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potty training trauma…

I’m about to document the past three days of potty training. Not because I think that my blog audience is particularly interested in such a topic, but because I know that at some point in the near future I will find this story useful, perhaps even funny (right now, not so much), and maybe I will gain some fresh insight through the process!

I am beyond exhausted from the past three days, and I’m hoping to chronicle what has unfolded in our potty-centric household step-by-step so that we can dialogue about potty training victories, pitfalls, and misconceptions. And maybe I’ll even entertain you for five minutes.

Here’s my story:

Alana will be 22 months in two weeks, and has been showing an “interest” in the potty and in bathroom goings-on. I had not felt the need to do any serious potty training yet, but I thought it might be a good idea to get a training potty for whenever she seems ready to start. Couldn’t hurt.

On Tuesday, Kellie, Alana and I were having our regular Fun Tuesday hangout…which, more times than not, finds us at our happy place: Target. This past Tuesday was no exception and as we perused the isles full of wonderful things, I remembered that I’d wanted to pick up a training potty. Over to the baby section we went, and as I grabbed our Pampers Sensitive baby wipes, Kellie and I also chose a training potty for Alana.

Things got a little intersesting when I put the potty in the shopping cart and Alana became like a little broken record. “Potty! potty! potty!” She chanted as I zoned out to protect my own sanity and simply said “Yes, potty. Yes, honey, it’s a potty for Alana.” (I call it the mommy zone. We become like space cadets in response to incessant toddler chatter).

Once Alana and I got home on Tuesday night and I took the potty out of the Target bag, I didn’t even make it to the bathroom with it before she began her repetitious melody once again. “Potty! Potty! Mama, potty!” A little surprised by her excitement, I removed the cardboard cover and opened the potty. When I realized that was not enough for her, I asked if she wanted to use the potty. Without waiting for me to finish my question, she announced “Yes!”

And so, like any other parent who longs for the day of no-more-paying-for-diapers, I happily took off Alana’s diaper and sat her on the potty. She sat for a minute while we talked about going pee on the potty. I wasn’t expecting it, but a few minutes later when Rich said “Did you hear something”? I investigated and sure enough, there was pee in the potty.

On her first try.

Within minutes of being home with the new potty.

She’s advanced. I concluded.

Rich and I looked at each other, wide-eyed, and burst into a round of applause and laughter. You would’ve thought I’d just won the $5,000 Target gift card I’ve entered to win. It was that exciting.

It was nearly bedtime, so Alana got her nightly bath, and once Rich and I tucked her into bed we discussed the possibility of starting to potty train. We both agreed that if she was ready, it would be silly (and perhaps even detrimental) not to strart training her.

But since Alana’s our first child and we’ve never so much as read an article about potty training yet, we utilized the wonderful world of Facebook. Social Networking at it’s best. I put a shout out to all of my friends who are parents, using my status. It read: “Heather needs advice!!! Alana went pee in her potty today during our very first attempt…what should I do? She’s only 21 months but seems ready! Stay home for a few days without a diaper on? Put pull-ups on her and hope that she tells me when she needs to go??? Help me! I’m doing this for the first time!!!”

I got lots of useful responses from my status update, most notably that from my dear friend Heidi, who forwarded an actual 40 page e-book to me called Three Day Potty Training by Lora Jensen (www.3DayPottyTraining.com). Heidi hadn’t personally used this method yet but had a girlfriend who’d forwarded the book to her having said that it worked brilliantly for their child. I thanked Heidi profusely and stayed up late Tuesday night reading the book. Everything that I read made sense, and the self-proclaimed “Queen of Potty Training” declared that any child can be potty trained in 3 days if her method is followed precisely. Guaranteed.

The method relies on lots of love, patience, encouragement, and positive reinforcement (for us it was M&M’s), and no diapers of any kind are involved. In fact, parents and the potty-trainee are instructed to have a diaper-throwing-away-party to launch the training. Pull-ups and padded training pants are referred to as “crutches” that slow the process.

As the primary potty trainer, I was instructed to stay home for three days straight (not even visits outside or walks around the block), making sure that my focus was dedicated solely to Alana. No TV, no computer, no cooking. Just me, Alana, and her new big girl panties. I was to be in the same room with her at all times so that I could catch every accident as it was happening and rush her to the potty. Even if we didn’t make it in time, that was okay because Alana would learn the cause and effect of her body signals and getting to the bathroom. The guarantee is that, by the end of the third day, any child will be potty trained.

One the primary differences between this method and many others is the issue of “trying.” This woman says that it is totally counterproductive to take your child to the potty every 15-20 minutes to have them “try.” In her own words, “No! No! No!” As adults, we don’t have to do that because we’ve learned to listen to what our bodies are telling us. We know our body signals, and we respond accordingly. So, in order to actually teach a child to heed their bodily sensations, we ONLY take them to the potty when they tell us they need to go, or we catch them in the middle of an “accident.”

Makes sense to me.

In addition to all of this, she says that the ideal age to potty train, based on her wealth of experience, is 22 months. Well, how cool is that? Alana is almost 22 months!

Sounds great.

So we commit:

Inspecting the big girl panties ๐Ÿ™‚

Getting rid of the diapers:

Well, I have a bone to pick with this lady.

There is nothing wrong with Alana, and as far as I’m aware, there is nothing wrong with my ability to read a document and properly execute it.

But it is now Saturday, and after an intense and traumatic 3 days – Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday – we are a few steps closer to being potty trained but there has absolutely not been any 3 day magic.

And so, I just spent 3 days at home rushing a dripping toddler to the bathroom about 20 times a day only to make it in time to the potty about 3 times total. I had to clean up the area where the accident happened each time, as well as the long line of drips along the carpet or hallway. I then had to take off sopping wet pair of big girl panties multiple times every hour, and, along with all of the towels I’d used to mop up messes, throw in a load of laundry about every two hours throughout the day. I can promise you that the money we saved in diapers we spent on energy. I had to calm and soothe a stressed out baby each time she pooped in her panties because she was scared to go on the potty. I had to change out crib sheets so often that we didn’t have any clean ones for her to nap on, and the plastic mattress cover wasn’t comfortable or quiet enough for her to fall asleep. At the end of the third day, there were still accidents galore and there hadn’t yet been a single poop in the potty.

And not to sound overdramatic, but staying at home for 3 days straight (when you are not sick) is a very long time. Well, let me rephrase, it’s a long time to do something that doesn’t yield the desired results.

Now, please understand, I am very aware that parenthood involves lots of sacrifice. And that is why I committed to this method! I was willing to work hard and do everything that was necessary, and all would have been worthwhile if it had worked! Therein lies my frustration. I personally feel that we are back to square one, maybe a little further along than we were, but we are going to have to take a break and try again in a month or more. I couldn’t bring myself to stay home for day #4 without any certainty that she’d be fully potty trained at the end of the day. Call me a pansy if you’d like — potty training is no joke!!!

Now that I think about it (isn’t hindsight so wonderful?), the 3-day method is condensing all of the learning into such a short amount of time that it could easily stress a child who has a certain personality. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened to us. In fact, Alana became a different child for those 3 days. Even with all of the smiling and applauding I managed to produce for her, she ate differently, she didn’t nap AT ALL, and she cried infinitely more than she usually does. It didn’t matter how many times I praised her in a happy, sing-song voice, she was stressed. And this after she seemed so ready!

I am sure I would really like this lady if I met her, and I am super happy that the dozen children that she has personally potty trained have all, without fail, been potty trained in 3 days flat. It’s just that my expectations were so high because of the emphatic nature of the book. If results are guaranteed, then shouldn’t she come to my house and potty train my child if her method doesn’t work out for us?

But I guess I should have seen this coming. I’m a realist. Methods are as diverse as children themselves, and I’ve never heard of a method that works for EVERYBODY. If that were the case, wouldn’t there be only one method for any given issue? There wouldn’t be a need for conflicting advice. Each respective genre bookshelf at Barnes & Noble would have one lonely book sitting on it. Or several others that reiterated the same thing. There would be one officially-recognized potty training method, napping method, scheduling method, pacifier resource, and on and on it goes. Some people swear by the BabyWise method, others are totally frustrated by it. Some people use the paci to help prevent SIDS or to help avoid thumb-sucking, others feel that paci use makes you a bad parent. Attachment parenting is a heated discussion. It’s all so fascinating to me. People are passionate about their methods. And understandably so, if something works for you, you want to share it with the world. Or, sometimes, people just want to be right. Regardless, I’m just stating that things are typically not black and white. Can I get a witness???

It’s a good thing that I didn’t give the diapers away like I was planning to. We’re gonna need them for a little while yet.

And that’s okay.

Before I conclude, let me say that I am sure this potty training method is a great one, and I’m sure loads of parents have found it to be successful. And I am happy about that. It’s the word “Guaranteed” that pops up in her literature that bugs me, nothing else. Guaranteed? Do I get my 3 days back or something??? Or are we defective because it didn’t work? You see what I’m saying?

In conclusion:

1) Diapers are my friend.
2) I will never complain about the cost of diapers again.
3) I have a newfound respect, and strong dislike, for potty training as I’ve experienced it so far.
4) I love my husband a LOT for putting up my my bad moods and my crying (and no, I NEVER would have believed you if you’d told me that potty training was going to make me cry).
5) I love my little Alana for HOW WELL she did, and I feel bad that I put her through this method of potty training. I simply do not believe it was the right method for her. She’s a cautious little critter who needs time to warm up to new things.
6) I wish we could outsource potty training like we outsource our wedding album design. Is anyone for hire??? I see a lucrative business opportunity here.

Blog readers, unite! Comments? Questions? Feedback? Seriously, I want to hear your experiences and what worked for all of you! Thanks for going on my journey with me! I hope it’s been a worthwhile read.

  • Angela Amick - August 29, 2009 - 5:04 pm

    First of all, I thoroughly enjoyed your commentary and pictures. (But I always do!) ๐Ÿ™‚

    I only have experience potty training one child (so far), and it was a boy. So take this for what it’s worth, which is probably not much since every kid is different.

    Andrew, being advanced in many ways intellectually, if I must say so myself (LOL), never showed any signs of potty-readiness. For a looooong time. I watched countless friends with same-age toddlers who struggled through literally months of what you described above. All because, in *my* opinion, they started too early. I think that just because a child shows interest in potty training does not mean he/she is ready to actually start potty training hard core. As is probably evidenced by your three-day experience.

    Andrew never showed any signs, and I honestly didn’t mind changing diapers, especially with a new baby on the way and then being born. I simply had no time to fool with it. Diapers were easier and familiar.

    We even went to the Blackistons’ condo about a week after Andrew’s third birthday and he was still 100% in diapers. We never even needed that hallway bathroom!

    But about a month after he turned three, I suggested using the potty, and he seemed game (which he had consistently turned down in the past), so I jumped at the opportunity.

    Seriously, in three days or so, he was trained. With maybe two or three accidents TOTAL. One thing that helped was that he was old enough to actually talk to me. And to understand me. And also, to understand the concepts of starting and stopping and the actual urge to pee or poop.

    I do have a book that I *planned* to use called Potty Training 1-2-3 by the Ezzos (who write all the Babywise stuff). A fellow Babywise mom has used it with all three of her kids and has had great success. Except that she did it too early with her son and then had to just stop for about six months and try again, at which time it worked.

    So I guess you just never really know. But you are more than willing to borrow the book if you’d like. I’ll be out in the Ham Place area Thursday morning and can meet you. The book is about 100 pages long, and I won’t need it back for some time, as I’m sure Benjamin will be a late potty-trainee. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Good luck!! I’m sure she will get it when she’s ready; it’s just hard to know when that is!! Although she looks DANG cute in those big-girl panties!!!!!!

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  • Pleasant Vonnoh - August 29, 2009 - 5:40 pm

    Aww. I’m so sorry you had such a horrible experience! I wish I had known you were going to try that 3-day program. I would have tried to stop you! Anytime someone guarantees that your CHILD will do this or that…well, I’m sorry, but I stay away. All children are SO different. My identical twin boys are a perfect example. They look exactly alike but are different in every other area, including how they potty trained. They are 4 and one still needs to wear a pull-up to bed at night while the other hasn’t needed to for a year.
    You are a great mom. Do what you think will work for you and Alana and THAT is what will work!
    On a side note, I cringed when I saw those diapers in the garbage can. I was relieved to read that you didn’t actually get rid of them. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Good luck on your next potty training adventure (maybe after a 6 month break from this one.) ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Naomi Neidich - August 29, 2009 - 5:44 pm

    This was the same book that I read and that I tried with Nathan and did not work for us either. It brought more stress than anything! I then waited until right at 3 and he got it right away within a day or so once he understood his reward was to go to Chuck E Cheese. He maybe had one accident after that. Needless to say I have not begun the intense, stressful battle with Ethan yet and am letting him more at his own asking.

  • bonnie - August 29, 2009 - 5:45 pm

    oh girl i hear ya! potty training is no fun. here is my condensed version of tips that worked for us. like you said every kid is different and we had to do different things for each of the two that are potty trained so far. it is brennas turn now too. she is 22 months as well.
    1. we started by putting our kids on the potty right before bath time at night. if they went great, in not, not a big deal. this got them used to the potty.
    2. pull ups never worked for us. the kids just knew they could pee in them just like a diaper. they could care less in the little designs disappeared.
    3. we used rewards… jelly beans, mini marshmallows, sticker charts
    4. i set a timer and took them to the potty every 30 minutes for the first 2 days, then every hour for the next 2 days…. always talking about the potty and asking if they had to go. even if they said no, when the time was up we tried ( sorry unlike the book you read)
    5. we stayed home for about 5 days (still went out side and for walks, but not to the store or anything) after the 5 days we would venture very short outings. (and yes, you might truly loose your mind) my thing is that if you can stay consistent for about 10 days things really start clicking. i think a week is to short. most give up after about a week.
    6. we had lots of accidents but the key is to stay consistent! when you are really ready to try again, DONT GIVE UP! it will click. i think 22 months is pretty young, i always started right after their 2nd b-day. big kid undies were part of their gifts.
    7. we always put them to bed with a diaper on until it was consistently dry for about 2 weeks. how terrible is it to wake up cold and wet.
    8. POOP is a WHOLE-nother story! takes more time, but they do eventually get it.

    dont know if any of this will help, but thought i would through it out there for ya. it is def a hard time but you both get it and i promise she will get it.

    if you have any other specific questions , let me know and i can let you know what we did.

    hang in there momma!

  • kellie - August 29, 2009 - 7:33 pm

    After all that I’m so sorry it didn’t work! I (obviously) don’t have any advice but I’m glad you posted about it because I was wondering how it went ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Janelle - August 29, 2009 - 9:39 pm

    Oh Heather! I so feel ya girl! Potty training is my least favorite part of parenting (thus far). It is HARD work! I trained Anna-Kate at 22 months and people swore I was nuts…but she was “showing” those crazy signs. ๐Ÿ™‚ What worked for us was a 7 day method (with accidents very sporadically afterwards)–based off the Toddlerwise book by the Ezzos. I stayed home for a week (it was painful, I assure you) and we did the potty every 20 minutes, then 30–working our way up to every hour by the end of the week. The key for us? We rewarded dry panties. She got a pretzel for dry panties (which made her thirsty for more juice/water/whatever–leading to more frequent success on the potty) and if she peed/pooped successfully, M&M’s. It was a long process (like 5 months) before I could stop asking her randomly if she needed to go potty, but I would still have called her trained. Also, poop did NOT come for us that first week. AK was also scared of pooping. We were about to pull our hair out. She was constipating herself and then pooping in her bed at night/nap (which, ps, we used pullups at night-not nap-I’m not interested in doing the sheets at midnight every night. THough, I totally agree that during the day they just prolong the process. We called her pullups at night “night time panties”, so the word diaper was forever gone.). Anyway, Chris had the brilliant idea to put her little potty in her closet, so she would have privacy-for us, it worked and she pooped like a charm, never since having a poop accident (going on 15 months). Good luck girl!! It is a hard job, when you decide to do it, stick with it–but find what is gonna work for you and Alana, give yourself flexibility to use “crutches” if you need to.

  • allison Haupert - August 29, 2009 - 9:52 pm

    Heather-
    Give me a call! Abby started “training” (ugh, hate that word) early and while it seemed to take forever, I sort of wished we’d waited and started later. However, she, like Alana, showed interest in all things potty. Anyway, she was “trained” pretty early, but only in some areas. It wasn’t until last spring I was ready to bite the bullet and go diaper free. She’s almost three and now we still do pull-ups for sleep times (although she’s dry more and more often…I’m just a scaredy cat about doing sleep with no protection). Anyway, let’s talk. I’d love to hear what else has happened with you and Alana. Remember, no 16-year old you know has ever worn diapers. ๐Ÿ™‚ It’ll happen eventually. Let Alana be the guide!

  • Beth Wheatcroft - August 29, 2009 - 9:55 pm

    Heather, first of all you are a fantastic mom and by no means alone in this frustrating arena of parenting. Both of my girls were close to 3 before they were potty trained and while at times that felt like forever to me, it was so much easier to get them trained. They had greater understanding of what I was saying to them and almost knew exactly what was going on (they could tell me when they were wet/dirty) and they could communicate back to me. Like you I tried very early with my first and due to some other issues she was having held off a while. With my second I knew better (plus she had a stronger will). With both girls, Brett and I kind of decided it was time and once they saw we were serious about no more diapers (and we did actually get rid of all the diapers at that point or just let them run out), they did great. We just made sure they didn’t have anything to drink at least an hour before bed and made sure they went potty before bedtime to help with the night time part of the training. Bottom line, you know Alana better than anyone else, and like you said above, you do what’s best for her and your family. Hang in there!

  • Mom and Dad - August 29, 2009 - 11:09 pm

    Well, you got such good advice from your friends, there’s nothing left to say! I know you’ll have success next time you make an attempt! Love you guys!

  • Pix - August 29, 2009 - 11:57 pm

    Everyone is making this way too difficult…it’s like potty training a cat. Put an interesting smelling box in the corner and fill it with litter. They will eventually find it on their own. ๐Ÿ™‚ Sorry it was so bad sis. Now that I think of it, I could have guessed that method wouldn’t work for Alana. Especially assuming that I am correct in my theory – that she is a little perfectionist. How stressful. Hope she forgets it all! ๐Ÿ™‚ It’ll work…someday.

  • Pix - August 29, 2009 - 11:58 pm

    Everyone is making this way too difficult…it’s like potty training a cat. Put an interesting smelling box in the corner and fill it with litter. They will eventually find it on their own. ๐Ÿ™‚ Sorry it was so bad sis. Now that I think of it, I could have guessed that method wouldn’t work for Alana. Especially assuming that I am correct in my theory – that she is a little perfectionist. How stressful. It’ll work…someday.

  • Pix - August 29, 2009 - 11:59 pm

    Okay, that last one was an attempt to erase my “I hope she forgets it all” comment. I def didn’t mean that I hope she forgets what she learned, rather, I hope that she forgets about the bad experience. Oops!

  • Sara Arnaud - August 31, 2009 - 7:35 am

    Dear Heather and Rich,
    Let me say that we know and can understand your frustration! Someone gave us some advice, ( the book by the Babywise guys mentioned in a comment already “Potty Training 1-2-3”) and it’s guarantee is 24 hours!!!! We tried it (the first time) when Liel was 22 months, had the same results as you, and decided we couldn’t make it through another day like that (hats off to you who made it through THREE like that!) She was just not ready. Second, let me say that (and its just my theory) baby’s that are smaller (and thinner) perhaps do not develop the muscles and awareness very early. Liel and Alana are both on the smaller scale (by nature), and perhaps at 22 months Alana’s little body (like Liel) may not have the control and awareness to even have a chance at success.
    We tried again at 24 months and she completely potty trained for number 1 while having absolutely no awareness nor control for number 2 (she didn’t even wet her diapers at night!) The book (again we used it) said that we should press forward with number 2 and that she would EVENTUALLY get it. Well, after she pooped her pants in the nursery at Gateways, it toppled down her leg, out her pants, and onto the floor where another child stepped in it, I put the diapers back on her. We decided to again, wait.
    We traveled to Israel (diapers were easier for that trip) and when we came back, we tried again. She was about 28 months, and finally, she succeeded! And, when she finally “quit” the diapers, she quit them altogether (no more even at night or naps)!
    Every child is different and develop the control and awareness at different ages. It wasn’t that Liel didn’t get it or didn’t understand, she just didn’t have the development yet to notice, control it, and tell us! (Her mind was ready, but her little body was NOT!)
    The worst thing you can do is to put pressure on a little toddler. My advice is to wait a few months (let the trauma wear off) and test the waters again. But, with no pressure. It is sure that she felt your stress (and even the pressure you were putting on yourself to succeed) as Liel did with me the first time we tried. You need to both be ready and at ease, and it will happen without stress and without a hitch!
    Relax, enjoy changing those diapers, and know that it will EVENTUALLY happen!
    And, when some pretentious Mom tells you that her little one completely potty trained herself at 21 months, you can brag to her about some other great thing that Alana did early in her development! Or, you can tell her that (way way back) your family is German and there they don’t potty train until 3 years old! (which is actually true!)

  • amber - August 31, 2009 - 6:44 pm

    Geez… I’m so sorry you had this experience ๐Ÿ™ Why are our children so traumatic to us? ๐Ÿ™‚

    With both kids, we were pretty all or nothing on them. We did NOT use pull-ups (they’re totally just diapers!) although we did use “training pants”… The first few times that they wet those pants (which is pretty much all they wore for the first few days, unless we went in public, and yes, I was crazy enough to venture out even during those stages) we let them hang out kinda damp like that, and had them help us clean up… I think the yuckiness and of being wet combined with the m&ms or other treat as a prize when they accomplished peeing in the potty was the perfect combination of reinforcements for both kids. They both trained for peeing in 3-10 days (we did set an alarm for every 30 minutes, and increased at intervals), with pullups or a diaper at bedtime. Even with bedtime, we’d always wake them up and put them on the potty when we went to bed (you know how late that can be) and that helped them make it through the night.

    Pooping was another story, with both kids. One of them… hmmm, bad mom I am, can’t remember which… we had to put a pullup on right after lunch so they could poop. They were TERRIFIED to do it in the potty. But lets just focus on the peeing right now ๐Ÿ˜‰

    They were both right at 2… and we just didn’t pressure them. I think we did addy one time, and then actually gave up and decided to try later, just because the logistics sucked, and she didn’t seem ready…

    Let her explore the potty when she wants, if she asks to sit on it, let her… take her with you when you go pee… but give her a month or two before you attack again ๐Ÿ˜‰

    love you.

  • Briana - September 1, 2009 - 4:56 pm

    crate training. worked like a charm. just leave them in there, they won’t want to “go” when they have to sit in it. then when you let them out take them to where you want them to go to the bathroom. done! easy as that. oh, by the way, did i mention that i was talking about our dogs? no, oh, ok, should have said that. hehehehee.

  • Stacia - September 2, 2009 - 10:27 pm

    I’m sorry that potty training was so tough for you and didn’t work. Trust me I’ve been there, first in January, and then recently. John’s doing TONS better, but it doesn’t matter how well they’re doing when you end up with poop all up your arm, you know? ๐Ÿ™‚

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