“When my son, Andreas, turned 2 last year, well-meaning grandparents and friends started putting some pressure on us to start toilet training him. As several of Andreas’ classmates were also being potty trained then, his playgroup teachers encouraged us to jump on the bandwagon.
We decided to introduce the concept of using the toilet through a book. Though there were plenty of these around, we settled on Potty Hero, a hardcover book which takes a playful, yet practical approach to potty training. It features humorous rhyming text, colourful pictures, plus, reward stickers for when junior goes to the potty.
Andreas loves the book and the easy-to-digest text was soon rolling off his tongue. Taking this as a positive sign, I asked him if he wanted to be a potty hero. “No thanks, I’m good,” he would reply quickly every time, rummaging through his book collection to find another read in an attempt to change the subject.
Then, on the advice of a potty-training book, we decided to give him a “live show”. This meant renouncing every little bit of dignity we had left as human beings as we invited our son to watch us do our business, so that he would model our behaviour.
Our toddler was more than happy to accompany us to the loo, watch us take the “throne” ― live commentary included ― and hand us the towel after we washed our hands. But when we asked, “Would you like to give it try?”, his familiar reply would be, “No thanks, I’m good.”
“We decided to give him a “live show”…. We invited our son to watch us do our business, so that he would model our behaviour.”
What about clothes, I thought. Who can say no to cute underpants? I bought my son a bunch of underthings featuring his favourite superheroes and dinosaurs. I then put them on his stuffed toys and gave him a front-row seat to an underwear fashion show. He thought it was hilarious, but when it was his time to try them on it was a big, resounding “NO!”. “I don’t want to wear underwear, I don’t want to use the toilet!”. This time, his answer was louder and clearer.
I began to worry. How was I ever going to potty train a kid who doesn’t even want to entertain the idea of using the toilet? Was he going to remain in diapers well into his adult life? Who’s going to be his friend or marry him if he does?
I knew my fears were irrational, but it didn’t stop them from popping up in my head now and then. All the parenting books said my kid should be toilet trained by the age of 3, at least during the day. Andreas’ peers were on track, but he was not and it was stressing me out.
I decided there wasn’t much I could do about it and as with everything parenting-related, I just had to be patient. My son was not ready, so I would not push him. He would let me know when he is. And he did – one year later!
A week after his turned 3 in June, Andreas walked up to me one day and said the words I’d been dying to hear for some time now… “Mummy, I want to wear my underwear.” “Yes, of course!” I exclaimed, unable to hide my excitement. And so our potty-training journey has begun.
It’s been a little over a month since we put our son on the path of diaper freedom (which saves us some money along the way). It has been quite eventful if I do say so myself. Here are lessons I’ve learnt to date that you might not find in any potty-training book…
#1 BUY LOTS OF UNDERWEAR Like a lot, a lot. Firstly, because once you go diaper free, you can expect a lot of accidents, so you’ll need a change of underwear in the car, in your diaper bag, in junior’s daycare bag and, of course, at home. Secondly, if your kiddo is anything like mine, he matches his underwear to his mood for that day. One day, he wants his race car underpants, the next, he prefer the Minion print one. Oh, there will also be times when he’ll want to put on the same Batman underwear on consecutive days (I kid you not). So, for the love of God ― and your sanity ― buy duplicates in every design.
#2 DON’T ASSUME JUNIOR WILL “GO” ANYWHERE You know what they say that if nature calls, you have to answer it wherever you are? Well, it’s not always true, especially if you have a little one like mine. While he’s willing to use public toilets and the loo in other people’s houses, Andreas was not impressed when we once stopped our car on the side of a main road and asked him to pee in the bushes. “What!? No!” was my tot’s horrified response. He then proceeded to run the other way, far away from the bushes. Papa had to give chase to our peewee, make a pinky promise that he wouldn’t have to pee in the trees ― ever ― in order to cajole him back into the car. Once safely in, we put diapers on him, so that he would be able to wee freely.
“Potty training is indeed a major milestone in a toddler’s life, one that requires lots of understanding and patience ― they’ll make mistakes and so will you.”
#3 EXPECT SOME EXPLORATION “DOWN THERE” Now that the diapers are off, your little boy has full access to his penis ― and he’s completely fascinated with it. He wants to look at his genitals regularly, tug at them and whip out his member at the most inconvenient of times to share his fascination with others (eeeeek!). Don’t blame him though, at this age, he is oblivious to the notion that his private parts should remain, well, private. Plus, curiosity is perfectly normal for kids his age, it’s how they learn about themselves and the world around them. Just keep reminding him that his “wee wee” is private, so he needs to keep it in his pants.
#4 DON’T STOP ASKING THEM IF THEY NEED TO USE THE TOILET Remember, it’s always better to sound like a broken record and ask your kid if he wants to use the toilet every 10 minutes. Chances are, the one time you don’t ask them is when they actually have to go. This mysteriously always happens five minutes after you’ve started driving. So, keep asking until your tyke rolls his eyes and replies with an irritated, “Why do you keep asking me?”. Then ask again in 10 minutes. It’s also a good idea to get them to use the toilet before you jump on the bus, train or car, even if he protests loudly or objects violently. Bribe if you have to ― it’s much easier than handling an accident in public. Speaking of which…
#5 MAINTAIN YOU CALM EVEN DURING THE MESSIEST ACCIDENT This is a very important lesson I learnt early in our toilet-training journey. Andreas was still learning his bodily cues and wasn’t quick enough to make it to the toilet in time, so he pooped in his pants. When I was cleaning him up, I didn’t expect to come face-to-face with a pile of poop spilling out of his underwear. As I thought my days of handling explosive baby poop were well behind me. I freaked out, whinged, winced and wailed as I cleaned him up. For the next few days, we noticed that our little boy refused to poop unless he was wearing a diaper. He was even hesitant about using the toilet. Didn’t take me long to put two and two together ― how I reacted to his accident had affected him. I apologised to him for the way I had reacted. Thankfully, a few days later, he’d gotten over it and we were back on track.
Potty training is indeed a major milestone in a toddler’s life, one that requires lots of understanding and patience ― they’ll make mistakes and so will you. But don’t give up and don’t beat yourself up about it when it’s taking longer than you thought. Your tot’s “ah ha” moment is just around the corner, I promise.
Take last weekend, for example. Our little family of three had just arrived home from a long day out when Andreas announced that he needed to use the loo. As my hubby and I were exhausted, we told him to give us a minute before we went in to help him.
Next thing we knew, our little one had independently gone to the toilet, flushed, climbed on the stool and washed his hands. The hubs and I looked at each other with a mixture of disbelief and immense pride.
Now, if only our son could make his own lunch…”
Jassmin Peter-Berntzen, 36, SmartParents assistant editor, is mum to Andreas Dhiraj, 3.
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