth sailing after… Read more »

MR
Guest
MR

She tells you when she pees, doesn’t like a wet diaper, she is soooooo ready. So, don’t listen to the naysayers. But, ready does not mean it happens right away. She is holding it because it can be scarey for little kids and she doesn’t quite understand. Keep doing what you are doing. Have her sit on the potty every 30 minutes. Our deal was sit and try, and then get off. (yes, it usually resulted in her peeing two minutes after she got off the potty) At some point you WILL catch some pee in there and you can… Read more »

cassie
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cassie

I’m gonna be the one person telling you NOT to sit her on the potty! My son (just shy of three and trained for a whopping 2 months now! heh.) showed all the same signs of ready. So hubby and I tried the plenty of juice, regular undies, plenty of timed tries, etc, etc. It was a horrible mess and the three of us ended the weekend frustrated beyond belief. The next day… we talked to him about the potty. We explained we’d try again in a month or so. No more timers, no more excessive juice, no more messes… Read more »

Karlei
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Karlei

Oh man, kids are so different I hesitate to share my experience, but we had something so similar happen with the holding, so here goes. My son would go forever without peeing. In the entire time we were initially trying to potty-train(weeks! months!) we only had three accidents in undies. He knew he would get a pull-up at nap and one at night and he’d just hold it until then. And then it was a lake of pee! Trying to make him sit on the potty was an epic battle of screaming and thrashing. He was also completely immune to… Read more »

Olivia
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Olivia

One thing that made me realize my daughter wasn’t really ready was that she earned one sticker like that and then after told me she didn’t want anymore stickers or prizes. *sigh* She’s a stubborn one.

M
Guest
M

In response to Amalah’s answer: word. When I potty-trained my son, I was sort of surprised that people do not talk more about how hard (and messy and gross and upsetting and MESSY) the whole process is. Good luck. For us, the major challenge, as Amalah indicates, was finding the right incentive and reward.

Karen
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Karen

I’m going to be a naysayer here. My daughter did the same thing as yours at 20 months. Holding it, didn’t like to pee in her diaper, etc. But she was not mentally ready. Rewards, cleaning up, whatever – it made no difference to her. So we stopped all mention of the potty, M&M’s whatever. It just wasn’t worth the power struggle. Then just about at her third birthday we stripped her naked, put a potty on the floor in the living room and turned on a movie. It took 3.5 hours, but she finally went over, sat down, and… Read more »

Becky
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Becky

My daughter day trained at 22 months. 

We did two things differently: only use the big potty (because kids potties are gross to me) and blueberry trainers. Expensive but worth it!  They feel like underwear but actually hold pee so you aren’t cleaning carpet, couches etc. but they get WET just like real undies. 

Meaghan
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Meaghan

I am a naysayer. I don’t think she is as ready as she seems. She is definitely showing signs of readiness, but not quite there. The active resistance is the thing for me — you really don’t want this to become a power struggle. Amy offered some really good tips, but if it were me, I would just table it until after the holidays (it’s just so hectic to have potty training going on too) and then follow her strategy. Or depending on where you are, even wait until the weather is a little bit warmer – it is so… Read more »

Brooke
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Brooke

I agree with Meaghan. This sounds like a power struggle to me, and one that you will lose with a 22 month-old. No one has control over her bladder but her. Use the great tips Amy gave you in a few months.

Olivia
Guest
Olivia

My daughter was like Karen’s above; showed all the signs of being ready for months, but when we tried at 21 months she simply wasn’t ready. We went a full two weeks with no diapers, timers, rewards, etc and she only made it in the potty twice. So we went to pull ups which she could change herself when they were wet. And I think all the stuff we did to encourage her made things worse because it was another 6 months before she was ready to try again. It was just too much pressure.  The second time we tried… Read more »

Olivia
Guest
Olivia

Also want to add that I’ve heard from various sources that stopping potty training and taking it up again later is perfectly fine. It’s better to stop and try again than to turn it into a battle with lots of yelling and/or tears. Yours or the child’s, because as much as you try to be chill about it, if you are frustrated the kid will probably sense it.

Karen
Guest
Karen

Olivia – I think you and I have the same kid. 🙂

Meg
Guest
Meg

I know everyone has a book or a technique that they swear by, but I wanted to put a word in for Oh Crap Potty Training, by Jamie Glowacki. She’s got a website and an e-book, and it all made a ton of sense to me, and really seems to fit in with your approach so far. I agree with everyone else here – you’ve got a good start, so don’t go back now. It will be over soon!

Jill
Guest
Jill

I, too, say wait and try again.  My friend first tried with her daughter at about your daughter’s age and it was super frustrating on both ends.  She gave up and when she tried again three months later it was a cake walk.   Going with every kid is different: my oldest didn’t even start until 3 and then we just went with it.  He was excited about the potty and pez was our reward of choice.  But even then he had *a lot* of accidents.  It took months, honestly.  But I have other friends with boys who had the… Read more »

Brigid Keely
Guest

FWIW, I have a 3 1/2 year old boy. He’s about 99% potty trained. As distracting and potentially tangling as underpants can be, they helped him remember to use the potty. He was far more likely to pee on the floor when fully naked than when in underpants.

Natalie
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Natalie

My daughter only started the potty training process about a month ago…at 3 y 9 m. before that she fought us like a cat trapped in a sack. Refused everything…bribes, rewards, begging…nothing worked she just wasn’t interested. Then one day a month ago my mom off handedly said something about yeast infections in the vicinity of my daughter and my daughter flipped out. She decided her grandma was talking about her getting an infection because of her diaper. She pulled that sucker off, marched into the bathroom, sat on the potty and went. AND WE ALL JUST STARED AT HER… Read more »

Kira
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Kira

I really try hard not to give advice, so I will just pass on the piece of wisdom that my grandmother gave me when we started potty training. She told me that by the time the kids move out, they will use the toilet. (I will also add that for my daughter, a “hands off” approach worked much better for us. She’s ‘day trained’ and 30 months. Every kid is so different.)

Bonnie
Guest
Bonnie

A friend trained her 20 month old using Oh Crap! Potty training (http://www.jamieglowacki.com) in a week, and after spreading the word I know several others who have had success as well. I swear, it’s the first time I’ve ever read a parenting book and everything has actually worked the way it’s supposed to. My 21 month old has been out of diapers for a month and a half, including (more recently) at night. 21 months is absolutely not too young to train. There is a strong case to be made, actually, for potty training sooner rather than later. Diapering for… Read more »

Lindsay
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Lindsay

Thanks for posting this! My barely 19-month-old daughter just this weekend spontaneously decided to sit on her potty and pee in it. We’d had the potty a few weeks, and she’d sat on it fully clothed, but we hadn’t even talked about trying to get her to pee in it yet. We only got the potty because she had just learned the word for the big one, and we just wanted her to be used to seeing hers, so that some months down the road it wouldn’t be strange. Since then she’s pooped in it once, and peed a second… Read more »

S
Guest

Does your daughter have any toys/dolls/stuffed animals that she really likes?  Our daughter is a bit older (27 months) but loves showing her stuffed animals how it’s done.  So at least one will come with us whenever we go and hang out and “wait.”  She loves to announce to them when she’s all done, then show them how she wipes, washes her hands, etc.  

MsHuisHerself
Guest

The best practical tip I read for when you’re working on nighttime dryness (of course, after my two were done with all this) was to double-make the bed. Basically make the bed with (waterproof) mattress pad & bottom sheet & top sheet. Tuck in the top sheet around the edges. THEN COVER IT ALL WITH ANOTHER WATERPROOF MATTRESS PAD and continue with bottom sheet, top sheet, blankets, etc. as normal. Then, if/when your kid does have an accident in the night, you can just pull off the soiled bits and the topmost mattress pad, and VOILA! An already made (and… Read more »

Susan:)
Guest
Susan:)

I don’t think she’s too young. Both my nieces were using the toilet by that age. But I kept them in diapers too. No power struggles. If they went in the diaper, fine. If they told me they had to go we went to the toilet. They were already used to the toilet because we started sitting them on it as soon as they could sit up! That way the toilet was never a strange, scary new thing for them. We did try putting them in undies at this age, because they showed every sign of being ready, hated going… Read more »

Lizzie
Guest
Lizzie

I know this post is a few days old but just wanted to add my experience…my 2.5 year old was exactly as you described around her 2nd birthday. And we had a baby on the way, so we went for it. I put her in underwear, and she refused to go on the potty. But she also didn’t like peeing on herself, so she ended up holding it a lot and then not completely emptying her bladder even when she did have accidents. The result was a terrible bladder infection that took 2 rounds of antibiotics to clear because even… Read more »

VG
Guest
VG

I am totally feeling your pain OP. My daughter is 2 1/2, have been trying for months to get her to potty train. Bought pull-ups, no more diapers, I have piles of panties just waiting in the drawer for her and we’re all about the hit & miss. She LOVES the sticker rewards, but that doesn’t seem to get through. I put her in panties the other day since we were home together, and she did good for most of the day, until 3 – 5 p, we had 3 accidents in the span of 2 hours, I wanted to… Read more »

cassie
Guest
cassie

Well, the first thing I’d do is make sure not to make a big deal about the accidents and lying. Just keep it neutral. “Ok, we had an accident, let’s get cleaned up and we’ll do better next time” and that’s it. But yeah… a lot of it is just suffering through the clean ups with the thought in the the back of your head that it just HAS to get better eventually, right? (It does! It really does! It just takes time. Hang in there.)

Mai
Guest
Mai

We had a slightly different approach, that work well for us, so I thought I’d share, in case anything resonates with you about it. (just read it back, and wrote a novel, sorry) My daughter starting ‘telling’ us that she needed to go at about 14 months – she didn’t have words yet, but she would pull on her diaper or do this funny squat thingy before she needed to go, and then be upset with a dirty diaper. She also was dry after almost every nap, but would need to go soon after waking up. When he was 15… Read more »

Manda
Guest
Manda

Jumping in here and onto the ‘if she’s telling you she’s ready then she’s ready’ band wagon.  My good friend’s son showed interest in the potty at around 18 months but his pediatrician said it was too early so they stopped.  Fast forward now to him being three next week and even the coolest fancy elmo potty will not keep his interest and the potty training battle gently rages on. I would also like to insert here that not all that long ago (50+ years) in this country (and currently in most of the rest of the world), most babies were potty… Read more »

KelleyD
Guest
KelleyD

Goodnites brand makes awesome pee pads for beds. They have adhesive on the four corners so they don’t shift and bunch. Kind of pricey, but Target frequently on sale and coupons for them too. They have been the lifesaver with our oldest. We hit age 6 with him stil being in a pull-up overnight (again goidnites brand) because he always wet the bed. and quite y I was tired of spending the money in them. I bought one more pack of the pull ups and yold him when it was gone we were done with them. And apparently going cold… Read more »