Potty training; It’s more than just the ones and twos

Change is never easy, and potty training – one of the major milestones in any young child’s life – can be one of the more challenging and frustrating change phases for everyone involved. It is much more than just taking off their nappies and showing them where the toilet is. It is the beginning of the process that will eventually see your child walk out of the door and off into the great wide world on their own. No wonder it can feel so stressful.

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There were three indicators that my daughter was ready to start potty training

  • She started to express an interest
  • She was becoming conscious of the urge, shifting around and fussing when she needed to go.
  • She was regularly waking up with a dry nappy

And there were three good reasons to start potty training

  • She was getting stronger, and at 26 months old, we were fed up with fighting her on the change table.
  • It was summer. Much easier for potty training
  • Her best friend was potty training too, which provided a great peer pressure incentive

We were initially quite fearful as our daughter likes routine, doesn’t like change and expresses displeasure openly, frequently and assertively. In other words she can be a Todzilla.

However the transition to grown-up pull up pants made my daughter happy as she felt like a grown up girl. Equally my wife and I felt an immediate relief and liberation from the dreaded nappies (not to mention happiness at the thought of the expense saved).

However despite these early quick wins, the first two weeks didn’t go very well at all. In fact I would describe them as a disaster.

My daughter found it very difficult and was having accidents all day at nursery and also at home in the evenings. We tried to be patient and adopted the line to never scold an accident, but instead gently reassure and encourage her to get it right the next time. This is difficult though when yet another poo ends up on the kitchen floor.

My daughter became increasingly frustrated, unable to vocalise her angst. In hindsight, and judging by her reactions to each accident, I am also pretty sure she found the whole process quite humiliating – after all, who would want to be seen wetting or soiling themselves in public?

This went on for two weeks. Fortunately we have tiles and exposed floor boards at home in the majority of the family space in the house, so the damage from the many accidents was easily cleaned up. However the emotional scars were much harder to deal with. My daughter still couldn’t work out what was happening and became tense and stroppy.

My wife and I were also frazzled from following her around the house and garden with a potty. I began to hate those words “Do you need to go to the toilet?” which had become a burdensome mantra.

We tried lots of ideas, but even the sticker chart (which we thought would be the failsafe technique given her love for stickers) didn’t work. Each day the situation report from our key worker at nursery made depressing listening. We began to dread the daily briefing of failure and the exchange of yet another plastic bag full of soiled clothes.

Then one day, as we entered the third week of potty training, our nursery key worker pulled us to one side with our daughter, and suggested that it wasn’t working and that we should revert back to nappies. She said my daughter was not ready.

We were gutted.

I was actually at the point where I was also willing to cave in but thank goodness my wife provided the spine on this occasion and argued that we had put so much energy into potty training, and that this was NOT the time to give up.

My wife was also aware that my daughter’s friend had successfully transitioned from nappies to potty pretty easily in the meantime, and this provided further incentive for all of us.

And the very next day something amazing happened.

We were stood in the nursery, explaining our decision to our daughter’s key worker and my daughter toddled off into the bathroom. After a few moments I decided to follow her. When I turned the corner I cried out in amazement! My daughter was sat on the potty, big grin on her face, HAVING A WEE! I could not contain my excitement and called the others in to see. Of course I am not sure this was the right move as it temporarily made my daughter a little shy of her achievement.

However, amazingly she had no more accidents that day, nor the next, nor for many days after that.

By the end of it my daughter had cracked number ones within three weeks and number twos within two months. Accidents, when they did come, were generally during periods of intense play and excitement, when her mind was on something else, but within a couple of months these became incredibly rare. She suffered a couple of viruses in the time, which also seemed to set her back, but generally the learning trajectory was extremely sharp after that initial success.

I look back upon that period with mixed feelings. I was pleased that my wife had been tenacious enough to persuade me to stick with it. I was also proud that my daughter had decided to prove us all wrong, determined to do things in her own time, in her own way; but I also know it was a tough and stressful time, and a time when there were also many other challenges such as teething and sleep issues to deal with.

However, looking back, the overwhelming sense for us all is one of celebrating a victory; for my wife and I it was about having survived one of the key transition phases in early childhood development and for having successfully supported and coached my daughter through it.

But more importantly the victory was for my daughter; my daughter who assertively and confidently took her own decision to take yet another step on the path towards autonomy and independence; for my daughter who took a step closer to understanding and taking control over her own body; for my daughter who became closer to understanding her own needs and shaping her own independent future.

We learnt that potty training is more than just removing their nappies and showing your child where the toilet is. It is about empowerment, trust and preparing your child for the next stages in their life. These are big issues and big concepts, and introducing them so early on in their little lives is bound to cause tension, friction and challenges. And it is no surprise then, that it can feel all consuming.

And as we now stand on the verge of embarking on the potty training process with my son, who will soon embark on his own little war of (nappy) independence, we are preparing and steeling ourselves for a long, and sometimes stressful, journey. We will be prepared for setbacks on the way. We will be prepared for another summer of running around the house with a potty in one hand, and a bottle of disinfectant and brush in the other. We will be prepared for the inevitable accidents.

But ultimately, given what an incredible achievement it is for a child to throw off the lumpy shackles of nappies and to be able to stride confidently, with bare buttocks, out into the big wide world, we will be prepared for our children to (once again) amaze us.

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This post appeared in its original format for a series of guest posts on Potty Training on the @Mummy_loves blog page (thismummyloves.com). Go check it out, there’s some great stuff on there. And why not follow Sonia on Twitter @Mummy_loves, she’s ace!

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