Spring has arrived, as has that time in our household. I’m not talking about spring cleaning, although there will be a lot of that in the coming weeks. It is time to buckle down, stay focused on the goal, and….potty-train.
I feel like I just went through this yesterday, but it was exactly one year ago that I was potty-training my son. He was one-month shy of his 3rd birthday, and I ignored all the advice around me to wait until my temperamental toddler was ready. I figured if I put all my energy and focus to getting my son potty-trained, it will happen. I armed myself with two types of potty seats, M&Ms as reward, and Thomas the Train underwear that I thought my son would be thrilled to wear. I knew that if I went all in, eventually he would get it.
Three weeks of potty training later, with almost daily accidents, I was chasing my son to get him to use the potty before we left the house. I was frustrated that he wasn’t cooperating with me fully on this potty-training thing. As I nagged him one more time to pee in the potty before we left, he stopped in the hallway, looked at me with an evil grin on his face, and peed right there on the floor. I so wanted to smack him at that moment. Instead, I admitted defeat. I gave up on the potty training.
I tried again about a month later, just a week after he turned 3. After one day, he was potty-trained. It was a miracle! No nagging, no chasing, no bribing. There were only a handful of accidents from there, but within 3 months he was even out of nighttime diapers. He was officially potty-trained and it was the easiest thing (that time around).
My daughter turned 2 a couple of months ago, and now it’s time for her to get on the potty train. I heard that girls train earlier than boys do, and I know some of my mom friends who trained their daughters by the time they were two. I think my daughter will be much easier to train than my son since she’s already pooping in the potty 4 times out of 5 and is generally good at following directions.
People may think 2 or even 3 is too early an age to potty-train, with perhaps the exception of EC’ing parents. EC, or Elimination Communication (aka Diaper-Free Baby, potty whispering or natural infant hygiene), is potty-training for babies before the age of 18 months. I saw a video of the method when I considered it briefly after having my daughter. EC requires a lot of attention to your baby’s expressions, holding the baby over the bathtub or toilet, and cueing. A lot of people are skeptical about this practice or may think it’s reserved for hippie-types in order to avoid using diapers. However, this method is used by several different cultures around the world (just without the fancy name for it), and in developing countries most babies are trained by the time they turn 1.
I know that this practice is not a crock, because I’ve seen it in action. When I worked in the refugee camps in Thailand, one of our community health educators had a baby under a year old (she couldn’t walk yet). The mother held her baby over a basin and made the noise, Shhhh shhhh, to signal her to pee. And she peed. I saw accidents as well, but the mothers never seemed bothered by it. Perhaps because their floors are made of dirt (where it can be covered up) or bamboo slats (where it can fall through or be evaporated quickly) so clean-up is minimal. Once the babies become mobile, they just go pantless and learn to relieve themselves in the ditch or to squat in the latrine. It was the same way in Sudan, where the kids are taught early to go “into the bush” to do their business. It just makes sense for them since they live in places where they spend most of their time outdoors and don’t have disposable (or even decent cloth) diapers available to them.
For us, however, in the typical American world of overly-clean-and-sanitized indoor spaces, this method just isn’t practical. It makes more sense to wait until our children are ready (around 3 years old), so that we as parents aren’t terribly inconvenienced. We set aside a block of time to stay close to home and mentally prepare ourselves to deal with all the crap (pun intended) involved in potty training. Potty-training becomes a battle as we deal with uncooperative children and messy clean-ups. We constantly ask our kids if they have to use the potty and then rush them to the bathroom so they don’t have accidents on the living room rug. When they do have accidents, we scream in exasperation (at least I do). It’s no wonder that some parents put it off and put it off, until one day their kid is 4 years old and still in diapers. Plus, with a billion-dollar diaper industry making disposable diapers easily accessible and relatively cheap, it’s easy to keep kids in diapers for as long as possible. Those diapers (and Pull-Ups) are just so darn convenient, especially when leaving the house to any overly-clean-and-sanitized public place where it would be an embarrassment for our kid to have an accident.
In theory, Elimination Communication is an ideal solution to get kids potty-trained early and avoid diapers altogether. Believe me, I hate using disposable diapers and feel guilty every time I throw away a bag of dirty, heavy diapers that I know will sit in the landfill for years and years. I admire the American parents who choose to EC their babies as I’m sure it takes a tremendous amount of dedication and patience. However, in most cases it’s just not practical or convenient for us.
Okay, now I’m off to potty-train my daughter…tomorrow.