I have another great guest post for you this morning from The Secret Father. A huge thank you to The Secret Father; it’s great to get a Dad’s perspective on potty training! You can also find The Secret Father on Twitter @Secret_Father :O)
Change is never easy, and potty training – one of the major milestones in any young child’s life – can be one of the more challenging and frustrating change phases for everyone involved. It is much more than just taking off their nappies and showing them where the toilet is. It is the beginning of the process that will eventually see your child walk out of the door and off into the great wide world on their own. No wonder it can be so stressful.
There were a number of catalysts that led to my wife and I taking the decision to attempt potty training our daughter. Firstly our daughter was soon to turn 2 ½ and we were both getting fed up with the daily change table struggles. She was becoming stronger, more vocal and less inclined to lie passively while we changed her nappies.
Secondly she had started to express an interest in using the potty, talked about it a lot and often sat on it watching us. We bought her books about potty use and read those to her frequently. She asked questions and was becoming inquisitive. She was also able to get her trousers up and down, which we figured was a key developmental stage and precursor to potty training.
Thirdly it was summer and we felt that it would be better to attempt potty training during a time when we were more often than not outside – easier to clean up if there were accidents, and as long as we had a potty on standby, everyone could relax. In hindsight this was a great decision. In hindsight I would HATE to try potty training in the winter when everyone is stuck in the house.
Fourthly her bowel and bladder movements had started to become more routine. She was starting to wake up with a dry nappy. She was starting to give tell tale signs that she needed to go, even if she couldn’t vocalise it – shuffling around, complaining and holding her “bits” were all good indicators that she was starting to anticipate the process, and therefore becoming more conscious.
And lastly one of her best friends had also started the process of potty training. The application of a healthy dose of peer pressure struck us as providing the best chance of success of all.
So it was around June 2012 when we took the decision, just at the start of the UK summer. We explained what we were trying to do to our daughter’s key worker at nursery who was initially very supportive. We decided to go for day time potty training only. At night times we decided our daughter should wear pull up pants.
We were initially quite fearful as our daughter likes routine, doesn’t like change and expresses displeasure openly, frequently and assertively (in other words, like many other two year olds, she can be a “Todzilla” from time to time). However the transition to grown-up pull up pants made my daughter happy as she felt like a big girl. Equally my wife and felt an immediate relief and liberation from the dreaded nappies (not to mention happiness at the thought of the expense saved) and I think my daughter did too.
However despite these early quick wins, the first two weeks didn’t go very well at all. In fact I would describe them as a disaster.
My daughter found it very difficult and was having accidents all day at nursery and also at home in the evenings. We tried to be patient and adopted the line to never scold an accident, but instead gently reassure and encourage her to get it right the next time. My daughter became increasingly frustrated, unable to vocalise her angst. In hindsight, and judging by her reactions to each accident, I am also pretty sure she found the whole process quite humiliating – after all, who would want to be seen wetting or soiling themselves in public?
This went on for two weeks. Fortunately we have tiles and exposed floor boards at home in the majority of the family space in the house, so the damage from the many accidents was easily cleaned up. However the emotional scars were much harder to deal with. My daughter still couldn’t work out what was happening and became tense and stroppy. My wife and I were frazzled from following her around the house and garden with a potty.
We tried lots of ideas, but even the sticker chart (which we thought would be the failsafe technique given her love for stickers) didn’t work. Each day the situation report from our key worker at nursery made depressing listening. We began to dread the daily briefing of failure and continued stress and the exchange of yet another plastic bag full of soiled clothes.
Then one day, as we entered the third week of potty training, our nursery key worker pulled us to one side with our daughter, and suggested that it wasn’t working and that we should revert back to nappies. She said my daughter was not ready.
We were gutted.
Unusually for me, I was actually at the point where I was also willing to cave in (after all, I was the one who had provided the spine to get us through a month of sleep training earlier in her life) but thank goodness my wife provided the spine on this occasion and argued that we had put so much energy into potty training and that we shouldn’t give up now.
My wife was also aware that my daughter’s friend had successfully transitioned from nappies to potty pretty easily in the meantime, and this provided further incentive for all of us.
And the very next day something amazing happened.
We were stood in the nursery, explaining our decision to our daughter’s key worker and my daughter toddled off into the bathroom. After a few moments I decided to follow her. When I turned the corner I cried out in amazement! My daughter was sat on the potty, big grin on her face, HAVING A WEE! I could not contain my excitement and called the others in to see. Of course I am not sure this was the right move as it temporarily made my daughter a little shy of her achievement.
However, amazingly she had no more accidents that day, nor the next, nor for many days after that. That day (June 14th, 2012 if you are interested) from then on in, became known as WEE DAY in our household. We will celebrate it this year, partly as a bit of fun, but also partly so we can introduce the concept to her little brother who will also soon be embarking on his own little war of (nappy) independence.
By the end of it my daughter had cracked number ones within three weeks and number twos within two months. Accidents, when they did come, were generally during periods of intense play and excitement, when her mind was on something else, but within a couple of months these became incredibly rare. She suffered a couple of viruses in the time, which also seemed to set her back, but generally the learning trajectory was extremely sharp after that initial success.
I look back upon that period with mixed feelings. I was pleased that my wife had been tenacious enough to persuade me to stick with it. I was also proud that my daughter had decided to prove us all wrong, determined to do things in her own time, in her own way; but I also know it was a tough and stressful time, and a time when there were also many other challenges such as teething and sleep issues to deal with.
However, looking back, the overwhelming sense for us all is one of celebrating a victory; for my wife and I it was about having survived one of the key transition phases in early childhood development and for having successfully supported and coached my daughter through it.
But more importantly the victory was for my daughter; my daughter who assertively and confidently took her own decision to take yet another step on the path towards autonomy and independence; for my daughter who took a step closer to understanding and taking control over her own body; for my daughter who became closer to understanding her own needs and shaping her own independent future.
We learnt that potty training is more than just removing their nappies and showing your child where the toilet is. It is about empowerment, trust and preparing your child for the next stages in their life. These are big issues and big concepts, and introducing them so early on in their little lives is bound to cause tension, friction and challenges. And it is no surprise then, that it can feel all consuming.
And as we now stand on the verge of embarking on the potty training process with my son, we are preparing and steeling ourselves for a long, and sometimes stressful, journey. We will be prepared for setbacks on the way. We will be prepared for another summer of running around the house with a potty in one hand, and a bottle of disinfectant and brush in the other.
But ultimately, given what an incredible achievement it is for a child to throw off the lumpy shackles of nappies and to be able to stride confidently, with bare buttocks, out into the big wide world, we will be prepared for our children to (yet again) amaze us.