The toddler years are also the time when the dreaded toilet training takes place. But fear not, there is a great little book with the rhapsodic title Toilet Training in Less Than a Day. It has specific, helpful instructions, but don’t be fooled. I’ve never known anyone who actually did the whole thing in one day. I used all the ideas, but my kids usually took at least a week, with accidents happening occasionally long afterwards. I set aside several days for the actual teaching because it took intense and constant effort. By the time my later kids came along, I was tired of the whole process and thought I would just wait till they went to kindergarten and saw how the other kids did it. As I look back, I’m pretty sure my two oldest girls trained our two youngest.
The most important thing to remember is do this when the child is ready and not before! Each child will be ready at different ages, and girls are primed sooner than boys are. If they’re not ready, all the effort in the world will make no difference and will only leave them frustrated and you exhausted from cleaning up messes. Children give you clues about their readiness in several ways, including just telling you. It’s hard to describe but if you are tuned into your child, you will probably sense when he is physically equipped to control his body to this extent.
But I have to tell you about a horrible example of what not to do. I knew a woman who once told me she trained her kids as soon as they turned a year old. I was amazed and asked how that was possible. She said, “I take off their diapers and every time they make a mess, I spank them. They learn pretty quick.” I was appalled and it was all I could do not to report her. So don’t do that.
Here are some elements of the training according to the book:
- Buy a child’s small toilet and let him get used to sitting on it in the bathroom for several days in advance. Some children get nervous when they see this seat and won’t have anything to do with it. Just be patient, don’t push it, and eventually they’ll get used to the idea. I don’t recommend using a seat that goes over the big toilet, although it works for some people. I found, however, that it was too scary what with the height and the void underneath and the loud flushing sound to be helpful.
- Get a baby doll that wets and show the child how it wets over the toilet. Then praise and hug the doll.
- On the day when you’re seriously ready to start, give the child lots of liquids--things that they’re not usually allowed to drink, like sodas.
- Either put the child in pull-ups or leave him bare-bottomed. Plan to spend the day together in the bathroom, reading, playing and drinking. When you can tell something is coming, quickly put him on his toilet just before, or sometimes during the process.
- Every time he goes in the toilet, even partially, make a big production out of it with clapping and hugging. One of my little boys used to say, “I went hallelujiah!”
- Along with all the clapping and hugging, give him M&Ms each time. It’s called positive reinforcement.
On subsequent days, you won’t have to spend the whole time in the bathroom, but keep up the celebrations and M&ms whenever he’s successful. Involve the whole family in the jubilee by giving all the kids M&Ms. Then you get the added support of the peer group, which is considerable.
This success may be sporadic at first, but it will get better. Be prepared that it may take all your time and energy for a while. As little boys get older, it may help to watch Dad in the bathroom, but don’t encourage them to use the big toilet until they can reach over the edge. When they are big enough to do that, it helps to put a cheerio on the bowl and let them aim for it. Otherwise they don’t watch what they’re doing and I don’t have to tell you the result.
Frankly, the whole operation is pretty gross and will probably go on longer than you’d like, but having spent days mucking out the house, not much else in life will get you down. I believe this is one of the reasons women are so down to earth and practical; they’ve been up to their elbows in offal.
For example, one mother took her young son to the park halfway through the training process. He was wearing pull-ups but he was so involved in playing that he didn’t tell her he had to go. The next thing she knew, there was poop all over the playground equipment, and she had to clean it up with a box of wipes in the car. There was no one else there, thankfully, but she says it was still one of the worst experiences of her life. I’m sure every mother has her own similar story, which is why mothers are so unflappable at work. What’s an office crisis or two compared to a playground full of poop?