amy | September 25, 2007 ( 7:45 PM)

Potty Training, A Year (Or So) In Review

Let me begin by admitting that this very long post is an "I-needed-to-get-it-off-my-chest" thing. Thanks for listening.

I am so, so, soooo very tired of potty training. We started over a year ago, when Sophia was about 18 months old. She seemed young, but she had started showing a lot of interest in her bodily functions; wanted to try out the toilet; liked the idea of training undies; and would sit on the potty and "produce" almost every time we plunked her there. So, we came up with this sit-on-the-potty-every-1.5-hours routine. If we didn't get her there in time, especially if she'd consumed an unusually large amount of liquid, she'd have an accident. She rarely told us when she needed to go pee (poop was a better bet), and when she did tell us, it probably had nothing to do with having an urge. More likely, she'd overheard me saying I needed to go and wanted to try too. Or it was bedtime, and she knew she'd be able to stay up longer if she said the magic potty word. But I kept thinking optimistically, "One day she'll wake up, and she'll get it!"

Our parent-led potty process worked fine for a while, but then Sophia morphed into a very strong-willed 2 year old. Every trip to the potty was a fight. So, we eased off. We put her back into diapers, mostly cloth and some disposables. She seemed to know when she needed to poop (but not pee) and would tell us sometimes. Oh, and she would often ask to go potty while we were out and about (since she liked checking out any bathroom other than her own). It was a real hassle trying to take a cloth diaper off in a public bathroom stall and then trying to put it back on (while she was standing up) after she was done. But we never denied her an opportunity to try.

Around 2 years and 3 months, we thought we were back in business. Sophia woke up dry in the morning a couple of times in a row, started to tell us BEFORE she needed to pee, and would run to the bathroom on her own. It was so amazing, and we were overjoyed. "This is it!" we beamed, "She figured it out on her own!" We bought her new big-girl undies. We talked it up and doled out tons of praise. We had about 2 days of moderate success, but then our overabundance of psycho-happy/excited/nervous enthusiasm seemed to backfire. Maybe it produced some sort of performance anxiety. We ended up with a lot of messes and a loss of interest.

Next we decided to work the motivation/reward angle. We watched potty videos that extolled the virtues of being a Big Kid and getting rid of those messy diapers. And we even packed up all her diapers to save for Cassidy (Sophia's idea). That worked wonders—for about two days. We tried a sticker chart (although we ended up with a sticker stool for climbing up onto the potty). We tempted her with Skittles and M&M's, a sweet joy she'd never experienced before. With every new incentive, the first day or so were great. But after the novelty wore off, she could care less. She wouldn't tell us if she needed to go, and she didn't mind sitting in wet undies. Oh, and it was really fun that one time when she pooped in her undies and then smeared it all over her dollhouse people to make it look like they had pooped too (don't worry Play Group Friends, they've been disinfected). But we persisted because we are stubborn that way. And because we have another baby due in December. Both horrible reasons, I know.

Lately, the impending role of Big Sister has become a big issue. In fact, if not for this dilemma, I feel like Sophia could be fully potty trained right now. Some days (or part of the day), she is very proud to be growing up. Other times she begs to be a baby, diaper and all. A couple weeks ago, when I asked her why she pooped in her undies, she said in her baby-talk voice (which she uses frequently these days), "Because I want to be a baby just like Cassidy. I REALLY want to wear a diaper." So, I gave her a diaper. She was so excited and told me when she peed in it and when she needed to be changed. But by the end of the day she said, "Mommy, these diapers are horrible. They are very uncomfortable." Well, that's exactly what I'd been hoping for, and she hasn't insisted upon a diaper since...but we are still not potty trained.

I called Sophia's pediatrician to ask for advice. She sent me a very useful article about potty training resistance. The article basically said that a 2.5 year old who has been in training for a couple months and only goes when someone marches her into the bathroom, isn't under-trained but is resistant. Probably because of too much pressure from the parents. So, the remedy, according the the article, is to tell the child that her body makes pee and poop every day and it's her job to help it get into the potty. Let her know that you are sorry for having reminded/bugged her about it so often and tell her that it's her job from now on. And then don't say another word about it. Trust that she knows when she needs to pee and poop, and don't remind her even if she's squirming and grabbing her crotch. The theory is that once you give up the power and there is nothing more to resist, then she will do it all on her own.

We've been trying this new method for about a week now. Day one was really great. I set the expectations and then left it alone. Sophia held her pee all morning at home and at the park, for 6 hours (a record for her—usually it's 2 hours before she bursts). And then she told me she needed to go while we were at my aunt's house. I was amazed, but I played it cool. Happy, but no biggie. The next couple of days went ok, but it was downhill from there. More often than not, she's holding it as long as she can and peeing in her undies and not telling me. It's turning into a big fight to get the wet undies off her. Ugghh.

Yesterday, I asked her if she liked the potty. She said, "I don't like my potty seat. The bear's face is frowning." So, I thought that she might like a new potty seat, one that she picked out for herself. We found a Diego one (she wanted Diego, not Dora) at Target and even chose a new colorful step stool and a couple new packs of undies. With all her new gear, she was very excited to go potty and even requested to sleep without a pullup on (but once in bed she got up to pee every 2 minutes, probably out of nervousness, and finally agreed that a pullup would be a good idea). I had high hopes for today. This morning I was optimistic, but 12 hours and a few accidents later, I am tired, frustrated, and confused.

I do believe the excitement over the new potty seat and undies has worn off, and we are back to the gray area between "almost potty-trained" and "mommy is in denial, pretending her daughter is almost trained because she's scared to put her back in diapers for fear that she'll never get her out of them again." I'm guessing Sophia will need to work this out on her own and that the only way it will work is on her terms. But I don't know what her terms are. I don't think SHE knows what her terms are. I have no idea what to do next.

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