How to Toilet Train Your Baby

Here’s the post that everybody wants.  Kidding.

WARNING:  This post contains “potty language” (I promise that’s the only time I’ll use the p-word because I hate it) and is probably unsuitable reading for anyone without children.

Really, though, people keep asking me about it.  At 14 months Grey was pooping only in the toilet.  She was completely toilet trained at 20 months.*  Atticus is 21 months today, and aside from the occasional accident, he’s a fully competent, though not quite independent, toilet user.*  HOW? is the big question I keep getting.

It should be noted:  I H-A-T-E diapers.  I hate them more than I hate constantly asking my kid if he has to go poo-poo.  I hate them more than I hate using the p-word.  I hate them more than I hate dropping everything I’m doing at the grocery store to run my kid into the restroom.  I hate them even more than I hate cleaning up soft, warm piles of poo.  And this hatred, my friends, is why I toilet train early (this hatred may also somewhat affect the state of my uterus–empty aside from my IUD).

It should also be noted:  I think waiting till the child “shows interest” or “is ready” is a #2 doosey that somebody should clean up.  Face it, kids are sorta like puppies; the earlier you start working on a new trick, the quicker and easier they pick it up.  (Can’t teach an old dog new tricks?  Why?  Because he’s dumb?  No, because he’s set in his ways and doesn’t want to change.  Plus it’s easier to make you do it for him.)**

One more note:  As with most early childhood things, I think heavy involvement in the beginning is key.  You cannot strip the diaper from your child one day and expect her to just get it.  You will have to commit and work hard and be very hands-on in the first bit of this process.  Eventually, when she’s 12, you can teach her to wipe her own ass, and pray to the Lord that you’ll have given her the skills to cut the apron strings before she hits 32.

But seriously.  Want to train your kid to use the toilet?  First step: train yourself to sacrifice your life for a few short weeks. This is the most important step, finishing only a nose before:  don’t wuss out once you start.  Nobody likes a quitter, and your kid is anxious to play you for the fool you are.  If you’re going to do it (early or ever), clear your calendar (no play dates, no trips out of town or to Whole Foods or anything that can possibly wait until someone is there to relieve you of poo duty), arm yourself with wine (or your drug of choice), and do. not. back. down.

After that, here’s what I do (I’m not some sort of child expert; I’ve only done this successfully–and earlier than recommended–twice):

2.  Realize that what goes in must come outIn proportion.  Feed the kid good, healthy, living foods that provide nutrition and fiber and vitamins and all that jazz.  DON’T over-do the fruit.  Too many bananas or grapes will make you so sorry.  And, for the love, whatever you do, don’t give your kid that Activia yogurt (read the article or just take my word for it).

3.  Limit liquids to during/immediately following meals and no other time.  We’re talking 6-12 oz. not a Big Gulp.  Also, limit drinks to AT THE TABLE.  Again, don’t wuss out.  Kids get used to carrying their cups all over the house and drinking whenever they darn well please.  It ends here.  But only until they’re a fully trained toilet user.  Once they’ve got it down, they can have drinks more often and wander as you allow.

4.  This step is probably the hardest: DO NOT LET THAT CHILD OUT OF YOUR SIGHT.  I’m not kidding.  Not for a moment (at least in the beginning of the process).  Normally I’m not one given to parental hovering, but during this time, you must hover.  Babies are sneakers, and as quick as you turn your back he’ll have left a puddle for you.

5.   After the ingesting is complete, wait 10-15 minutes and take her to the toilet.  Don’t ask her if she has to go, tell her that’s what’s happening.  Do it.  Be in charge, damn it.

6.  Don’t get too tied to results at first.  If he goes the first time, great, but it’s not like he really gets it, so don’t break out the Big Wheel reward at this point.  Sure, cheer and whatnot.  If he doesn’t go, that’s great, too.  The biggest thing is to get him sitting on the toilet.  Now, go back to the step above and repeat it over and over and over.  Don’t let him out of your sight.  Take him to the toilet every 10-15 minutes (for at least an hour following meals).  Even if he craps on your floor, there’s probably more where that came from, so don’t give up yet.

7.  Continue to give the kid opportunities for success.  You cannot get pissed off that your baby peed on the floor if you didn’t give her a chance to pee in the toilet.  Even if you did give her a chance, don’t get cranky over it.  Wipe it up, take her right away to the toilet to help her realize that’s the appropriate location for peeing, and then put her back up there in 10 minutes (and for goodness sake, be gentle in your correction; it’s not like you pick things up without practice).

8.  Once the kid begins to regularly use the toilet when placed on it, you can ease back and begin to ask him if he has to go (or, like my friend Andrea did, say, “Tell Mama when you need to go,” which I thought was pretty brilliant).  What you’re doing is beginning to put the responsibility in his hands.  I still recommend taking him every 10-15 minutes, but there’s a change from “This is what we’re doing” to “Let’s see if you can go” and eventually you’ll get to “Tell Mama.”  When you move into the “Tell Mama” stage, and your kid walks up to you and says, “Pee,” and then does it on the toilet, you’re on your way.

Good gravy.  And for heaven’s sake, remember to talk through this whole process with your child each and every time.  All day long.  Talk about poop.  Talk about pee.  Talk about the toilet.  Talk about yucky diapers.  It’s infuriating, but it must be done.

Here are a few more tips:  Going to the bathroom is normal; we all do it…teach that to your kid.  Also, convey that there is no shame in doing it, otherwise your poor kid might end up in some foreign train station sick to his stomach because he’s uncomfortable going in public.  Speaking of public restrooms, always know where they are when you do brave leaving the house.  And don’t be a freak about public bathrooms in front of your kid.  She’ll have to use many a port-a-john (unless she’s Oprah) before she dies, so she may as well get used to it.  Use the toilet at every transition of the day (after waking up, after meals, before naps, before going anywhere, etc.).  Be smarter than your kid–once she figures out that you will stop everything you’re doing to take her to the bathroom, she’ll pull one over on you just for the attention (this especially manifests at bedtime because she knows you will only let her out of bed for a trip to the bathroom.  Along with toilet training, you may even get in a good lesson about why manipulation is an unacceptable means of commnication–BONUS.).

Most of the details are really up to you.  Some people do lots of nudity, some like pull-ups (pull-ups are more expensive than diapers and you cannot wash them out like you can your carpet; I find they are a waste of time and money and will do nothing to support your kid’s confidence in learning wet/dry); some people give rewards, some don’t (I had a sliding reward scale that is waaaay too long to get into, but we never bought a bike or anything big like that); some people show their kids books or movies to help them understand, some do not (again, thought that was sort of a bells-and-whistles un-necessity).  Some people use a p-word chair/seat, some only ever use the regular toilet (we used a small seat for Grey and only the big toilet for Atticus).

AHEM: You there, Dad…yeah, you (if you’re actually a part of this picture).  It’s your job to toilet train your kid.  Don’t be a shirker.  We like shirkers even less than we like quitters.  Pour the lady a glass of wine and find out when the next 10-15 minute interval is up.  And sometimes if she cries about it, realize poop patrol is no more a part of her glorious plan for life than it is yours.  Pour her another glass of wine and send her to bed with a good book while you fix everything, OK?

*Grey wore a diaper overnight until about 2 1/2; Atticus wears one for nap and overnight.  Either way, that’s 1 diaper a day vs. 4-8.

**This perspective works for many baby-related things. The sooner you take away a pacifier, the easier it goes. The sooner you transition into a big bed; the sooner you train with manners; the sooner you start using the TV as a babysitter.  Wait, not that last one.

  1. And I would add, after 5 children, that just because it worked for the first one (or 2 or 3 or ever 4) doesn’t mean it will work for the next one. Like childbirth itself, every one of our children’s toilet training journeys was unique.

    The Once Upon a Potty video worked for one child, but only one child.

    The M&M’s reward worked for one child, but only one child.

    The only thing that worked for all the children was, as you said, constant vigilance.

    • alltheseblessedthings said:

      Yes! Excellent point. Thank you.

  2. Brandon said:

    So.. Ummm… You think daniel will let me borrow you when our little one comes along? :-) I have an endless supply of wine! hehe

    • alltheseblessedthings said:

      Haha! Well, I’d be interested in spending some time on your mountain farm (and Saturday breakfasts at First Watch and Sunday breakfasts at Bob’s and all the Chipotle–your food habits are nearly as appealing as your company), so maybe we could work something out. …what are you trying to say here about YOUR little one??

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