I remember telling people when my son approached 2 years old, “My son is so smart. I really think he’s ready for potty training.” My daughter was five months old at the time and I thought potty training my son before she could crawl or walk seemed like a lot of sense to me. Then all of the advice came. Get a little potty and put it in the family room. It takes three days and then they will learn. Give them stickers. Make him pee on a Cheerio. Post a reward chart in the bathroom. I decided to go with the “three days of naked time at home” method because I thought it was doable.
I will spare you all the details of what happened each day, but let’s just say there are certain spots in my living room that I won’t even sit. Three days of naked time turned into five days because he just wasn’t getting it. Five days turned into seven days. Then 10. I’m not kidding you… I stayed home for 14 days with my 2-year-old prancing around the house naked, staining everything and anything in sight. There was absolutely no progress. I was in tears. I was so frustrated at his “accidents” that each day I dreaded being home. I was convinced he was purposefully peeing on stuff. We weren’t having the fun that we usually had at home together. I was totally failing at potty training my son. I threw in the towel on day 15. I put him back in a diaper (against all the advice that this is the worst thing you can do). It was liberating. I had my son back. He was smiling again. I was laughing again.
For the next 12 months, I asked him to use the toilet only before bath time — and he did. I didn’t bring up the potty at any other time of the day. I continued to change his diaper. I continued to dodge glances from other people wondering why this (very large for his age) boy was still in diapers. I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to push potty training until he was ready.
Two days after my son turned 3, I took advantage of his sense of pride in his new age and told him that 3-year-olds don’t wear diapers. I told him we were going to the store to buy undies and he had to get rid of the diapers. We didn’t do three days of naked time or any of the other “fool-proof” method to potty train. I simply put him in undies and brought him to the toilet every 45-60 minutes. He had a few accidents in the first week, but not many. As the weeks passed, he had fewer and fewer accidents until they were absent. It was one of the easiest things I thought I had ever done.
After three months of mostly perfect pottying, my son started to have 4-5 accidents a day. I didn’t know why. Nothing had changed except the season. He just stopped using the potty. After many weeks Googling the best way to handle it, I decided to again put him back in diapers. It was the only thing I could do to keep my own cool until we figured this out.
I started to try all the advice. I bought a plastic urinal that suctioned to my bathroom wall. I created a rewards chart (he took it down, grabbed a pair of scissors and made confetti). I put drops of food coloring in the potty for him to pee on (sort of helped). Finally, I spent $85 at the dollar store over the course of several weeks to create a grab bag of prizes because stickers were no incentive for him. The grab bag made an impact on him because it would encourage him to stop what he was doing and go use the potty. After three months of potty regression, he started using the potty again every time. Was it the food coloring? Doubtful. Was it the grab bag? Possibly. Was it the fact that he was past this phase of regression and just ready to use the toilet once again? Most likely.
Here’s the thing. I didn’t fail when he was 2 and naked for 14 days. I didn’t potty train him successfully at 3. I didn’t do anything to cause his summertime regression and I also didn’t do anything to get him back to using the potty.
Sure, I presented opportunities to him during each of those times, but it was never up to me. He refused to potty train at 2 because he wasn’t ready. He potty trained at 3 because he was ready. He regressed in the summer because something was telling him that he was no longer comfortable using the toilet and he started using the potty again because he was ready again.
The old saying “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” applies to potty training. All the gimmicks in the world will not work if your child just isn’t ready. I’ve heard fantasy stories where even my friend’s kids found success with the three-day plan or some other method and I contend that it wasn’t the method as much as it was the child’s readiness. This happens at different ages for all children. Mine was 3-and-a-half when he was officially potty trained.
For the record, my daughter was 2-and-a-half when she asked me to buy her undies at the store. With very little effort on my part, she was potty trained immediately. Three months later, she started a regression that I am currently still dealing with, but it’s not bad enough to put her back in diapers. I am finding that I have to go back to taking her to the toilet more often vs. allowing her to decide and tell me. The difference this time is that I know it’s not something she is “doing to me.” She is struggling, for whatever reason, with this process and she will work it out herself.
Changing my mindset has helped me to cope. My kids are potty training themselves. I’m just the janitor.