Monday, November 23, 2009

Sometimes, It's Best to Wait

We've talked about potty training before, so you may already know that my basic philosopy is to follow the child:

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 leads me to @cfoutz. Her blog post, Bringing Back Diapers, should be required reading for anyone thinking of imposing potty training on a child.

Long story short, her 3 1/2-year-old son was willing to sit on the potty for his preschool teacher, but not his parents. He liked his big-boy underwear, but wasn't so crazy about using the potty. So he didn't. For 33 whole hours. He ended up in the emergency room.

All is well -- her little guy peed just after the ultrasound technician scanned his bladder -- and his parents have decided to heed his very loud signals. 3 1/2-year-old boy is now back in diapers.

@cfoutz, of course, felt terrible about the whole thing:

During all of this I was a mess of guilt and frustration. I was crying to my mother that I felt so bad but was doing all I could do. There are just no books for a kid like him. The only books that talk about strong-willed kids talk about discipline or just living with them and understanding them. No one talks about the other things, like the weaning off things, toilet learning, sleeping alone, etc. There are no guides for parents like me.

Don't get me wrong: I think there's a time and place for parental advice columns and parenting books and magazines. As parents, we need all the information we can get. But no book, column, article or expert will ever tell you what your child needs. Your child is the only one who can tell you that, and you, as his parent, are uniquely equipped to interpret his needs. Together, you can find the path that takes him exactly where he needs to go.

Your job is to listen.


  1. This is so well written. The crazy part is, I feel the same exact way. I guess it is just so easy to get caught up in your own hopes and the pressures around you. I wish I were a perfect mother, but I am not and I made this mistake. It was a heartbreaking one and I hope that my experience helps someone else avoid it.

    I am still finding it difficult to navigate as he still doesn't want to pee in diapers. Just tonight he is whining and begging for me to change a dry diaper. After trying to help him understand what he is feeling I did change the diaper, and took some extra time to snuggle.

    With all the pressures and information out there it is really hard sometimes. It is so easy to second guess yourself. I do know that after this event, I am more confident in my self because I have been reminded of the importance of something I felt all along but lost track of... I just have to listen. His is the only voice that REALLY matters.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Crystal (@cfoutz)

  2. I couldn't agree more that we shouldn't force kids. I also think you can help kids stay aware of their body functions and this makes it easy to have kids using the potty regularly from an early age.

    We followed the traditional method of diapers and then introducing the potty when appropriate with the first. He would pee regularly on the potty at 2.5-3, poo at 3-3.5, and he had regular night time accidents until 4-4.5.

    All good, but I have to tell you, we ec'd with our second and I'll never go back. We used diapers, and we gave him the opportunity to use the potty at regular intervals beginning at 3 months. I was a non-believer until our first try landed me a big 'ole baby poo right into the toilet. Can I tell you I have changed a dirty diaper maybe a dozen times in this child's life.

    He just turned two, uses the potty independently to pee all the time and comes and gets us and signs poo so we can help him up on to the seat. We sit with him in the bathroom while he goes. He stays 100% dry at night.

    I'm still in awe. There was never any training, just a continuum of learning. One of the coolest experiences I've had as a parent.