Please note: This is an opinion piece and is not intended to reflect the views of BabyZone.
I wish I had a dollar for ever time I hear how lucky I am to have potty trained both my children before they were 2. But since that won't happen, this is my chance to set the record straight and get myself a bag of hate mail in the process.
For the record, I'm not "lucky." What I am is consistent and determined. Fifty years ago I would have been the mom next door. Today, I'm considered strict. My children are both happy, intelligent, hilariously goofy preschoolers who sleep 12 hours a night in their own beds, say "please" and "thank you," eat the same healthy meals as the adults, and pee in the toilet. Why? Because their father and I expect them to. That's it.
In the wacky world of child-in-charge parenting, a 4-year-old sucking a pacifier and wearing extra-large diapers is considered perfectly okay. And believe it or not, that's fine with me. I honestly don't care what parents choose to do in their own homes. What drives me nuts is hearing them gripe about wiping the bottom of a child that can play video games or how embarrassing it is that their kid can't get into preschool, when they are the ones who are unwilling to do the work it takes to get the job done earlier.
It all comes down to this: Barbie underpants, candy bribes, and Dr. Phil-endorsed Potty Parties do not teach children to use the toilet. Parents do.
Toddlers around 1 1/2 years of age are natural mimics. They love the phone, TV remote, and kitchen tools because that's what they see Mom and Dad using each day. If you jump, they'll jump. Make a face, and they'll make the same one right back. This is the ideal time to introduce the potty, because at this age your children are dying to emulate your every move.
When our girls started showing signs of potty readiness we jumped in head first and never looked back. I dragged the little plastic potty to the playground, stores, and other people's homes and endured the shocked looks at seeing my little girls naked underneath their skirts. (Nudity decreased accidents.) Using the potty became part of their daily routine. Like brushing their teeth at night or getting buckled into the car seat, it was simply expected.
Forgive me for the analogy, but its applicable here: When you house train a dog, you take it outside on a regular schedule. The same goes for kids. If you keep them free of diapers, watch them like hawks for signs of an impending accident, and put them on the potty every hour whether you are at home, the store, a friend's house, church, etc., they will have more and more successes as the days go by. But consistency is the key. Sitting on the potty at these regular intervals is not an option and YOU CANNOT GIVE UP. (On that note, people are also stunned that my dog was house trained in a weekend. When I tell them that I set my alarm to go off every half hour all night long and stood shivering in a snowy backyard until the dog peed, they look at me like I'm crazy. That's funny, because I think it's crazy to put up with a dog that pees on the carpets!)
Let me say it again—YOU CANNOT GIVE UP. I cannot stress this enough because I have heard every half-baked reason why it's not "a good time" to start potty training or why things didn't work out. Everything from the holiday season to new babies to vacations or moving into a new home. Baloney! Are children still expected to eat with a fork or wear a coat outside during the holidays or on vacations? Then why can't they be expected to use the toilet? The real reason is because it was too much trouble for Mommy and Daddy.
And all that trouble is why many parents only make a token effort at potty training or give up when the going gets tough. The truth is that it's easier to pack a few diapers and wipes in a bag than it is to drag a plastic potty everywhere you go and clean up accidents. It's easier to say, "That's OK honey—you go ahead and play," than it is to say, "You can go play after you've sat on the potty for five minutes." And it's much easier to say, "Oh, it's OK baby," than it is to scold an older child for pooping in her pants when she's shown that she's perfectly capable of using the toilet when it pleases her.
On that note, just as the term "picky eater" is a euphemism for a child who successfully manipulates his parents into allowing him to subsist on junk food, the term "potty resistant" is a just a new way to say stubborn. But for some reason, parents are willing to insist that an older child, say, stay out of the street or refrain from hitting, but go all weak at the knees when it comes to expecting a child to defecate on a toilet.
A good parent uses plenty of praise in the course of a day, but sometimes you have to use negative consequences to correct negative behaviors. I'm here to tell you that a child who willfully goes in her pants (please note: not because she's too young to understand, is sick, or because she didn't make it to the potty in time) should experience a negative consequence. I don't care what Freud said; no child is going to wind up on a therapist's couch because mommy took away his action figure or her princess costume for what boils down to lazy, controlling behavior.
Ever wonder why the so called "hard to train" kids miraculously get the hang of it when they start school? It's because teachers send all the kids to the bathroom on a regular schedule and because of peer pressure. Just as they are expected to stand in line in the hallway or sit at the lunch table to eat, children quickly learn that they are expected to use the bathroom, and get treated differently by the other kids when they don't. Hmmm … consistency and expectation ... sound familiar?
Few things in this life are due to luck. Most successes are the direct result of hard work and determination. But that's parenthood, baby. Raising kids is not for wimps!
This is just half of the potty issue! Please see The Great Potty Debate—Another Mother's View: You Can Drag a Kid to the Potty, but You Can't Make Him Pee for a different view on potty training.