My Secret to Potty Training Success
How letting go of potty training expectations taught me a valuable lesson in parenting
I’ve always valued being in control. I plan well in advance, and pay attention to details. So maybe I’m just a little OCD about certain things. Take coffee mugs: I like specific ones for specific days. Monday mugs are for Mondays, and so on. To counteract my husband’s habit of grabbing mugs willy nilly I made a rotation chart, complete with photos, and taped it to the inside of the cabinet.
Given my control-freak tendencies, I was confident that when it came to potty training my son, Gunne Bear (his nickname), things would go according to plan. I would simply take away his diapers, let him run around naked, and when he started to pee on the floor, my husband or I would race him to the potty. A few days and we’d be done, I was sure of it.
What I hadn’t counted on is the fact that I am not in control of my son’s bladder—he is.
The first day we had a few accidents. Nothing major, just some pee on the floor. Nothing actually made it into the potty because he simply stopped peeing the second he saw me make a move toward him. The second day we had no accidents but, again, nada in the potty; he waited until nap time to let loose in the diaper he was wearing.
This drove me insane. I tried talking to Gunne Bear about it. “Honey, pee-pee goes in the potty,” I explained. “No potty,” he answered, firmly, despite the fact that before we started training, he was all for it. Bribes didn’t work. At one point, he suggested that perhaps we should pay him for using the toilet, and I was nearly desperate enough to try it.
I confidently informed my husband that this was a battle of wills and that I, the older, wiser, and more experienced participant, was sure to win. Who cares how long it took? I had all summer and lots of floor cleaner. Inside, however, I was terrified that Gunne Bear was going to develop bad habits and simply hold it all day, every day, for the rest of his young life.
On the third day of training, we made a trip to my parents. We stuck a piddle pad on the car seat, tossed the potty seat into the trunk, and strapped in our pant-less kid; we were going to take our potty show on the road. When we got there, three hours later, we discovered he hadn’t wet the car seat. Great! Surely he would go potty, or he would burst. We said hi to my parents, plunked the training seat on a toilet, and sat him down.
We placed him on the potty multiple times throughout that day, without a single tinkle. My entire family watched with bated breath. Everyone tried to encourage him to go—my parents, my brother, his fiancé. We even had him watch the dogs pee in hopes that it would help him along.
Gunne Bear held it that day for 12 solid hours. By then, we were about to head home, so I decided to give him a quick bath before we left. Bingo! The second he was in the tub, he visibly relaxed as he released his super-human bladder. I waved the white flag; obviously I was not in control of this situation.
The next day, I totally changed my approach. Instead of my informing him it was time to use the potty, I decided to stay silent and let him come to me. It took a few days for him to let me know he was game to try. “Go pee-pee potty,” he said, four of the most lovely words ever.
Were there accidents? Of course. There was also a lot more success, and a lot less anxiety on my part. This method took a couple of months, rather than the few days that I’d envisioned, but we got there in the end. What I learned is something that Gunne Bear reminds me day after day: I can help him make the right decisions in life, but he still has to be the one to make them.
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