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Potty or Parent Training?

I had a good laugh this morning when I learned that June is National Potty Training Awareness Month. Because is there any parent of a toddler UNAWARE of this? Even if you are in no rush on this stage—and I wasn’t—it can feel like the rest of the world has a schedule you aren’t keeping.

The very general rule is to wait until a child is between two and three to even introduce the potty. It just so happened that friends bequeathed us their Elmo potty when my son was about 18 months old, when we were still absorbed with some other milestone. Lacking storage, we parked it in the restroom corner for the future.

Maybe it was because my own Mom used cloth diapers with three kids, but my baby book indicates I was on the throne at 9 months old. I was in no such rush.

Frankly, diapers were easier. Even traveling, my kid loved the plane bathroom changing table and those disposables seemed to hold a gallon of fluid in a pinch. And yet, from the time our kid was 2, someone or other at the playground or park would want to talk about potty training. Have you started? When will you start? Have you tried….?

I mastered the art of smiling while silently making my grocery list.

Around this time, I was bewildered when a co-worker decided that she was done changing diapers. She didn’t like the look of them with the outfits that beckoned from her daughter’s closet. “See this?” she told her 22-month-old, pointing to the half-empty bag of diapers. “When the last one is gone, you’ll have no choice but the potty.”

She told me this with great satisfaction. But I wondered: if potty training is an essential act of independence for a child, why would you take that away from them?

That’s not to say we didn’t start gently nudging at age 3. We checked out the library books on potty training, then the video of the same story. Over the months, my son watched it with fascination and giggles. But he looked at the potty as an amusing piece of furniture on which to thumb through books.

The standing up peeing was easy, made fun by tossing in some Cheerios into the bowl and having him aim at them. Any suggestion from a loved one, we considered, starting with no-demand reading on the throne and heaps of praise.

Then came preschool. It seemed the single reason parent friends tried to accelerate potty training. Despite people telling me it was against the law, plenty of preschools I liked wouldn’t do diapers. (It takes more staff)

And so I witnessed some very crafty, but occasionally harsh, efforts by friends and relatives to get their kid out of diapers. We tried some of what they tried as encouraging motivation: shopping for big-kid underwear of their choice, wearing them for short periods, pushing fluids then going naked in the backyard over the summer for a few hours and having the potty chair nearby.

These seemed to leave the choice to the kid, yet avoid power struggles. Whereas one friend said her son insisted on ditching diapers at barely two and had constant accidents in car seats, which left Dad screaming and undone. For the same reason, another friend had to replace a couch. Still another followed the guidance that leaving a child in soiled diapers will force them to want out of them and go on the potty.

The most extreme case I heard of, when I was starting to fret, involved a relative who shall remain nameless. Nothing but the best for her sons, whom she wanted to attend a coveted preschool in her town. She had lied and said both were potty trained, fully expecting they would be after six months. Instead, the weekend before school started, she drew a target on newspaper, which she put on the bathroom floor, and said, go on that and I will give you this large toy truck.

Both boys did it, and I was speechless, proving also that it is possible to be impressed and horrified at once.

By then, my son was waiting for space at the beloved neighborhood preschool, small, affordable, whose owner built a big tree house for her charges. We had four months to liberate from Pampers.

I will confess to attempted bribery: a prized Thomas the Tank train in return for a deposit. When it was declined, we passed on the preschool, backed off the subject, and waited. A month or two later, the promise of an hour at the toy store train table in return for going commando turned out to be the right time and place.

What you learn with parenting, I think, is that no matter what you are worrying about will pretty much turn out just fine anyway.

And so for National Potty Training Awareness Month, I suggest you retain a sense of humor (this link should help, and my favorite of the useless gadgets is a talking toilet paper roll holder:

And remember the most helpful truth ever told about potty training. It was actually a question: have you ever seen a kindergartner in diapers?

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