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Dooty Diaries: When to Back Off the Potty Training?

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Cynthia Roelle, mom to a 2-year-old daughter and award-winning photographer, thanks everyone for sharing their potty training suggestions.  She’s backing off for now but, for those of you who may be in the same boat, she has summed up your comments below.

A month ago, in my first installment of Dooty Diaries, I posed the question: Can you miss the boat on potty training? The response was overwhelming. As near as I can tell, there’s no boat to be missed. Yet here I am with a kid who will turn 3 in July and shows absolutely no interest in using the potty. So what am I doing wrong? My best guess is that I want it too much. My daughter is pushing back against my desire for her to use the potty. The more I want her to go, the more she resists. It’s one of the few areas in her world where she is in complete control. I know I could probably force the issue but the idea of it just doesn’t sit right with me.

Many readers took the time to share their potty training experience and to offer suggestions. The vast majority of those who commented suggested that I simply back off and wait until my daughter is ready. Since I think our problem is a “simple” power struggle, I’ve decided to take that advice and see what happens. For those of you who are not locked in a power struggle with your toddler but who could use some help in the potty training area, I’ll do my best to sum up the many other great ideas left by fellow readers. Here they are:

Be a Role Model: According to a former preschool teacher, being a good role model for your child is a must. This of course means going to the bathroom in front of your child. I’m here to tell you I can go like a pro, and in front of little eyes too. My daughter has seen me peeing expertly for going on three years now. She is not impressed. Despite my best efforts, it would seem that I am a sh–ty potty model.

Log Potty Time: Quite a few readers swear that success flows from logging potty time. One reader recommends that I put my daughter on the toilet or potty seat for five minutes every 20 minutes, as well as every time I go. Using this method, her son was using the potty regularly by 16 months but wasn’t fully trained until 30 months.

Intriguing, but let’s break it down. If I plop my daughter on the potty for 5 minutes of every 20, she’ll be sitting there for 15 minutes every hour. That’s a full hour on the potty for each 4-hour period of time. Let’s assume the average toddler sleeps 12 hours a day. That leaves 12 hours available for potty training, three of which will be spent on the potty. Your average month has 30 days. Three hours a day multiplied by 30 days means my daughter would be spending 90 hours per month on the potty. Multiply that by the 14 months it took this mom’s son to become fully trained and you get 1260 hours of potty time, or 52½ days. Wow, this little boy logged some serious potty time.

Like every stay-at-home mother, I spend a butt load of time with my daughter. But to spend 52 days of the year on the potty? No thank you. Clearly I’m poking fun here but it seems to me to be a function of quality vs. quantity. Sorry, but I’m not about to invest this amount of time in the bathroom.

Watch Stupid Movies. Another mommy swears by what she bills as “the DUMBEST movie in the world.” Apparently it’s a bad movie from the late 80s or early 90s with “a bunch of completely annoying songs.” The songs got under this mom’s skin but somehow got her daughter on the potty within 2 or 3 days after she started watching it.

Okay, my daughter loves videos so this holds some promise for me. There’s only one problem. There are so many stupid movies that I can’t figure out which one she’s talking about. Molly, if you’re reading this please give me a little more to go on. You mentioned Potty Time but there must be 50 videos with Potty Time in the title. Do you mean the one with the song Super Duper Pooper? Because it looks like it could be the dumbest movie in the world.

Buy Big Kid Underpants. A number of readers suggested I take my daughter to the store and let her pick out special “big girl” underpants. Armed with underwear I should then repeatedly explain the importance of wearing them and of using the potty. This should be sufficient motivation for my daughter to trade in her diaper for underpants.

I wish. I tried this but even in the store she declared: “I don’t want underpants!” I bought them anyway. I took them home, washed them and made her try them on. It was not pleasant for either of us.

That was a few months ago and since then I’ve only forced them on her a time or two. Interestingly she’ll talk about her underpants. Sometimes she’ll get them out of the drawer and arrange them neatly on her bed. “Look at the beautiful underpants,” she’ll say. Beautiful though they may be, she does not want to wear them.

Make a Big Deal. Lots of readers said it helped when they made a huge deal any time their children went in the potty. Singing and dancing were also key motivators.

The first time our daughter tinkled in the potty my husband and I scared the crap out of her with our cheering and clapping. She bawled her head off and wouldn’t go anywhere near the potty. Our singing and dancing also flopped. What can I say? We can’t sing or dance to save our lives and our daughter knows it.

Offer Prizes & Rewards: A number of people recommended using small prizes such as dollar store items, stickers or candy as rewards for using the potty. One reader used this method with her two girls and both were trained within a few days.

I’m not knocking this as a legitimate and effective method of potty training but I just can’t do it, at least as far as the prizes go. I am fundamentally opposed to buying a bunch of junk to try to motivate my daughter. She isn’t wowed by stickers either, so regrettably, that’s out for us. I’m not wild about the idea of giving her candy but I’m willing to give M&Ms a try . . . just as soon as she shows some interest in going.

Ditch the Diaper. Another reader whose daughter was fully potty trained at age two, suggested setting a target date and switching to underpants when the day comes. With this, of course, you need to make a huge deal about every little drop that lands in the potty.

The obvious problem here, if you read my original blog, is that I’m not willing to deal with cleaning up messes throughout the day. If we didn’t have wall-to-wall carpeting throughout our house then maybe. In fact, we did give this method a chance one time about a year ago. That was before we moved into our current, and unfortunately carpeted, house. But regardless, I’m just not willing to run after my child cleaning up her messes.

Go Naked.  According to many readers, I’m not too late. One mother didn’t try to train her daughter until she was nearly 2½. It took her all of 2 days. Her advice was to completely clear my schedule for a few days and let my daughter run around naked from the waist down, watching her like a hawk until she makes a mess. I should ask her repeatedly (every 10 to 15 minutes) if she has to use the potty. The second she starts to pee I should grab her and run like hell to the potty.

There is one scenario and one scenario only in which I can see this working for me, and that is if I cleared my schedule and went camping. However, I loathe camping. For all the reasons stated previously, this method is not for me. See above.

Peer Pressure. Another reader didn’t train her son until after his third birthday and says the biggest motivating factor was being around kids who were using the potty at school. She stopped pushing and let her son come around to the idea, while pointing out when his friends or older cousins would use the potty.

My daughter turns 3 in July and will start preschool in the fall. I sincerely hope she’s fully trained by then but if not, perhaps she’ll change her tune once she sees other kids using the potty at school. My daughter’s teacher said most kids who aren’t trained at the start of school are fully trained within the first couple of weeks. This could be us! Let’s hope.

Clean Your Own Mess. One reader actually suggested that if your child does a job in his or her pants it’s his or her job to clean up the mess. Here’s her comment:

I don’t think you missed the boat, but I think you have made things harder for yourself. Take the diapers off, put her in big girl underpants and pull the potty out. When she has accidents it is HER job to take her underpants off and clean up the mess. Mom and dad should be there to help, but it shouldn’t be your responsibility to clean her up. When she goes on the potty (actually pees or poops, not just sits on the potty) give her a reward. There shouldn’t be a choice at this point. You’re the parent and two and half is old enough to be potty trained… Good luck!

Let her clean up her own mess? Surely you jest. It shouldn’t be my responsibility to clean her up? Whose should it be? I barely trust my husband with the task let alone my 2½-year-old. She passes a wadded up wash cloth over her mouth, smearing peanut butter across her cheek and into her hair, and she thinks she has cleaned herself. Imagine if she did this with her poop. Ummm…No. Not happening.

I hate to be judgmental but there are no words to describe what I think of this idea. Oh wait, yes there are: plain crazy.

Exercise Parental Authority. Another reader thinks my problem is that I’m not being firm enough with my daughter. She suggests I try exercising some parental authority, pointing out that at age 2 children are perfectly capable of understanding how to pee and poop in the potty.

I agree that most 2-year-olds are capable of understanding how to pee and poop in the potty. I’m just not willing to force my daughter to sit on the potty against her will (and certainly not 52 days of the year). I exercise my parental authority all the live-long day but, as this reader points out, you can’t use your authority as the parent to force your child into being ready.

Back Off. One mother whose son was motivated by peer pressure, recommends that I back off. She rewarded her son with small prizes once she thought he was ready, but admits she didn’t think the incentives would have worked if he wasn’t ready. She said:

If she’s hiding it from you, I’d back off for a bit and try again in a month or two. Read books about potty training, point out that other kids are using the toilet, but let her tell you when she’s ready to start. Good luck!

Wait Until They’re Ready. The overwhelming majority of parents who read my blog and took the time to comment agreed with that mother and recommended that I simply wait until my daughter is ready. So now we are all sitting tight.

For my part I haven’t asked her if she wants to use the potty and I’ve taken away the potty seats. For her part she has quit screaming that she wants to wear her stinky, poopy diaper. She has started, once again, to tell me when she has pooped. In the last few days she has even asked me to change her dirty diaper. It’s progress, I think.

Thanks to each and every one of you who took the time to comment. I very much appreciate the advice, even the advice I didn’t or don’t plan to take. Hopefully my daughter will come around soon. I’ll let you know when she does.

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Too Many Toys? Ideas to Avoid Toy Overload

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Cynthia Roelle, mom to a 2-year-old daughter and award-winning photographer, offers a homemade gift alternative to store bought toys while making a point about excessive consumerism.

Jill’s recent blog about Toy Overload really struck a chord with me. How many toys are too many? How do you measure? Whom do you measure against? Who’s to say?

In 2008 on a trip to Rwanda, my husband and I came across a bunch of kids who had made a bicycle out of wood. Wood. I mean every part of the bicycle was made of wood. Okay, maybe there was a nail or two holding the wheel (also wood) on but everything else was wood. The most striking thing about the bike was that it didn’t belong to any one kid. It belonged to all of the kids in the village. Collectively. They took turns riding it, without fighting or crying. Can you imagine?

In another village we found kids playing with a soccer ball they had made from discarded plastic bags. This was all the more impressive because plastic bags are banned in Rwanda, which makes them hard to come by. What will they play with when their makeshift soccer ball is nothing but tattered shreds? I’m pretty sure they’ll come up with something ingenious.

Not long after returning from Rwanda my husband and I moved to Hawaii. Oh man, to be a kid in Hawaii. Year-round fun in the sun. In the military community where we lived there were kids galore. It wasn’t hard to figure out who in the neighborhood had kids (which, apparently, was everybody but us) because their yards looked like a cross between a gigantic yard sale and a trash dump. Full of every toy imaginable.

But here’s the thing. You almost never saw kids playing with any of that junk. Like kids around the world, they ran around in packs doing what kids do.

The toy disparity between the Rwandan kids and the kids in Hawaii was hard to swallow. My husband and I made a pact that if we had kids the rule in our household would be: get a toy, give a toy. That is, for every toy received, our kids would have to choose one toy to give away.

Four years later, we now have a little girl. Our house (and yard) has not been inundated with toys. Since our daughter was a newborn I’ve been going through her toys about every other month and pulling out the things she has outgrown or now shows no interest in. Some I pass on to friends, some I save for later, some I donate.

Many of her toys are hand-me-downs anyway, from her twin cousins who are 9 months older. We get the toys they’ve outgrown and send them back when we’re done with them. My sister then passes them on to others.

I’ll admit I haven’t actually implemented the get a toy, give a toy rule. In my defense, our daughter is only 2½—old enough to realize that in our house, toys sometimes disappear.

After Christmas my daughter caught me squirreling away some of her toys and wanted to know what I was doing with them. I explained how fortunate she is to have so many toys and how it’s good to give some of her toys to kids who don’t have any. Surprisingly, she seemed okay with it. When she’s a little older I’ll have her choose the toys she wants to give away and together we’ll go to donate them.

That’s all well and good but it doesn’t get to the root of the problem of having too many toys to begin with. Jill mentioned that she felt they received too many toys at Christmas. She wouldn’t have that problem if she was related to me.

My sister has no qualms about asking people not to buy toys for her boys because they have so much. You don’t have to tell me twice. I still want to do nice things for my nephews of course, but instead of sending toys, I send supplies for a simple craft. I send everything—supplies, instructions and a picture of my daughter with the finished craft—and my sister gets to make it with her boys. Our Easter craft is a perfect example. My daughter is on the left; my nephews are the other two.

Okay, so our mangy bunnies would make Martha Stewart cringe but I truly believe we all got something out of this. It helps that my sister is the least creative person on the planet, but still.

And the best part—no more junk! We can throw it away when we’re done. It’s just an idea to throw out there for those of us who think toy overload is something to overhaul. Especially when you know that kids have the creative capacity to come up with far more than we give them credit for. For some, just having a plastic bag or a piece of wood is enough. That’s by necessity, but we can still learn from their examples.

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Dooty Diaries: Can You Miss the Boat on Potty Training?

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

Cynthia Roelle, mom to a 2-year-old daughter and award-winning photographer, wonders if you can miss the boat on potty training. If you have suggestions, please share!


My mom always told me I talked early and was fully potty trained at a very young age. Like, by a year-and-a-half or something ridiculous. Apparently the potty part happened in all of one day and didn’t involve training of any kind. The day I realized that unleashing my bowels equaled immediate discomfort I dumped my diaper and never looked back.

Like me, my daughter also talked at a very young age. Naturally, I assumed that potty training would follow early too.

At 15-months-old she said “poop” or “poopy” every time I changed her dirty diaper. After bragging incessantly to the other moms at the playground, I ran out and bought her the cutest little froggy potty you’ve ever seen. She was enamored with it for sure, but graced it only with hugs and kisses, never her bottom. Elmo, on the other hand, spent quite a lot of time on it.

Over the months we tried various methods and enticements. We set her up with a pile of her favorite books. That held promise for, like, a day. We rewarded her with M&Ms. But, being the suckers that we are (and by we, I mean my husband), she polished off a few bags before we realized the only success we were going to have was weight gain.

We then got the brilliant idea to let her watch her favorite video—Mickey Mouse Clubhouse—while sitting on the potty. We thought if she sat there long enough, eventually she’d go. Fat chance. She once sat watching happily for two hours with nary a tinkle.

At some point we traded in the froggy for an Elmo seat on the big potty. Didn’t help. The bottom line is she has zero interest in using the potty.

Not long ago a friend suggested I forgo diapers and try putting her in cotton training pants. The theory, of course, is that soggy underpants are so uncomfortable they’re bound to produce instant potty training success.

Given that this is how I was trained it sounded perfectly plausible to me. I ran out and bought a mega-pack of training pants and wasted no time getting started.

My daughter peed within 10 minutes of wearing her new underpants. She didn’t tell us she had peed—the puddle on the kitchen floor tipped us off—and it sure didn’t seem to bother her. We stripped off pair Number 1, cleaned her up and put on pair Number 2.

Just about the time we finished cleaning up the kitchen floor she peed again. And pooped. But again, she didn’t bother to tell us. She just sat there doodling at the kitchen table until we sniffed her out.

I’m sorry but…what? How long are you supposed to let your kid wallow in dripping wet, poop-filled underpants to get the full benefit of this method?  Clearly I hadn’t thought this through. My kid had poop-stained pee running down her leg. Am I supposed to let her walk around the house like that? Because we don’t live in a barn. I don’t particularly enjoy cleaning up the kitchen floor but our rugs? Furniture? There’s no way.

This method is not for me. And unfortunately, the time I’m willing to let her stew in filth does not create sufficient discomfort for my kid to feel the need to run to the potty.

So here we are. She’s two-and-a-half years old (32 months actually) and I feel like I’ve missed the boat on potty training. What’s worse is that I have no clue what to do.

She used to tell us when she had to poop. Now she denies that she’s done it. Me: “Honey did you go poopy?” Her: “No, I didn’t!”

Sometimes she preemptively denies it. She’ll look up at me out of the blue and shout “I’m not going poopy!” when, clearly, she is mid-poop.

Now when I change her diaper she cries “Don’t change my diaper! I want that poopy diaper! I WANT TO WEAR THAT STINKY DIAPER!”

Help me.

My daughter cannot be motivated, pressured or persuaded by anything or anyone. The more I want something the more she resists. She’s incredibly strong willed.

We are getting nowhere so I’m laying off for a while. I’m hoping one day she’ll just decide she’s ready and it will be over and done with. I just can’t help wanting to speed up the process.

Did I miss the boat? What do I do? I’ll take any suggestions you have. Please, I’m begging!

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Any Suggestions For My Daughter’s Hair Issue?

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

Cynthia Roelle, mom to a 2-year-old daughter and award-winning photographer, shares her daughter’s hair issue. Warning: a mullet is involved.

When I read Jill’s blog about Fia’s “Hair Issue” I had to laugh. At least she has hair! What little hair my daughter has is as straight as a pin and as fine as silk. To make matters worse, she has a wicked cowlick that makes bangs impossible. And like Fia, she hates to have her hair brushed. Any sort of bow I manage to clip in she rips out in no time, unfortunately along with clumps of hair she can’t afford to spare.

She’s been follicly challenged since the day she was born. The first time I laid eyes on her I remember thinking: Oh Dear, her hairline starts at her eyebrows. She was born with a whole head of hair, dark, long and silky smooth. But it started low on her forehead, literally, right above her eyebrows, and progressed all around her head, sticking out in every direction and ending in a bitchin’ mullet.

Our daughter never exactly lost her hair but as the weeks went by it seemed to get lighter and shorter. Except for the mullet. At least her hairline retreated from her eyebrows back to a normal position on her forehead.

Not long after that her bald spot started coming on. It spread like wildfire until it consumed the entire back of her head. The mullet, of course, survived unscathed. Without hair, the back of her head looked as flat and wide as a blank billboard.

Eventually hair took hold and her bald patch started to fill in. The new hair grew like a weed until it was neck and neck with the mullet. But while the back and top were sprouting, nothing was happening around her face or on the sides. You are following all this right?

By nineteen months my daughter’s hair was as wispy and flyaway as could be. It was time for her first haircut, if you can call it that. There wasn’t much that could be done but to shape up the raggedy ends and trim the clump that hung in her eyes. There wasn’t even enough hair to save.

That was exactly a year ago this week. Since then she’s had just a couple of trims.

Tomorrow she goes for what I hope will be an honest-to-goodness hair cut. I’m not sure what can be done but I’m hoping for a miracle, or at least some assurance that my daughter won’t be cursed with super sparse hair all her life.

Any way you cut it, I couldn’t have hoped for a lovelier child. She’s just the sweetest thing. And, thank goodness, hair grows.

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Do Children See Skin Color?

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

Cynthia Roelle, mom to a 2-year-old daughter and award-winning photographer, believes that children do see skin color and that it’s up to parents to teach them it doesn’t matter.


I don’t generally get worked up over things I read on Facebook but earlier this month a friend posted something that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind.

My friend was with her girls at the playground. A little girl with blonde hair approached her and asked if she was the girls’ mom or their babysitter. When my friend told the little girl that she was their mother the little girl said: “Well they look different than you. You know, their skin is darker and yours is like mine.”

My friend looks similar to me. She’s a taller-than-average white girl with shoulder-length brown hair and fair skin. Her daughters are both blessed with beautiful dark brown hair and skin that’s a creamy shade of caramel. What I would give for skin like that. Those lucky little ladies got it from their father whose family comes from Ecuador (though he’s pretty light himself).

One of the cool things about my friend is that she doesn’t have thin skin, fair though it may be. But something about her encounter with the little girl left her feeling sad. After explaining the scenario on Facebook she wrote: “I can only say that for various reasons, I don’t think that what happened this afternoon was a clear cut case of either curiosity or prejudice.”

Most of the people who commented on my friend’s post saw the exchange as a “teachable moment.” But one woman had this to say:

“[Y]ou taught that little bigot about life. What difference does skin color make…. Most young children do not see skin color unless some adult brought it to there [sic] attention.”

I wasn’t at the playground that day so I can’t speak to the girl’s tone or demeanor but to call a little girl a bigot? Wow. That’s harsh. And to say that children do not see skin color is simply wrong. They just don’t form judgments about people based on skin color. They can’t, because they have no framework in which to do so.

That’s where parents come in. It’s up to us to teach our children that color is, quite literally, only skin deep. It’s up to us to teach them that people come in all colors, shapes and sizes but that skin color and physical characteristics do not define a person. It’s up to us to teach our children that while every person is unique, we are all equal.

Children learn and form assumptions about the world based on what they observe. They just haven’t developed a brain-to-mouth filter that keeps them from asking blunt questions.

In the case of the little girl at the playground, it seems to me that she did the best thing she could have done. She noticed a difference in skin color between my friend and her daughters and asked about it. She made a blunt comment about the difference but her comment, at least as I read it, was free of judgment.

What do you think?

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