Parents share their ups and downs regarding this all-important milestone.
A Common Concern
Here's my own pathetic admission about toilet-training: It began when I realized that my then 3-year-old son had been labeled a "pooper" by his uppity nursery school -- a scoundrel who could be counted on to soil the occasional diaper, to the abject horror of the teaching staff. Ridiculously, I tried to conceal the truth. On several desperate mornings, I sent my guy off in his shameful Pull-Ups with a hug and a cheery reminder: "Now, don't poop!" My friend Corrine helped me see the humor of the situation and we eventually got through it. By the end of the school year, my little champ had graduated to underwear.
A forthright friend is good to have around when your child embarks on toilet-training. But the truth is, what works for one parent may not work as well for others. Parents approach this milestone -- a child's first big chance to proclaim, "You're not the boss of me!" -- in different ways and with varying degrees of success. The one thing we have in common, though, is that we're all curious to hear how other parents have handled the hurdle. With that in mind, here are 11 candid accounts from parents who've ventured into the badlands between changing table and toilet:
The Pressure to Succeed
I had Bella when I was 35. I wanted to get to a certain level in my career first because I knew that once we had children I was pretty much going to stay home. But it's funny how competitive you still are. You feel the pressure of other kids being potty-trained before yours. It sounds crazy but "How's so-and-so doing?" is a topic of conversation. If another kid has a setback, you almost feel a bit of relief. You think, "I must be doing okay." People won't admit it, but we all feel pressure for our children to succeed at this.
For us the process took four or five months from the day I first showed Bella, then 20 months old, some really cute little-girl underwear at Gymboree. That first day, all I did was introduce them: "Aren't these just adorable? Some day you're going to wear something like this." She said, "Mmm-hmm." That's it. The next time we went to the store, she touched them. Another month went by before she said, "Mommy, I want to buy those panties."
After we washed and dried them at home, I said, "If you're making the decision to put these on, you must not wet them." She said, "Okay, I'm going to put them in the drawer." Every day, I would ask: "Do you want diapers or panties?" She said diapers.
Then one day she asked for panties. She put them on, and that was it. I guess she had two accidents. She was completely trained by the time she was a little over 2. But everything was her decision--everything. In that area, I let her rule. Emotionally, I kept reminding myself, "It's not a race."
-- Cindy Iazzetta of Bethel, CT; mother of 6-year-old Isabella, who trained young but at her own pace
Timing Is Everything
For the longest time, after the bath or before the bath, Quin, then 2, would pee on the floor. He thought it was funny. So we got one of those little potties to sit on and said, "This is what big boys do." He quickly decided he didn't want to do that. He used a little stool and the big toilet. He insisted. We didn't initiate it -- he wanted to stand up.
We'd heard that if you start too soon they'll resist. And we'd heard that with boys it's much harder. Quin also had a new sister at the time. People said this was the absolute wrong time to do it too. I didn't want to start too early and have him react negatively. We just followed his lead. I told Quin's pediatrician we were doing this but not pushing it. She said, "Yeah, don't push. Just let him do it."
Quin would run to the toilet but only when he didn't have a diaper on. We gave him lots of naked time and let him run around. We have two cats, and we have a dog. Messes are not something we're afraid of.
We live in an apartment. The people below us had a little boy who was 3 years old and resisting. As a parent, you're always making comparisons. You can't help it. It's hard to remember children do things at their own pace.
-- Erin Brady of Lansdowne, PA; mother of Quinlan, now 4, who completed his training in 9
We had four kids in 4 1/2 years -- no twins. You're always toilet-training. Ellie was great. When she realized other kids were wearing Cinderella panties, she wanted Cinderella panties. One day, at age 3, she decided she wanted to do it, and she did it.
With Gale -- we call her full-force Gale -- it was a disaster. Nothing's easy with Gale. We tried all the tricks in the book and nothing worked. She'd pee on the sofa and just sit on it. I finally got her to do it with bribery, at age 2 1/2, before Teddy was born -- I couldn't have three in diapers. I'd give her an M&M every time she would sit on the potty. (My kids don't have a lot of sugar.) Bribery works. We joke that every day I put a few bucks aside for future therapy.
With Trip, it was a whole new thing -- different plumbing. I think you have to look at what each kid responds to. He's obsessed with Daddy, of course. He's very cognizant that Daddy's a boy and he's a boy. He began by standing on the stool, and he knew to put the seat up. Trip was trained at age 3 1/2.
My thing is to let them do it when it happens. I've got four kids running around. The last thing I need is to force them to do something they're not ready for.
-- Debbie Bennett of Nantucket, MA; mother of Ellie, 7, who trained because it was chic; Gale, 5 1/2, who held out for a bribe; Trip, 4 1/2, who did it because it's the manly thing to do; and Teddy, 2 1/2, who is currently thinking about it.
We did all the things you're supposed to do. Nothing worked. We bought the little potty when Emily was 15 months and we were psyched. She sat on it for fun. It was a novelty. We didn't try to go beyond that.
When she was around 2 1/2, we thought we should try harder, but her brother Michael came along so we skipped it. We kept talking about it and once in a while she'd show an interest. At one point, we bought panties: Dora panties, princess panties ? she had more pretty underwear than I did. But it didn't seem to bother her to wet them.
The first time she wanted to put them on was at the end of her third birthday party. She had an accident and got this horrified look on her face, like "What the heck happened?" She had no clue because diapers are so absorbent.
Half a year later, we were still just getting to the point where maybe we could get out of the house with panties on. Her school said, "That's fine. No one goes to kindergarten untrained." Everyone says, "If you wait, it's easier." So that's what we did.
I felt guilty, though. I'm a working mother and I was really ashamed that my daughter was still in diapers. I didn't like to talk about it. I felt like if I were home more, she might have been trained faster.
-- Susan Bornstein of Canton, MA; mother of 5 1/2-year-old Emily, who was finally trained when she was almost 5, and 3-year-old Michael, who is now being trained by his older sister.
I'm a stay-at-home mom. My husband and I began potty-training when our daughter showed an interest at 18 months. More than a year later, she was still in diapers -- ugh.
We did what everyone said you should do: Buy your child a potty when she starts showing interest. She probably used it once. She'd be in the bathroom every time I went, pretending to go. I'd say, "You didn't go." She'd say, "Yes, I did." I wasn't going to get into that fight--all the experts said don't press it.
I didn't mind changing diapers. I just wanted her to learn. I suppose I felt modest for her. But she was 3 -- she had no modesty. She would go all day with a poopy diaper. It didn't faze her. She couldn't care less.
-- Maggie Rogers of Oakland, CA; mother of 5-year-old Allison, who stopped pretending three months after turning 3
You know what the hard part is? Suspending your own projections. If you've left a career, toilet-training can become a little indicator of how well you're doing as a parent. If your children are having trouble, it seems to be a reflection on you.
Being an at-home dad, I was given a wide berth. People's expectations were not very high. Still, I really dug deep never to get angry. I had read Freud; the last thing I wanted was anal-retentive kids -- even if they do clean up their rooms.
Two or 3 years old is such a delicate time developmentally. Your children want to please you, but there's a physical learning curve. I made sure my sons were wearing underwear a lot. With diapers, I don't think kids even realize they're going to the bathroom. I always had a ton of underwear with me -- in the car, everywhere.
I think my kids always felt my wife and I were on their side -- that they were going to do it and we were here to help. Of course, we have the beauty of hindsight. When you're caught up in toilet-training, it's all-consuming. The pressure comes from everywhere: from the preschool, from neighbors. You have to remember your anxiety doesn't do anybody any good. You have to suspend all that. It's your kid learning his body, learning a process.
-- Rick Menelly of Long Island, NY; father of Peter and Steven, 12 and 10, who trained as preschoolers
Lessons From Abroad
We moved to London for a year when Margot was 2 1/2, so we didn't start then. For a while, we were renting a furnished apartment with carpet and white linen sofas. Can you imagine the stress of that? I just didn't bother.
They train super-early there and being in diapers at her age was socially not acceptable. When Margot would visit the daycare center at the gym, the staff would go, "Ugh, she has a diaper?" It didn't bother her, so I tried not to let it bother me. A month before she turned 3, I said, "OK, it's time." I took her diapers off and put her in underwear. She was ready. We had one accident. That's it.
With Cameron, I started right at 2 1/2. I realized from being in London that children really are capable of it earlier, and it was summer. I thought this will be great. But it sort of backfired on me; he trained early, but not fully.
Learning to pee was easy. One of my friends said, "Have him stand up and shoot something in the toilet." We used Lucky Charms with marshmallows, which we kept in a little cup on the back of the toilet. I don't think Cameron realized they were food. To him, they were pee targets. He would put the seat up, take a few out, put the colored marshmallows in the potty and aim--and he would get them. He even started to learn his colors. I'd say, "Where's the yellow one?" and he would sink it.
On the other hand, he had no interest in doing a bowel movement anywhere except his own little potty. Somebody said, "Oh, just take the little potty away." I took it away and he started getting constipated. Believe me, that's no fun. The pediatrician said, "Don't worry about it. He'll be trained by the time he's 3 1/2." But Cameron wouldn't go in Pull-Ups either. What do you do when you want to go out?
It was stressful for a full year. He always had Pull-Ups on, just in case. But he wouldn't use them -- they were just for me. We kept potties in both cars. If I was at a friend's house, I could run and get the potty inside when he needed to use it. If we were in a public place, we had to run home. The things we do for our kids -- it's incredible. Then, at 3 1/2, we had a big breakthrough. Cameron had a bowel movement on the toilet at the library. When they're ready, they're ready.
I don't know how those Brits do it.
-- Barbara Pomeroy of Yardley, PA; mother of 9-year-old Margot, who trained in an instant at 3, and 5-year-old Cameron, who took a little longer
The Dinosaur Solution
I think, for Nick, the key was the spinosaurus underwear. That's his favorite dinosaur: spinosaurus -- Jurassic Park III. When I saw them in the store, I thought, "God must have sent them down to that rack for me." I think if we had bought Spider-Man, it wouldn't have worked.
We still used Pull-Ups at night. Every so often he would need one. To me, it was okay. I think it was laziness on my part -- just to get some sleep. He was only 4. I knew there were kids who were older who still wore them. But he kept asking for his underwear. For him to be asking, you knew he was ready. We helped him along by not giving juice or water after 6 p.m.
-- Christina Bythrow of Braintree, MA; mother of Nicholas, 6, who day-trained at 3 but didn't stay dry through the night until he was 4, and Joseph, 3 1/2, who trained the same way but was motivated by Scooby-Doo underwear
The Trouble With Triplets
Potty-training didn't go so well. I think my kids, 2 1/2 years old at the time, were afraid of the toilet. My house looked like a war zone. I had to train three at the same time, so it took longer. You can't give only one your attention. I was in a triplets moms' chat group and a lot of the other mothers were starting at the same time, but they weren't getting much further than me. It seemed that a lot of multiples were around 4 before they were trained.
I tried to be patient. We went through at least $60 a week in diapers. Mostly, though, I think it's not worth it to worry. Most people understand that with triplets it's different. They gave me some slack. They would ask every once in a while, "How's it coming along?" Then they would let it drop.
-- Julie Staiger of Grand Rapids, OH; mother of 4 1/2-year-old triplets, who completed their training at different ages -- Abigail at 2 , Trevor and Dylan at 4
A Bright Beginning
When Josie was about 18 months old, I read that 18 months is the time to get a potty. I just laughed. She had no interest at all. Then a few weeks later, she started showing interest. She would go into the bathroom and want to talk about the toilet.
I bought a potty and stuck it in the bathroom. I didn't say anything. Sure enough, she wanted to sit on it -- mostly with her clothes on. The first time she peed in the potty, we made a big deal about it. We said, "Oh, look! You peed in the potty." She was so excited that she sat back down and wanted to try again.
-- Catherine Holecko of Neenah, WI; mother of Josie, now 4, who started gradually and was trained by age 3
The Turning Point
Liz: My mother and my mother-in-law were both convinced that their children were potty-trained at 1 year old. The fact that Eli was 3 and wasn't trained was just horrific to them. They couldn't believe it.
Eric: This is one of those parts of raising a child that takes tremendous patience. For a while, when Eli would sit on the toilet to do his bowel movement, we would have to tell him stories. If we told a short story, he'd say, "No, a long story." In today's culture of not having a lot of time to yourself, you don't want to sit for a long time on the floor next to your child while he's sitting on the pot.
He would do this in the middle of dinner and it would take forever. How do you respond to that? Finally, we realized we were being manipulated. We laid down the law. We said, "Here's a book." The activities that he did by himself, we moved into the bathroom. One Sunday morning, we gave him the funnies. We have a picture of him sitting on the toilet reading the paper.
Liz: The other thing that was frustrating was when we'd ask, "Do you have to go pee-pee?" He'd say, "No." Then he'd pee all over the living room floor.
Eric: My anxiety had to do with the impending arrival of the twins. I didn't want him to be in diapers or dealing with potty-training when they came. I think I pushed the envelope with the underwear. One day, he and I were running an errand. I told Liz and her mom, "We're going out. We're in underwear. We're going for it!"
I set my timer on my watch to ring every half-hour so I wouldn't forget to ask him if he had to go. That was the turning point. He made it. After that, it was exciting for him to be in underwear.
I don't understand the psychology of children and their control. They decide suddenly, "I want to be in underwear." We ended up buying Eli some boxers, and he just got a kick of wearing the same type I had on -- I hadn't been willing to wear Bob the Builder.
Liz: He's trained now. There was only one incident since the girls were born. He looked at Eric and he just peed defiantly.
-- Eric and Liz Isaacs of San Francisco; parents of 5 1/2-year-old Eli, whose training was fast-tracked at 3, in anticipation of his twin sisters' arrival
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