Toilet Training - 3 Different Ways

Choosing when and how to toilet-train is a big decision for a family. It involves commitment, patience and perseverance. We asked a couple of mums and a dad to share their road to nappy-free living.

What approach did you take with toilet training?
Richard: Our approach was the ‘boot camp’ style of setting aside three days to a week for total concentration on toilet training. Thomas was two years and one month old when we started and his ready signs included an increased interest in the toilet (and his desire to accompany all family members when we went), and the fact that he was mostly keeping his nappies dry for naps and some nights. He seemed able to ‘hold on’ for a while. The appeal of the boot camp approach was to avoid mixed messages and confusion about toileting, aiming to get the main training done in a short but focussed time.

Catherine: My approach to toilet training followed my standard approach to parenting: Read the child not the books, follow my instincts and do it my own way. If that doesn’t work, read the books, talk to Plunket, tap into the mum-friends network and Google like crazy.

Renata: When my daughter was still a baby I decided that, just like my Mum did, I would toilet-train her before she was two. So I waited until she was 21 months when the weather allowed her to be bare bottomed. I did a lot of research and read a toilet training eBook Oh Crap Potty Training by Jamie Glowacki, which outlined a theory that lined up with my parenting style. It was all about setting a week aside, being very positive and excited about the whole thing, watching your child at all times, being consistent and looking for signs and a pattern. Not to mention the book is laugh out loud funny.

What did your approach look like in reality?
Richard: It began with an enthusiastic collection of all the nappies on our rubbish collection day, getting our son to help put them in a rubbish sack which we put out for the truck. I think the theory suggests actually getting rid of them to cement your commitment to the process, but we preferred to sneakily rescue them while he was distracted, and then blatantly lie to our child when the rubbish truck came, saying that all the nappies were gone and he wouldn’t need them again! After that, it was all about spending time together and watching him carefully at all times for any sign he might need to go – with lots of enthusiastic coaching to “listen to your body”.

Catherine: The boys were both about two-and-a-half when we started talking about it, then I waited until spring so they could have bare bottom time outside before officially starting. The most formal step was a basic checklist so I felt they had a good chance of success: Can he tell me what he needs? Can he get himself undressed? Does he understand what we are trying to achieve? Then starting on the potty, orchestrating success so we could celebrate it and a little M&M bribery.

Renata: The first couple of days were tedious, frustrating and a little disheartening as I didn’t see many results. But having a friend to talk to who also followed the same theory reassured me that this was part of it and not to give up. 

How long was it until you started seeing progress?
Richard: With both our boys I remember it feels like you are getting nowhere, just torturing yourself cleaning up the accidents and struggling to keep a purely positive and encouraging focus. It seems like they will never get it, and then suddenly they do (for no apparent reason) and you realise it wasn’t really that long after all. We definitely saw progress within a week, and it was under two weeks before they were reasonably good at going to the toilet when they needed to, even if the finer details of getting clothing off and on remained an issue.

Catherine: Mattias did not have one ‘code brown’ accident. Ever. Staying dry took a little longer, but within a month I was happy to declare him toilet-trained. When he was four, I said “If you have a dry nappy in the morning I will give you something special,” and he has wet the bed only a handful of times since. Clearly, I was a toilet training genius and my laid back approach was spot on. But, Lukas. Oh Lukas. You keep me humble.

We fought about even sitting on the potty to try. I couldn’t get him to drink enough to orchestrate success, so we had nothing to celebrate. I cajoled. I threatened. I bribed. I peer pressured. I did everything wrong and it was awful. So we stopped. Then after a few months we tried again. Then we stopped. Then he wouldn’t tell me he had a dirty nappy and got awful rashes, so I decided I would rather clean up a mess than have him wearing a festering nappy in the heat and I didn’t care if he didn’t get it, I would just clean up after him. And after three days he was done.

Renata: By the end of the second day, my little lady got her first wee in the potty, but she waited until her daddy got home to do it for him! From day four there were no more accidents and she was telling us when she needed to go, as long as she was wearing a skirt or dress (the theory is all about the child going ‘commando’ for the first few weeks). When she was wearing shorts she got a bit confused, but she got used to it after a week. Although she knew she needed to go and would tell us she wanted to go, she still protested when put on the potty. We would explain to her that she had to sit on the potty to go and were very loving and calm, but also firm. By the second week she stopped protesting and happily sat there to do her business.

What is your advice to others considering this approach?
Richard: We’ve been really pleased with the ‘boot-camp’ approach and found that although setting aside a week for nothing but focussing on your child seems like a big commitment, it was very precious quality time and a rare treat for all involved.

A couple of times we tried giving a minor reward (e.g. one Smartie) when he got it right, but we found it wasn’t necessary, as our enthusiasm and praise was exciting for him and seemed to be enough. I imagine this would depend on the child’s nature, so it’s probably about knowing your child and what they respond to best.

My most repeated advice when I’ve been asked about toilet training is that it seems like you’ll never get there – but you will! So stick at it and be as positive and encouraging as you can, at all times. And expect regression when the novelty wears off. For me, that’s been the hardest – when you know they can do it, but they sometimes can’t be bothered, and you have to clean up another accident. But over time, the accidents do become less frequent, and I look forward to that glorious day when I only have to wipe my own bum!

Catherine: Choose a system that suits your parenting approach and values and if it doesn’t work, tweak it. If things get tense, step away from the potty and give them more time. My biggest mistake with Lukas was forgetting to read the child and training for the wrong reasons – pregnancy, in-laws coming to visit and being afraid of their opinions, because his brother had been trained by that age etc. Luckily, he has forgiven me.

Renata: I totally recommend this theory, but you do need a week at home (I had six days) and I know not many parents can commit to that. You also need to believe potty training is a skill you need to teach. You need to be more committed than your child. It’s all about being excited and believing in her. It is hard work, but so rewarding.

A final few wee words:
Richard Drake says “about one month ago I was at the GP’s and she commented that not many boys are toilet-trained at two. I’m not sure how accurate that is, but it made me feel good. Although, as I write this I’m looking out the window and both my boys are weeing on the lawn!”

Catherine Tafto hears that toilet training girls is easier, but with three sons she will never find out. She says “I’m grateful for my children’s infinite capacity for forgiveness and hope others can learn from my mistakes.”

Renata McIlroy says as proud as she is of Lulita’s toilet training success, she is a little worried at her fondness for going ‘commando.’ Needless to say, Santa delivered a five-pack of fancy knickers.


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