Thursday, July 23, 2009

Potty Training Trials

Four boys into parenting, I'm convinced that you can't teach a child to go on the potty. Of course, if you've been around awhile, you probably already know that I don't think you can teach a child anything.

You can facilitate a child's learning. You can provide materials and answer questions. You can even show him how something is done. But to say you can teach him something -- which many people seem to define as getting a child to do what you want him to do, when you want him to do it -- seems to ignore the basic fact that the child is part of the equation as well.

I can throw all the information and knowledge in the world at a kid, but if he's not developmentally, emotionally, cognitively or physically ready to receive it, he's not going to "learn" a darn thing.

Which brings me to potty training.

There are a million sites and books out there that will tell you how potty train your son. (OK, maybe not a milllion -- but I'm willing to get it's a million dollar business!). How to potty train in one day. How to potty train in three days. How to potty train the resistant child. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

But none of them, my friend, can tell you how to potty train your son.

I'd like to tell you that I have potty training boys all figured out. And if I'd stopped at Boy #3, I could make a pretty good case for it. After all, Boy #3 was completely trained -- day and night -- before he was two years old.

Fortunately, by Boy #3, I was already experienced enough in the ways of boys to know that his success had absolutely nothing to do with me. When, at the age of one-and-a-half, he showed an interest in sitting on the potty, my first instinct was, No, I am not doing this now. My oldest son had shown an early interest in potty training -- which fizzled out after we pushed too hard and turned into a three year battle of the wills. I waited longer with Boy #2 and had better results. I did not plan to start down that disastrous road again.

But what are you going to do when your eighteen-month old son asks to sit on the potty? Say no? Of course not. So I let him try. He peed. And that was about the end of that.

Boy #4, on the other hand, turns three-and-a-half this week. He's not yet potty trained. He can pee on the potty, and will on occassion, but generally speaking, he's not interested, and that's quite OK with me.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, most boys (and girls) are daytime potty trained between the ages of three and four. (Which, for the record, clearly means that some are not.) After age five, most girls and 75% of the boys stay dry at night.

Not surprising, really, when you consider that boys' brains mature at a different rate than girls'. And when you consider individual variation -- which the books and experts never seem to address -- it's not surprising that Boy #3 was potty trained early while Boy #4 is still working on it. Boy #3 has always and forever mastered physical skills at an early age. He walked early, ran early and learned to ride a training wheel-less bike by age four. Boy #4, on the other hand, has always been a little late as far as physical milestones. They're both on track -- just different people.

So throw away the books and forget about the experts. Look at your son and follow his cues. He'll teach you everything you need to know.

As for me -- I'm going to go change a diaper.

What do you think? Can potty training be taught? What worked for you and your sons?


  1. At 2 1/2 (and after much fanfare during the preceding month), we moved PL from diapers to regular underpants all in one fell swoop. Within two days he was dry nights and within 5 he was using the toilet without fail.

    Don't get me wrong, those first 3 days were something else. I did more laundry that week than I think I ever have since.

    I can't say it would work with every kid (PL was a very compliant little guy - very eager to please), but it worked for him and no one got angry or felt bad in the process.

    Good luck and happy days to you and you #4.

  2. Hi,

    I'm new to your blog.

    I completely agree with you about "facilitating" not teaching your child.

    I've been homeschooling for 11 years, and that's how I describe my role.

    Your son looks so erudite on the pot. He knows what he's doing all right.

  3. Obi-Mom -- Maybe you just have more stamina than I do!

    Kristin -- Glad you found us! How old are your children? What I love most about that pic is the fact that my three-year-old is "reading" Newsweek. He might not have potty training downpat, but by golly, he's up-to-date with what's going on in the world! :)

  4. Cody was 3 1/2 when he finally used the toilet consistently. We got *a lot* of remarks from friends, family, and strangers about his "lateness" (which probably wasn't helped by the fact that he was big for his age, and many assumed that he should behave according to his size, instead of his age or maturity level). I will admit, thought, that there were some days I worried that we'd be sending him off to college in pull-ups ;D

  5. Oh, I totally agree. I tried to get ds1 to use a toilet too young (for him, and mainly because he 'had' to go to nursery) and he's still not dry at night (age 7) Such a waste of energy! Ds2 was more interested in using the toilet, but I hung off for ages becasue I had no intention of fighting another loosing battle. Just after he turned 3 he was truly ready and was dry day and night within a few weeks.
    I also agree that if a child doesn't want to learn he won't. Happily my boys both like to learn, especially since I've had them at home!
    Like another reader I've just 'found' you and am glad I have!!

  6. I'm a first time visitor to your blog and must say that I like it a lot! I'm the mom to 3 boys so I agree with you completely. They'll do it when they're ready. Boy #1 wasn't until he was 3 1/2. Boy #2 was a few days before his 3rd birthday, I kind of gently pushed that one. And boy #3 is showing an interest now at 2 years 3 months. I just blogged about our first success...

    Good luck with the potty training. My best trick was to put boy #2 in underwear under my controlled environment (tile floor in kitchen), let him "help me wash the dishes" and as soon as his hands hit the warm soapy water, he peed. I said "uh oh, next time let's use the potty" and he never went back to diapers.

  7. When I hear "potty training" I think of training the parent to take the child to the potty. I was forced to train my oldest by 3 yrs. to conform to a preschool's rule. For my second son, I decided he would lead. He was not completely (#1 & #2) trained until 4.5 yrs. He has never had an accident and has the highest self-esteem of any child I know.

  8. Great post Jenny. My son will turn 3 in a matter of days (July 29)...and I haven't even begun potty training. I can tell that he simply isn't ready...and I'm fine with that. He comes into the bathroom with his father and myself...he knows what were doing...but when we attempt to put him on the potty...he can't be bothered.

    I enjoy how your post doesn't "judge" or "condemn" those who don't force their kids to potty train at a certain age. I'm his mother...and if it doesn't bother me that I'm still changing diapers...then it shouldn't bother anyone else. I've never been one to listen to any kind of authority anyway...especially when it comes to my child. More often than not, I'm the one telling his pediatrician what he needs.

  9. Welcome to all the new faces -- and thanks for sharing your stories!

  10. Hi - I just found your blog and am really enjoying it. My son showed an interest in sitting on the little potty when he was two, but since we had just brought home a new baby, I wasn't into being all gung-ho about it. So he went on the potty every night before his bath for a year, and then right before he turned three, we got a little more serious about it. He was completely potty trained in a matter of weeks (poop on the potty took a bit longer), and has never wet the bed - he always got up even at the beginning. I was amazed.

    I do have a question - he is about to be five in a few months, AND he is very short for his age. His dad is in a big hurry to teach him to pee standing up, but I think there is no rush - especially since I don't think he is tall enough to do it effectively. At what age/height did your boys begin standing up? Please give me some input, hubby and I have this disagreement every few months.

  11. Oh, plus after trying all sorts of rewards - stars on a chart, tiny toys, etc., the one thing that really motivated my son was M&Ms. A bribe I would NEVER employ in any other situation, but it really did the trick.

  12. Hi Deb -- Welcome! All of my boys started sitting down on the potty but eventually "graduated" to standing up (most of them after watching their older brothers). My three-and-half yr. old actually stood up to pee in the potty last night before his bath. I'm not sure how tall your son is, but some things that always helped us were raising the toilet seat (removes about a half in. of obstruction and helps them get closer) and using a small stool, if necessary.

    If Daddy's really eager to teach him to pee standing up, you might have him take your son to the bathroom when you're out and about as well. Most public bathrooms have urinals, and most little boys love urinals. Plus, there's no seat to get messy. ;)

    As for the mess...I've learned that baby wipes are great for wiping up pee from the toilet and floor.

    Good luck!

  13. We both have potty training posts in the same week... crazy! But, I would have postponed Max's potty training. I mean, really, who needs a newborn and a potty training barely two year old? But he loves the bathroom, pees on command, and sits and poops. Who am I to complain? We'll see how it goes.

  14. Hi I just came across your blog, and just joined up.

    I have a son that is almost 3 1/2. He has never really had much interest in the potty, accept every once in awhile wanting to sit on it. He has never once gone pee on it yet. I have never put him on the potty unless he wants too, and he sometimes goes thur these crying fits when I ask if he wants to sit on it. It seems like he's scared of something I just don't know what that is yet.

    We ahve he's own little potty, beacuse he is scared of the big potty. I have hi flush the toilet all the time so I know he is not scared of that. So I don't know....

    We decided to try underwear so he has been in underwear the last 2 days, and still hasn't gone on the potty. He's just keeps having accidents. I'm trying not to show any frustration, which is really hard. He tells me the pee is stuck and he can't get it out when he is sitting on the potty. He keeps saying he wants the underwear though, but when it comes time to try he will go sit on it sometimes but not everytime. He still sometimes runs and crys about going to try. I don't know if I should keep trying and keep him in he's underwear, or if I should just go back to diapers. He came up to me this morning and asked for his underwear, so we sat down and talked and we are gonna try it again today. He said he wanted to.... So we will see I guess...


  15. So glad this blog is here. Our 4.5 year old DS still won't poop on potty. Is very strong-willed about not going and isn't. Luckily, he is great with #1 but not at night. I often think is he controlling us or just himself ... time will tell. Some folks are very opinionated about a child not being "potty trained". I love my boy!! :o))

  16. Anonymous -- I'm glad you found us. As of this writing, my youngest son is 9 days away from being 4 and still not potty trained. To be fair, he's had some challenges in his personal life in the last year, and maybe that's affected his readiness. Who knows?

    Enjoy your little guy!

  17. I had reached my wits end and decided to find a blog with this very subject that I can relate to. Once I found this blog it was as if a heavenly choir sang and the clouds parted. What a relief it is to find someone who has so much experience and insight to the world of potty training boys. Everyone else I've talked to about it says, "I just did this and it worked." I was jealous of their ease with my current struggles. My nearly 3 1/2 son has gone from peeing on the potty whenever he felt the urge, peeing in a restaurant potty, pooping in the potty to sporadic acts of interest in the potty. I've used stickers and bubbles, which really helped initiate his interest. But now he could take it or leave it. Currently, my son will and won't use the potty. We've recently switched to pull-ups instead of diapers and I'm starting to think this contributed to his regression. Any thoughts on this? It is very frustrating when you think he's grasped the idea, maybe he has and just doesn't like it. Sometimes he's so excited and rushes right over, whereas other times he cries at the very thought of it. Has anyone else ever experienced this?

  18. How frustrating! I would say not to push it for awhile -- both of you sound a little stressed out. Beyond that, try consulting your dr., esp. if his resistance/crying seems to be when he has to poop. Some kids develop constipation issues that quite literally cause pain and dread,and medical help may be necessary. (If this seems like the case, let me know. I can point you toward some more information.) If that's not it -- if it just seems like an interest or desire thing -- you could always try the no-diapers-or-pullups thing for awhile, at least when you're home. I'll be honest: my little guy is now 4 and completely potty trained during the day. But if he wakes up and doesn't take his pullup off right away, he'll occassionally pee in it just b/c it's easier than stopping what he's doing to go to the bathroom.

    Other than that, I'd say express plenty of praise when he goes on the potty, but don't make any kind of big deal about it when he doesn't. Accidents happen, and potty training is very much a forward-and-back process.

  19. potty training requires a lot of patience not just with mommies but the kids too, my son learned it all when he was 4 and the years before that was a mess but full of fun too, watching over him every time he wants to popo and buying those family pack nappies