Some years back before I moved to Vienna, I Au-paired for an Austrian family who had a 2-year-old boy. I was lucky to witness his potty training firsthand, although I did not recognize this luck until way later. My hosts were good parents, present, patient, rarely lost their cool. When it came to potty training, the mom seemed to have gone completely insane. Everything seemed to revolve around the potty and a boy. There was regular yelling from the mom and wailing from the toddler. It was really unlike them.
This was my first potty training experience, in my naivety, I felt it could have gone better. I had no understanding whatsoever that a lot of factors came to play during this period ( Was everyone getting enough sleep, the mental state of the parents… ) My inexperience had me judging the mom harshly and hypothetically potty training my non-existent child better. Now as a mom I can totally understand her frustrations!
Years later I expected potty training Shay would be a nightmare. I had no idea how said experience had shaped how I would approach this transition. It did not teach me what to do, but enough of what not to. Consciously knowing the line I was not willing to cross was more helpful than one can imagine.
Here are a few more things that helped us ease into it with less drama.
You have to be ready
Every childhood transition has a lot to do with how patient you are in teaching and how you react to “failure”. Potty training is no different. Set your expectations really low, it might take a while for your toddler to catch up. The last thing you want to do, is traumatize your child by reacting in a negative manner when an accident happens, there will be plenty. There will be pee everywhere, you will be peed on, there might be number 2 too! The amount of laundry you will be doing, is insane.
Mostly we think that the child has to be ready, while this is irrefutable, what I discovered is that the parents have to be ready even more so than the child. This transition can be a breeze (a tiny little breeze) or a nightmare depending on how you approach it.
It helps to be mentally prepared. A calm and patient demeanour will aid in achieving your goal less stressfully. If you happen to be physically or mentally unfit kindly postpone. It really does not matter if you do it later than you intended. The only thing that does is YOU ARE READY to support your little one through this transition, free from emotional and mental agitation.
Being nappy free is a new thing for the child, chances are she will forget that more often than not. It is your job as the caregiver and support system, to meet these accidents with all the kindness you are not aware you possess. She might pee on your favourite rug, but do you remember when you did not get mad when she fell on the same rug while learning how to walk? It’s the same thing, she is learning.
The child has to be ready
Every child develops at their own pace. There is not a single rule that fits all. As a parent or a child minder, we know our kids best and can tell when they are ready. Don’t be pressured to do it on any time frame other than the one dictated by your family. I had someone tell me that her children were out of nappies before their 1st birthday, right after they saw me changing my little 18 months old! I’m not sure what this information was supposed to achieve.
Shay started daycare when she was 22 months, Saying that her childminders are great is an understatement. It’s not their job to potty train our little ones, but they take it upon themselves. She started using the toilet in daycare way before we started sitting her in a potty at home. They have the cutest baby toilet ever, which she loves. When outside they make a game out of it, “Blumen Giessen” (watering flowers) which motivates the little ones to try and go. They are not allowed to wear onesies or overalls. I thought it absurd but now I get it! Most toddler cannot open their own onesie, which would make it hard for them to independently use the toilet.
At two years she was no longer going no 2 in the nappy, thanks to daycare and the fact that she always hated having a dirty one! At home she would run around butt naked, tell us when she needed to go, or pee anywhere just to see our reaction! For the most part, she received none. This lack of attention brought that show to a stop as soon as it began. At that point, I knew she was ready, but I was not so she was still in nappies.
Pay attention to your toddlers cues
Spontaneously I decided it was time we let the nappies go. I bought a toddler toilet seat and a lot of underwear. I had Shay help pick out her little undies, just to hype her.
Our first day out without nappies was as expected, A LOT OF ACCIDENTS! The whole week was pretty much the same. When I picked her up from daycare, there’d be nice little package of several wet undies and pants waiting for me. My expectations went from low to really low!
We did not confine ourselves to our home. Cabin fever, even just for a day brings out the worst parts of me. If your family is as outdoorsy as ours, there is no valid reason why you cannot go out while potty training. You just need to be prepared, bring a load of changing clothes and keep your expectations in check while constantly pestering your child, “do you need to pee?”
Mid-second week things got better. The accidents were fewer and I learnt to pay attention to her cues. She would sort of grab her privates a minute before she had to pee. That was my warning to get her to a bathroom, in a bush, behind a tree, between cars…….when she had to go, she had to go. At times I was lost on where we should actually pee. I would ask her “can you hold it for a bit, while I figure where to pee” She would literally hold her privates, then I’d explain, I mean hold it inside, in your bladder. I gave up because clearly she had no understanding of what I meant and it was too late, she had already peed on the both of us! I’m happy to say that now she gets the meaning.
Depending on how much she drunk, we had a rough idea how much she needed to pee. In the beginning, we tried every 30 minutes but as she got used to her new nappy-free life, she started letting us know and we stopped the constant pestering “do you have to pee”. We were consistent, nappy one day and no nappy the next day can be confusing. Stick it through, even when frustrating, it will be over before you know it.
3 weeks in, the transition had settled in. We felt we could trust her to let us know when she had to go. We still asked, though not as consistently as before. When she was caught up playing especially with friends she would forget or dimmed it unimportant and just wet herself. I got frustrated, especially after having asked her 1 minute before she wet herself! Mostly, I did not let her see or feel my frustration. I had a mantra, It went something like”Cut her some slack, she is only 2, you wet the bed till you were 12!” The fact that I wet the bed so late in life and my mom never lost it with me, was the bar I was holding myself to.
Shortly after she got used to her new norm, she stopped peeing at night. After about a month of waking up dry, we ditched the bedtime nappy. We are by choice a co-sleeping family, twice she wet our bed, although changing beddings and pyjamas at an unreasonable hour felt like a hustle, we didn’t fuss. We went back to sleep with the thought of buying a mattress protector, which we never got around to.
They can and do regress
A few months after we thought we had successfully achieved our goal, we were back to several accidents a day.
This is normal especially when there is a change in the daily structure of a child’s life. She recently started her second year of daycare. This means a few new babies have been transitioned into daycare life. Shay is now one of the bigger kids. The attention shift and making space for the new younger toddlers can be super stressful for everyone involved. It is not surprising that the now “older kiddies” can feel overwhelmed. I think this was the trigger.
This regress did not last long, now we are safely back on dry land. Occasionally she still has accidents, but only when we cannot get to the toilet quick enough. Now she understands what is meant when she is asked to “hold it in” for a bit.
Your child, like all other children who have gone through this phase will pee and maybe poop on themselves, most probably on you too. How you handle it is the determining factor of stress degree. Some children need longer than others but it is safe to say that they all need a lot of patience from us as they settle into this new norm.
When our daughter is learning a new skill, we support her and avoid meeting her with threats or punitive consequences. We try and choose kindness even when we are at our wits’ end. At times we fail but we never stop trying.
What we needed
- A toilet seat
- A potty
- A lot of undies
- The hidden patience you did not know you had.
- more of it
What we did not need
- Potty training books
- A lot of research
- Fancy potty training gadgets (ipotty, lumipotti)
- Bedwetting alarm
You got this, be gentle with yourself, it is not easy! What are some of the things that helped ease the frustration of potty training for your family? As always thanks for reading!