I’ll admit it- I was terrified to potty-train John. It’s the main reason that I waited until he was over three years old to even attempt it, and I probably would have waited even longer if it hadn’t been for the fact that he needed to be toilet-trained to attend camp this summer. He had absolutely no interest, never told me when he needed to go or had already gone in his diaper, and would have had no problem sitting around in a dirty diaper if I had allowed him (I didn’t). He seemed to have no awareness of his need to go, and I assumed that potty-training would be a challenge as a result.
I postponed toilet-training for as long as I could. He was still within the normal age range, so I didn’t feel like we really needed to force it, and I kept waiting for that a-ha moment with him, when he’d suddenly decide he was ready to abandon his diapers. A friend of mine had told me that her daughter made the decision herself to switch to underwear, and I hoped that John would one day do the same. As the months passed though, it became clear that his toilet-training journey wouldn’t be so easy.
When camp was just two months away, we decided to take the plunge. We had already talked about it and read books about it, but we began counting down the days until we started using the potty. When that first morning arrived, we brought John faithfully to the bathroom every hour, and sometimes even more often, so that he could try. We’d sit beside him and read stories, sing songs, and watch videos, and after a few minutes, when it was clear nothing was going to happen, we took him off the toilet, pulled up his pull-ups and pants, helped him to wash his hands, and then sent him on his way. We went through the entire first day as well as most of the second before our first successful bathroom trip.
I had set up a chart in the kitchen, complete with places to put stickers for each successful trip, as well as stars that marked where he would receive a prize after he had earned ten stickers. He earned one sticker for going number one, and two for number two. He remained enthusiastic about his attempts most of the time, though on occasion, his bathroom trips would end in tears. But knowing that we had a deadline, we pushed through, and nearly two days after starting, we were rewarded for our perseverance.
After John’s first successful trip to the bathroom, he was committed to total success. Though he averaged one accident a day for the following couple of days, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that he was really trying. We sailed through his sticker sheet over the course of a couple of weeks, even adding more opportunities for stickers and prizes when we reached the end of his first sheet. By the time he finished earning all of his prizes (five small Mickey Mouse Clubhouse figurines), I was totally confident in his ability to tell me when he needed to go and to hold it briefly while we got him to the restroom. His final prize before the big test was a stuffed Mickey Mouse, and once he had received that, we moved onto Phase Two.
Phase Two was simple: John needed to have three consecutive days without accidents before we made the switch from pull-ups to real underwear. Once he had done that, Andrew and I took him out for ice cream while he wore brand-new Mickey Mouse underwear beneath his clothes. He had never been so proud of himself, and we couldn’t have been more proud of him. As he sat there eating his ice cream, I was struck by how quickly John was growing up. He was potty-trained. He was willing to try all sorts of new foods, from pulled chicken to pork loin, cauliflower to cheese quesadillas. He was registered to begin a one-day-a-week preschool program in the fall. My little boy wasn’t so little anymore.
From beginning to end, the whole process took about three weeks, though I feel like John was actually ready to switch to underwear after just two (he still had a few more figurines to earn at that point). He’s had a few accidents since then, but during the weeks between then and now, we’ve moved into our first house and went on a one-week vacation to the beach. We know that our gentle method of potty training won’t work for every child, but it did work for John. If you’re getting ready to toilet-train your toddler and you’re reluctant to start with methods that involve using regular underwear right away or going commando for a few days, this might be a great place for you to start!
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!