This topic will appeal to maybe one of my ten readers, but I'm putting it out there because potty training can be frustrating, and when we were in the trenches, I wished there were more personal accounts and fewer bits of scientific bull shit. Here is what worked for us.
Mo is a girl. She is now about 98.7% potty trained at 2.5 years old. We were not in a hurry to potty train before now because we are not bothered by diapers and neither was she. But with a baby due in early November, we wanted bathroom habits to be solidified in advance, not only so we would only have to change one person's diapers, but also so there was less liklihood of regression in this area when a baby shows up to stay.
Pre-training: Totally Casual
Before she was two, we introduced Mo to the toilet. We had no expectations, we just wanted to familiarize her with the environment and the vocabulary. We let her sit on te toilet sporadically, paying no attention to patterns and possible signs that she had to go, we just sat her there when the mood struck us. Sometimes she'd want to hop off after 20 seconds, sometimes she was content to sit and read for long periods of time. We put no pressure on how long she stayed or what happened while she was there.
However, after many months of this, she still had not produced anything on the toilet. I thought for sure with so many cumulative hours there, something would accidentally come out and we could cheer and celebrate and start to instill the idea that this is what is supposed to happen here.
But nothing ever happened, and so there was nothing to point to and celebrate. I began to think we'd never make any progress because there's no way to instill a habit when you can't get it to happen in the first place.
Plus, none of the "tricks" we heard about were working. We tried keeping her naked for periods of time, but she had no shame about peeing on the floor. We tried just undies, just pants, undies and pants. Wet bottoms did not bother her a bit. She'd walk around, feet wide, and go about her day. She just wasn't ready yet.
Phase One: Let's Do This...Sort Of
We decided we wanted to try the weekend approach, wherein you do nothing but potty train for 2-3 days. (It's a thing, google it for details on how to make it work. Our approach is detailed in Phase Two.) We picked a weekend where we had nothing going on, and we kept it that way. We wrote Potty Training! on the calendar and stuck to it. But for a few weeks leading up to that weekend, we got a little more serious about familiarizing Mo with toilet-related stuff.
We found a potty training sticker chart in a book we happened to have, so we made a big deal about how peeing in the potty earns you a sticker. And a candy! We bought plain M&M's and used those as rewards, as well. A sticker and a candy when you pee in the potty.
We started to put her on the toilet more regularly, hoping to actually catch her when she had to pee. We both work full-time though, and we weren't ready to involve daycare just yet, so we only did this in the evenings and on weekends for the first couple weeks.
It didn't go well at first, it just wasn't clicking for her. She didn't accidentally pee on the toilet and didn't grasp what we meant by "pee on the potty." We put her in pull-ups in between and so she still felt totally safe to pee in her pants.
Finally, one evening, she peed in the toilet! We made a huge deal about it, making the sticker and candy into a big ceremony, talking about it for hours. She was really into the stickers and candy, so they were great motivation, and the sticker chart was a good visual about the progress we were making. And a few weeks later, she was earning far more stickers than the early days. We even told daycare (and Grandma, who watches her twice a week right now) what was going on, and she had some success with them too.
Toilet Seat v. Potty Chair
Let me pause here to say that I tried, early on, to avoid a potty chair. She was not afraid of the toilet, and she even liked to sit on her potty seat (the ring that goes on the toilet seat), so a potty chair felt like an unnecessary regression. We pee and poop in the bathroom on a toilet, so we may as well train to that from the start.
But then one day I was digging through some stuff in our basement and found a potty chair my sister had given to us, and I thought, what the heck. Mo loved it of course, and it turned out to be really helpful in potty training. When she was just learning, it was great that we didn't have to travel far to the toilet (we primarily kept it in our living room), that she could sit on it with very little effort, and that we could take it anywhere we wanted, including outside.
I didn't find itto be as gross as I anticipated, and I'm a potty chair convert
Phase Two: The Weekend Approach
When the pre-determined weekend arrived, we did nothing else all weekend. We woke up Saturday morning, stripped Mo naked, and told her we were going to use the toilet from now on. We left her in the nude the whole first day, except for diapers for naps and bedtimes. We gave her lots of juice so she'd drink more than normal, and therefore pee more than normal. And then we put her on the toilet all the time. About every 30-60 minutes. And holy crap, she peed! In the toilet!
The first day was incredibly successful. She earned 13 stickers that day, including one for a poop, which was a total fluke. Mo had pooped on the toilet only twice before, both times when she was home with Grandma, so this was a first for us. After such a great day, we thought we had this in the bag, but it proved to drag out longer than we anticipated, as you'll see later.
This is the only picture I have of the potty chart. Day One of the Weekend Approach is the bottom line (S for Saturday) of Week 4. We used the free potty chart the first two weeks, then I made this.
The second day, Sunday, was equally successful as the first. We put her in pants without underwear to start, because the pee would run down her legs more that way, hopefully making her uncomfortable enough to realize her mistake. We didn't give her as much juice, so she didn't pee as often, but she mostly did it in the toilet or potty chair. There were accidents, too, but very few that weekend. By the end of the day she was in underwear and pants, and still doing great.
I had taken Monday off to give us a third day to instill the habit, but she was doing so well, I decided to see how she did at daycare. She did excellent her first day at daycare, even pooped in the toilet. But turns out that was a fluke. Poop ended up being the most difficult part of the whole process.
Phase Three: Almost There
The big weekend happened in mid-June. It's now the end of July. Until a week or two ago, Mo still needed frequent reminders to pee. We'd ask "Do you have to go potty?" and she'd almost always say no, but then we'd make her try and sure enough, she'd pee. Now she mostly initiates using the bathroom on her own. We remind her at key times - before leaving the house, before naps and bedtimes, if we notice it's been awhile or she's doing the potty dance - but more often, she says "I have to pee!" and off she goes.
We still use the potty chair, and she can get on and off that by herself. If she chooses to use the big toilet, which she can now do without the aid of the potty seat, we help her. With a stool she can get on and off herself, but it takes longer and could more easily lead to accidents.
She still has the occasional accident, but it's at odd times. The other day we were out at our pool, and she was standing nearby, outside the pool, and suddenly said, "I'm peeing." Sure enough, it was streaming down her leg. At daycare last week, she had an accident because she was busy playing in the sandbox and didn't tell anyone she had to pee until it was too late. But I'd say she's 99% potty trained for pee. Poop? Well...
The Poop Problem
Poop training Mo has been the most frustrating thing I've done as a parent. That's not saying much since Mo is a pretty easy kid, but the poop business really tested me for awhile.
She was just not getting it. At all. And nothing I read anywhere was helpful. Here's what I kept reading:
Your kid doesn't poop in the toilet because s/he is scared to. I don't think that was true for Mo. She never expressed any fear or discomfort with the idea. In fact, she seemed totally down with it. Yet, she kept pooping her pants.
Look for signs that your child has to poop before it happens. We called Mo a Stealth Pooper. You didn't even know it was happening until it was over. She didn't hide in corners, she didn't grunt or make faces. In fact, one time she got off the toilet after peeing, immediately ran around the house for less than two minutes, then told me she had pooped. She had pooped mid-run!
Your kid may be holding it in on purpose. Nope, not at all. It was coming out, just not in the right place.
I concluded that Mo truly didn't know it was happening until it was happening. She didn't recognize the sensation until she was mid-process. One weekend, I hit my limit. She had had poop accidents all week, then didn't poop at all Friday. So that evening and all day Saturday, I watched her like a hawk. I put all my energy into encouraging her, reminding her, asking her, taking her to the toilet just in case. It was exhausting. She didn't poop Saturday either, so I knew it was going to happen sometime Sunday.
We were in the garage after watering the plants when she said, "I have to poop!" I swooped her up and had her inside faster than I knew was possible. She was wearing a skirt and no underwear (on purpose because I knew we'd need easy access), so I plopped her on the toilet and waited. Nothing happened.
Finally I got her off the toilet and noticed there was a need to wipe her clean. But there was no poop in the toilet. What the heck? I retraced our steps and found the culprit five feet from the toilet, on the kitchen floor. She had pooped mid-air as I carried her in.
I lost my shit (pun intended). I had hit my limit and I started crying. Bawling. Poor Mo, she had no idea what was happening. Through tears, I told her how gross it is to poop on the floor, and how big girls poop on the toilet. Mike came inside at that moment, and I told him I needed him to take over, and I went to my bed and cried for 20 minutes. It was not my finest parenting moment. Mo still mentions the time she pooped on the floor and mama cried. What if that's the first memory that imprinted on her brain? It's embarrassing for me that I got so upset with her when it clearly was not her fault, but like I said: most challenging thing I've done as a parent so far.
It continued like this for awhile. I almost called her doctor to ask if maybe she wasn't anatomically ready to control her bowels, and should we stop trying for awhile? I didn't want to revert back to diapers to catch the occassional, and unpredictable, poop because she was a pro at peeing, but I could not clean up anymore poop! I didn't end up calling, but here are a few things we tried:
Making poop something funny. We joked about how poop didn't go in the fridge or the car or on her head or in her toy box or in her undies. It goes in the toilet! She thought this was hilarious and loved to play along, but she still pooped her pants.
Sing the poop song and read poop books and watch poop videos. There are a lot of resources our there for potty training kids and parents, and it was great to keep it at the forefront of her mind. But she still pooped her pants.
Rewarding her for successes. The sticker/candy system was great for peeing, but it did not work for pooping, so we upped our game. I bought a bunch of dollar store crap and showed her the prizes, telling her she'd get a present every time she pooped in the potty. She loved those gifts the few times she earned one - she still tells people that she got these things because she pooped in the potty - but she still pooped in her pants more than not.
Making her clean herself up. This kind of worked. When she'd have an accident, instead of cleaning it up quickly and moving on, I'd get her involved. It ultimately made for a bigger mess, but it showed her just how gross it is to poop anywhere but the toilet. The first time I did this, she was so pleasant about helping, but every time she tried to talk, she gagged. It was hilarious, I'll admit. I still laugh out loud to myself every time I remember her innocently gagging as she tried to ask me to wipe off her hand. The next time she tried to refuse to help, but I told her she made the mess, she had to help clean it. We sat at a stalemate for 15 minutes before she gave in and did it. I think this actually helped her realize that this was no joke, poop is gross, but less gross if it goes in the toilet. She still pooped her pants pretty often though.
In the end, I don't know what finally clicked. I guess it was just enough time and practice, but now she poops in the toilet far more often than not. Sometimes she has several false alarms before the real thing, but I'd rather her sit on the toilet to toot than poop in her pants. I wish I had could say what magic trick finally helped her figure this out because I never did read anything that helped us, but there isn't just one thing that worked. It was just time, practice, some tears, and a lot of accidents.
Like I said, she's about 98.7% potty trained. The accidents are truly accidents, mostly when she is too busy to listen to the signals. We still put her in diapers at naptime - though she often wakes up dry - and bedtime, where she still wakes up wet. We aren't making any effort at this point to drop the diapers while sleeping. She's still in a crib, and I figure until she can get out of bed and to the bathroom if she needs to go, we'll keep her in diapers to sleep.
We've taken a few longer car rides since she's been trained, and we've put her in a pull up for these. We still treat it like underwear, stopping frequently for potty breaks and encouraging her to tell us if she has to pee rather than just let it go. For the most part, she gets to the destination dry, but it is a good backup in case we're not able to stop.
Not everybody is as confident as us. We consider her potty trained and make a point to make frequent bathroom stops if we're out and about, but others who watch her are more hesitant. When her grandparents watch her, for instance, they will put her in a pull up if they leave the house for more than 30 minutes. I don't blame them, it's intimidating to think about dealing with an accident out in the world, and it's tiring to have to visit the bathroom before you leave the house, when you get to your destination, before you leave your destination, etc.
All in all, it took about two months to get from never-ever-peed-or-pooped-in-the-toilet to almost completely potty trained. Some kids do it faster, some take a lot longer.
My biggest tip is wait until you think they're really ready. If you start too early, it will take longer to click and to eliminate accidents. We decided we'd rather change diapers for a few more months than start too early and deal with wet clothes on a regular basis.
My second biggest tip is chill the eff out. Stick with it and be consistent, but don't expect results over night just because someone else says they potty trained their 18 month old in one day. Ignore them and go at the pace right for your child. It can be really frustrating because it takes a lot of your time and energy, only for them to pee their pants in the cart at the grocery store (happened to us!). But if you set realistic standards and chill out a bit, it will happen. I can't believe how different things are from less than two months ago, and in the big picture, it was no time at all.