I Even Tried Subliminal Messaging – How to Survive Toilet Training
On Christmas Day last year as we were all sitting around the table pulling crackers and stuffing our faces with food, my youngest turned to me and said “Mum I need to do a wee”. It was the best Christmas present I could have hoped for – the first time in 6 months my toddler initiated a visit to the bathroom. Having already toilet trained my first two kids without much fuss, I had been living in a world of frustration as my third was so stubborn to hop on the potty train. I tried everything, and I mean everything: stickers, bribery, singing and dancing, but of course, as Sod’s Law would have it, when I gave up he tried harder. So, starting from the very beginning I have devised a potty-training survival guide for those difficult-to-teach nappy lovers.
Looking for signs
Starting toileting too early can be pointless and simply cause annoyance on both sides. Biologically, children usually only develop the muscles necessary at around 18 months of age. Signs that they are ready can be a variety of things; announcing that they are filling their nappy, taking about the deed and the toilet, and for us it was behaviourally obvious too. At around 2 years, I noticed that he would get in the bath and do a massive wee, like he had been holding it in for hours. Other times I wondered why he was in such a grump and give him a big cuddle, only to feel moments later that he was rapidly filling his nappy, and always felt better after it. Evidence that he knew how to hold the sphincter muscles down there.
Ease into it
To me it was obvious that he had the ability to control his bladder and so we started just after he turned two. These days that seems an early age, but I just couldn’t wait for him to be out of nappies, and I figured if he had bladder control, then the rest should be easy. I was wrong about the latter but would do the same if I had my time again. We started off just trying once a day at bath time before we headed into underpants territory. Summer is a better time to try because they have less clothes on to take off, and less clothes to wash when accidents happen, and they will.
Don’t stress, it’s just mess
Before you start you must be aware that toilet training is a messy exercise, be prepared to wipe up wee and pick up poo. You must keep calm, bite your tongue and get ready to say “oh well” about a thousand times. Taking your anger and frustrations out on the trainees can possibly cause more problems.
Nappies and training pants and undies – oh my!
Everyone has a theory, and mine is this: Nappies are designed to draw away wetness (how much do I sound like a commercial?) and so it is very hard to potty train using nappies during the day. Training nappies are designed to allow the toddler to feel wetness, but only for a brief moment. I feel that the best way to teach a toddler about a damp seat is to put them into underpants and allow them to feel the sensation and be awkward. I mean, what better motivation than to avoid discomfort? They will then also learn sooner how to take their undies off and on, straight into undies is like cutting out the middle man. Find what suits you best, you may find that the trainee prefers one over the other.
Toilet Timing – Try out a schedule at first like going to the toilet every hour and have them sit down, praising them for even staying there for a minute. It may take a few attempts, a few days or much longer before seeing a result. Demonstrate to them and tell them what is going on. You can work it around your daily tasks and needs, like when I was toilet training my eldest I was pregnant with my middle child, so I needed to go to the loo every hour anyway, and took my daughter with me.
Convenience – I always kept the potty close at hand so I could whip it under my kids if need be, and for number two’s we let them sit in front of TV on the pot to encourage them to stay there for a while. Boys have the added bonus of being able to more easily go outside, so use that to your advantage if it is a winning point with the child. Toilet training seats that go on top of the seat are great, try to make sure the rest of the family is helping out by leaving it there for the learners.
Rewards and motivation – Some kids need more incentive than others, for my daughter we put some stickers in a book but she wasn’t dependent on that, the task itself was motivation enough (the best kind of trainee). My second attempt with #2 was a steeper learning curve as he didn’t care much for the toilet, so we used bribery, ahem, I mean rewards, to make him keen on the toilet scene. I knocked up a chart in 5 minutes using word, you can also download them online, and there is no end to the resources available to help in this area. Stickers can reward: sitting for a minute, performing the act, wiping, flushing and washing hands.
Poo is another story altogether
Tinkle training once mastered is a grand thing. Number two training isn’t as straight forward. Sometimes I think it frightens kids a little bit to open their bowels and let it out, for whatever reason it isn’t as easy for them to learn in my experience. And I have seen time and time again the case of the sleeping poo – when they will only give it up once relaxed and dreaming. My youngest was notorious for this and we had gone through so many sticker charts that I ramped it up to matchbox cars and the deal was simple: do a poo in the toilet, get a car. After ten little cars, a big car prize awaited. To me it seemed like the most direct form of motivation, but it still took months for him to reach the goal. As much as he wanted the cars (that were hanging from the bathroom cupboard in a clear plastic bag), it wasn’t enough to make him want to do it. After a couple of months when he had about 6 out of the 10, the next car he wanted to be awarded was tiger-striped. So one day when I knew it would be soon that he needed to have a long think on the potty, I whispered into his ear “tiger car, tiger car, tiger car”. I figured if he was making a conscious effort to not listen to me then I would try subconscious or subliminal messaging. It worked you know, he did sit on pot and give it a go, but no dice that time. The cars got me nowhere, daily reminding got me nowhere. Ignoring this tricky side of things I instead focused on the wee aspect and two days later he took himself off for a poo, twice in one morning.
Taking a break
My last was the most difficult, even though he was interested and easily toilet timed, he just didn’t get it (or didn’t want to) so we gave up for a couple of weeks and tried again. It took 5 attempts over 6 months to get there, but we did. It is a process, a quick one for some and slow for others. There is little you can do to speed up the process other than provide the encouragement and spend the time to get it right.
This may take some time. For some kids, to do it in the day means to pick it up easily for the night. Others may take months or even a year to learn how to hold it in over dream time. You will need to take cues here and don’t torture yourself with ‘testing it out’ unless you’ve had a couple of mornings with dry nappies.
Toilet training doesn’t have to be the part of parenting you would rather put off for a while, if you can adjust into the right frame of mind and find the patience and time required for such a task then it need not be so dreaded. Leaving the house for the first time with a toddler in underpants is a funny thing, I know where the nearest toilet is EVERYWHERE I go. Don’t forget to remind the kids of what is happening too, I am certainly guilty at times of expecting certain behaviours from my kids without first telling them. The light at the end of the nappy-free tunnel draws nearer and like anything else with kids, perseverance and patience is the key.
Emma Eastman 2014