It has to be said Potty training, was one aspect of parenting that I was definitely not looking forward to. It seemed so big! How do you know when to start? How long should it take? Why are there so many different methods? How can it be so complicated? Shouldn’t it be easy?
Part of it was due to doing a counselling course a couple of years ago and reading Freud’s theories on potty training (don’t google, it’s not very helpful), which basically centred on how much you could affect a child if you didn’t ‘do it right’.
But luckily, I booked onto a general parenting course when my daughter was about one-and-a-half. My thinking was that I wanted to get some parenting advice, tips and info before the tantrums started. I didn’t book for the potty-training advice but it was a fab bonus.
Plus, when you’re pregnant there’s a veritable smorgasbord of antenatal courses to choose from – Wise Hippo hypnobirthing (my personal fave of course) NCT, active birth, Lamaze – but then you have the baby and….well it’s over to you really. And when it’s your first baby everything seems so new that I thought some guidance would be great.
So I did a fantastic parenting course with Rachel Fitz, which covered loads and loads but the salient points have helped with EVERYTHING and they can be applied to potty training too.
A lot of the focus was on explaining everything first to your child, no matter how old they are; giving them choices (so they feel more in control); and no punishments or rewards. This means no naughty steps or treats – as eventually the threat of a naughty step would wear off, and they’d realise they could just get up and walk away! The same thinking with treats – that at some point they’ll decide they’d rather scream/pee themselves/go floppy and sit on the ground instead of getting a treat.
Instead you have natural consequences, which means if your child’s being annoying or difficult then you don’t really want to take them to the park or give them an ice cream, and if they’re nice you want to play with them more and do lots of fun things. All this advice has worked wonders for us and our daughter but in terms of potty training the benefits have been really clear and quick.
We started with this aspect. My husband took our daughter shopping and Immy (I’m sure she’ll appreciate that I’m writing about her potty-training, when she’s older – what would Freud think!) chose a potty, knickers and a step for the bathroom so she can wash her hands. This meant that her potty and her pants became fun – something she’d talk about a lot and she still says ‘I chose my potty’ proudly.
So we told her for a while that we would be introducing a potty and not using nappies, we told her weeks before and told her when we would start – when we got back from a holiday. This meant she knew what was coming and felt safe. Then I followed Rachel’s specific advice by telling her, on that first nappy-free morning, that she could use her potty and that if she needed help to ask. The hard part for me was not saying it again and again, as I felt like it was a lot of new information. But imagine how annoying it would be if you had someone constantly saying to you ‘are you sure you don’t need to pee? It’s been ages, you must need a wee, go on try’ or words to that effect.
Explaining, to my surprise, was enough! And pretty much straight away she started using her potty. That didn’t mean there weren’t still accidents, but I couldn’t believe it was really that easy.
In terms of potty training this means no punishment or the harder one, no praise. I so wanted to high-five/fist bump Immy each time she proudly showed us her half-full potty. But instead I’d just say ‘thank you for using your potty’, or ‘thank you for telling me you needed to go – that was very helpful of you’.
As Rachel explains it – ‘using the potty is a bodily function, you wouldn’t praise them or tell them off for sleeping or not sleeping, or for eating or not eating, by praising them for going to the toilet it’s as if you’re surprised they did it – you didn’t expect it. By simply saying thank you – you’re showing them you appreciate it without making it into a big deal or adding any pressure.’
Makes sense, although it was hard to get the grandparents to stop exclaiming ‘well done’, or ‘you clever girl’ .
Instead of punishment or rewards there’s the natural consequence, which I have to say is genius. So if Immy had an accident she would have to clean it up. I would of course help her, but it was her responsibility to put her leggings in the washing machine or wipe the floor, and really, really quickly she realised it was less hassle to use the potty then it was to clean up the mess!!
The nice thing is I’ve enjoyed the process – the above steps removed any pressure I would have felt. If they have an accident they clean it up. If they use the potty that’s great. Simple. Not a big deal and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. ‘you’re aiming for dry most of the time’, says Rachel, ‘not necessarily all of the time, and don’t put a deadline on it, all children take a different amount of time’.
We’ve had a few funny incidents. My husband was at a cafe the second day in and Immy happily peed in the potty under the table (and I’d been worried she might not want to pee in front of people!). He then realised there were no toilets in this little cafe…and had to transfer the pee into a cup and then put the cup in a bin. Yuck. The other thing we overlooked is that our daughter has always been scared of hand-dryers in public loos, so we had an incident recently again in a cafe, where she refused to go to the toilet and peed in the cafe – in her potty, under the table and I had to carefully carry a very full potty through the room! And yes, a lot of people watched in horror!