The Great Potty Debate: Follow Your Child’s Lead
You can drag a kid to the potty, but you can't make him pee
Please note: This is an opinion piece and is not intended to reflect the views of BabyZone.
If I hear one more expert purport to lay out, in excruciating detail, the surefire way to potty train my resistant three-year-old child, I’m going to lose it.
Here’s the back story, the story that’s fueling my irrational, potty training rage: My three-year-old son Casey won’t toilet train. He’s the baby of the family. And although he has his two older siblings and his parents to positively role model proper peeing and pooping behavior, he won’t budge.
He can pee on the potty and he does so when he thinks it will garner him the most attention, like when we’re in a restaurant, a store (when we have a full grocery cart), or at an apple orchard that only has a stinky sani-can in which Casey insisted his father stay with him for nearly 15 minutes.
We’ve provided an ample series of positive incentives, including offering M&Ms after each success with the whole family singing (in a tune cribbed from Blue’s Clues): “Casey peed in the potty. Casey peed in the potty. Casey peed in the pot—ty and that’s real—ly great!” But he refuses to do so on any reliable, regular basis.
He has placed calls to family members on various occasions to tell them how he peed on the potty to much ebullient praise.
He and I picked out “cool kid” underpants with Spiderman on them. Daddy and Mommy told Casey how Spiderman is so proud of him that he’s ready for big boy underpants and that Spiderman doesn’t like to be peed or pooped on. Nonetheless, Spiderman got the full potty treatment. Multiple times.
We’ve had Casey walk around for days in just underpants, cleaned up his mistakes, and reminded him that it was time to sit on the potty. But after two or more reminders, Casey would shout, “No! No potty!” and hide in the corners of the house to do his business. The entire endeavor was a fight, from trying to chase him down and plop (or coax) him on the potty, to following him around and inquiring whether he needed to pee yet. By the end of the first day, Casey didn’t even want to be in the same room with me.
No matter that we have potties and potty seat inserts in the bathrooms, as well as potty books prominently placed on the back of the toilets. It makes no difference to him. In fact, Casey will often request that we read one of the potty books we own, though he doesn’t exhibit any interest in recreating the scenes in the books in his own life.
So we have backed off. We have tried to de-emphasize the subject of potty training and figure that when he’s ready, he’ll just do it.
Then the illustrious television psychologist, Dr. Phil McGraw, comes along with a magic potty training plan. He stirs everyone up with this so-called amazing, surefire solution for all toilet training resisters so that those of us with, shall we say, late trainers, are publicly shamed, made to feel that we parents are at fault for our children’s refusal to train, that we can somehow make our kids move the contents of their bowels into a porcelain receptor with a few techniques.
One day I visited the good doctor’s website to get a gander of his much extolled, six-step plan entitled, Potty Train Your Child in One Day. After I stopped laughing, I read it. It boils down to this: Buy a doll that wets, have your child teach the doll to use the potty, throw a huge “potty party” when the doll successfully pees, then put your own kid in underpants and throw him or her a potty party when he or she succeeds. Sure, I’ll admit, there are some interesting tips here, techniques that may well work with some kids. It’s pretty creative, I’ll give it that.
But here’s my beef: It’s promoted as if this will work for every child, regardless of that child’s situation in life, regardless of what motivating factors are present in the child’s mind. In the process of training my fraternal, boy-girl twins, my husband and I used the exact same techniques with both children simultaneously. However our son Jonah was clearly not ready to use the toilet. His twin sister Abbey successfully finished potty training nearly a full year before Jonah. It didn’t faze Jonah a bit that his sister was wearing big girl underpants while he was still in diapers. Made no difference at all.
A kid’s potty training success can be nudged along and influenced by parental attitudes, that’s for sure. But in the end, it’s really up to each child to decide for him or herself when that magic no-diapers time will be. The successful completion of the potty training process is something that belongs to my kids, not me. I am not a failure as a parent because, at this point in Casey’s life, he wants to retain his diapers. I can offer all the incentives in the world, but if he doesn’t want to cooperate, I’m outta luck.
I can sum up my philosophy in one succinct sentence: You can drag a kid to the potty, but you can’t make him pee. If you think you can Dr. Phil, be my guest.
This is just half of the potty issue! Please see The Great Potty Debate—One Mother’s View: Potty Trouble or Power Struggle? for a different view of potty training.
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