I’m deep in walk training right now. Yesterday my kid got 3 stickers for walking across the kitchen but today he’s been crawling all day! I keep admonishing him that we don’t crawl anymore and I make him get up and walk for 10 minutes every hour. This is exhausting! I can’t wait till he’s walk trained!
Sounds funny, huh? We don’t walk train or talk train our kids so why do we potty train? Kids learn to walk and talk because we walk and talk and they become ready to imitate us. Why isn’t the same true for learning to potty?
Now, I acknowledge that outside influences might force you to “train” your child to use the potty (daycare). If you do need to potty train check out Elizabeth Pantley’s No-Cry Potty Training Solution. But, let’s admit that any potty training we do is for our (or another adult’s) convenience. Using bribes or threats to get your kid to use the toilet benefits YOU in that you don’t have to buy diapers (or wash diapers) or spend time changing them. I don’t believe there is any benefit to the child of potty training.
In fact, I think there is great benefit in letting them lead the way. Why? To teach bodily autonomy. Bodily autonomy means knowing that you are in charge of your own body. The concept of bodily autonomy is so important to raising kids that respect their bodies and do not allow others to abuse it. There are several ways to teach bodily autonomy but I think the biggest way is to LET THEM HAVE BODILY AUTONOMY. That means they are in charge of what they wear, eat, and do with their bodies within safety guidelines.
What does this look like? Well, my kids are naked a lot because what they wear in the house is not worth my trying to control. Of course they have to be dressed to go outside but they can wear what they want. My kids are not perfect little cuties in perfect little clothes (well, to me they are.) It means I don’t force my daughter to have pigtails if she says no (although I do insist on a daily brushing). It means they have access to food when they want and aren’t forced to eat something when I want them to. It means I make bedtime enjoyable but they can go to sleep when they’re ready. And it means that I am willing to change diapers until they don’t want me to anymore.
By 12 months old people (cough, Mom) started asking me about potty training. Because Aellyn was “smart” she was clearly “ready”. What they meant by that is she clearly had the communication skills and understanding for me to use behavioral conditioning to make her use the potty. Behavioral conditioning (also called Operant conditioning – think Pavlov’s dog) is training someone to do something based on a consequence. For example, use the potty and get a sticker or have an “accident” and get punished. At this point, parents begin putting baby on the toilet often, asking if they have to go often, and giving rewards if they use the potty.
Since I had decided to not train we tried hard to ignore the naysayers. This is hard! I was often worried that she WOULD be the 18 year old in diapers! But, I calmed down, trusted my instincts, and waited for Aellyn to be ready. Here’s how it went.
Phase 1: Observation
Aellyn sees mommy and daddy use the potty often. Some people are very private but I don’t think that serves well with kids. My kids see me naked, see me shower and get dressed. It isn’t like “now I”m going to show you how to sit on the potty” but just casual observation of how people do things normally. Like walking and talking, kids want to do it because you are.
By 2.5 years old she was often saying “When I grow up I’ll go on the potty like mommy and daddy.” She would also tell me BEFORE she went poop. So, I’d ask calmly if she’d like to go on the potty. She’d say “no” and go off to poo in her diaper and then come to me to change it. She clearly had knowledge and control of her urges (the pressure to “train her, train her!” became stronger) but she said no and I respected that.
Phase 2: Responsibility (and Waiting)
I don’t know if this contributed to her finally going on the potty but I”ll put it in here in case you want to try it. By 3 she could dress herself so we bought pull ups and she became responsible for changing her own pee diapers. She was excited about this and I wouldn’t have done it if she had shown resistance. She took off her own wet diaper, threw it away, got a new diaper and put it on. When she had poops she came to me to change her. During this time, since she’s often naked, she would run around “accident free” naked and then go get a diaper when she wanted to pee. I would again ask her if she wanted to use the potty and she said no. (I can literally hear my Mom saying “OMG TRAIN HER!”)
Phase 3: Click!
One day, when Aellyn was 39 months (3 yr. 3 mo.) her friend Caelan was visiting and she went potty on the toilet. Aellyn watched. After Caelan left Aellyn wanted to pee on the potty. She did. A few hours later she pooped on the potty. I put a diaper on her that night and the next morning let her put on panties. That was it. She never wore another diaper. Day or night. She’s had 3 accidents. She pooped once in her underpants and cried! That was after we moved to the new house so I think she was holding it. And twice she’s woken up wet; and really just a little wet and then she goes potty. Better yet, she doesn’t need me at all. She goes potty on her own and I never ask her if she needs to go. She wipes herself and I decided not to intervene or “check” and a few times she had an itchy butt and we talked about wiping good and once she had an ouchy vagina and we talked about front to back and getting dry. I’ve just been completely hands off about it.
Honestly, I’m not exaggerating! It was in her time so when she was ready there was no training, or transition, or anything. It was like walking – one day she did it and then she always did it.
I’m so glad we trusted her timing. I had promised myself not to get worried until 4.5 years old (and I had to remind myself again and again). Clearly, seeing a peer use the potty was her catalyst but I’m sure something would have eventually played that role if not Caelan (Thanks Caelan!).
(note: this post refers to traditional diapered kids and potty training. I don’t consider Elimination Communication to be the same as potty training. To learn more about EC check out these great posts.)