Someday, my 2 1/2-year-old son Jack will be a man. And when is, he'll probably surf the Internets and find that his dear old dad posted this picture. Hopefully he'll forgive me without inflicting bodily injury: Kids on the potty are just plain cute.
Potty training, on the other, is decidedly not cute. We've been at it, somewhat half-heartedly, for about six months now. We put Jack on the potty at least once a day, usually before bed, and on the rare occasion that something comes out, we give him a treat (it all seems so much like house-breaking a dog, doesn't it?) He likes to sit on the potty and asks to do so when the mood strikes, usually when the topic of big-boy underwear comes up, but rarely when he actually has to "go". We talk frequently about letting us know before he has to go, but he doesn't seem interested in that.
In the Fall, Jack starts a new school, where they "strongly request" that kids be potty trained, so I decided to give our excellent pediatrician, Dr. Brown (you remember him from here), a call. Turns out—SURPRISE!—we've been doing everything wrong.
Well, not everything: The reward system is a good idea (works for beagles, right?) But our half-hearted approach—lotsa talk, but little action—is a big mistake. "I tell parents to either go one way or the other, either ignore it or just start wearing underwear," says Dr. Brown. "That middle route, where you're buggin' em and askin' em all the time, forget it. That doesn't get you anywhere."
True enough, but who knew "ignore it" was an option? "Eventually, they get it," he says. "I have very few kids who get to four and aren't potty trained."
With the new school coming, that's not really an option—and frankly, I think I'm ready to stop coming into such close contact with my son's ever-larger feces anyway (too much info?)
So, Dr. Brown recommends a kind-of Potty Boot Camp: "The other option, and it usually works pretty well, is to just tell the kids that it's just their urine and you don't want to have anything to do with it anymore," he says. "If he wants to pee in his pants, that's fine. If he wants to go on the potty, there are lots of rewards. So, you put him in underpants and you tell him that the only rule you have is that he can't walk around the house in wet clothes, so if he wets himself, he's gotta go change his clothes. And they have to do it themselves. Most kids, within a couple days, they're using the potty, because the other option is that they have to go to their room, change their clothes—I tell parents to have a place for them to throw wet clothes—they really are in charge of it."
That sounds good, but not all potty business is, uh, "wet". "Stool is a little different," Dr. Brown says, understating the matter considerably. "Sometimes they go together—if they do the urine, they do the stool. With stool, obviously, if they have accidents, they'll need some help with it."
A couple other important notes:
- "He still needs diapers at night," says Dr. Brown, suggesting a little deception: "You can just tell him there are no more regular diapers, there are only these nighttime diapers—you just can't get the regular ones anymore.
-"Keep it positive," he says. "He can pick out his big-boy underpants, and make sure there are lots of rewards for going on the potty."
-"If you do this training, it's gotta be a couple days when you're all gonna be home," he says. "It's gotta be either you're on vacation or you have a long weekend, something like that where you can devote your time to it."
-Another thing we did wrong: "Make sure he has a little stool he can rest his feet on," says Dr. Brown, whose name has now taken on a whole new meaning for me. "Because, particularly if he's trying to have a bowel movement, if his feet are just dangling in the air—you need something to press down on."
We're gonna give this a go. I'll let you know how it goes. Got any other suggestions? And vote!