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  • Writer's pictureK.C. Runkel

Potty Training Sucks: Survival Tips for the Stressed-Out Parent

Potty training sucks.

There, I said it...and I meant every word. Let me just put this out there right now--every part of parenting a young child, from the sleepless nights to the horrible teething and everything in between--it was all leading up to the big TERROR that is potty training.

As much as I would like to say this is an over exaggeration, it really isn't. At least not in my personal opinion. But from every other mom I've talked to recently, this seems to be a near universal truth.

So here is to all those moms that claimed they fully potty trained their kid in three days. If that is true, I salute you and will gladly pay you to come to my house and use your God given gift to train the next children I bring into this world. Seriously, call me.

But this post is for the rest of you moms and dads out there, who--like me--were completely blindsided by the fact that potty training a child is a hellish nightmare that seemingly has no end in sight. At least until you suddenly reach the end and are stuck wondering what happened to the last four months of your life because they are now a muddled blur of tears, frustration, and the occasional shout for joy with each potty success.

This is my story of how I potty trained my son. We are now fully trained (at least in the daytime--but that counts!) so I feel I can finally pass on my little bit of potty training knowledge in the hopes that it will help some other parent out there who was like me--absolutely and utterly lost.

Warning: As always, I am giving this information simply because this is what worked for me and my son. I do not promise that it will be the same for every parent, but hopefully you can take something helpful from both my successes and failures over the past four months.

The Beginning:

I began potty training my son this August when he was 21 months old. Though I have heard many people argue that 21 months old is too young, I whole-heartedly disagree. I can say now with absolute confidence that I would not change our starting time for anything in the world. Still, in the early months of training I had my doubts but ultimately stuck with my gut and pushed through.

As I have mentioned in other parenting posts (see How Sleep Training Saved My Sanity), I am most comfortable as a "reading" mom. Meaning, I love to read parenting books before setting out on an adventure in motherhood. There is a plethora of women out there, far more experience than I am, that have been gracious enough to share their wisdom with the rest of the world. So why not try and learn from their experiences?

For potty training I came across a book by Jamie Glowacki. Honestly, I probably would not have batted an eye if it weren't for the amazing title: Oh Crap! Potty Training. Seriously, I cannot recommend this book enough and not just because her method worked for me—it is also really funny.

My Method:

One of the best ideas that came from Oh Crap's potty training method was the notion that it really isn't so much the kids that need to be ready for potty's us as parents. I know, sounds insane, but I promise it is not. About two hours into my first day of training E, this turned out to be irrevocably truthful--potty training was way more of a challenge to me than it was my son.

Glowacki explains that the best time to potty train a child is between 20 and 30 months of age, though certain outliers do exist. For the most part, anything before 20 months can be tricky due to simple understanding and ability to control their bladder. Of course, after 30 months comes the battle of the wills.

While the average "training" time for a child is between 1 and 3 weeks, you need to keep in mind this is more about getting your child to move though the four stages of awareness: Clueless to I Peed to I'm Peeing to I have to Go Pee. Fortunately, she breaks it down into four blocks which you can easily follow along with in the book.

I also love how she gives each parent a few different options depending on what you feel you are capable of doing. I went with her recommended route for everything, which also meant letting my little man go commando for two months. Was it a mess? Absolutely. Was it worth it? You bet your you-know-what.

Also, for the working moms and dads: Glowacki provides a plan for those of you who have to deal with a daycare situation.

I won't go every step in the book since I know I cannot do it justice in explaining. But I will let you know how we started, what went well, what was the absolute worst, and offer you encouragement to do it yourself.

Day One:

I wish I could say that this is the hardest day, but at least for me, it wasn't. In fact, it was kind of enjoyable. Day 2-Month 3 however.....well, let's just save that for later.

I spent all of July prepping E for the big switch over. We had gone on a family road trip at the end of the month so I was waiting until we were back and had no plans to start training. Each day I would get him up and while changing his diaper I would say, "In (insert time here) we are going to say bye-bye to diapers because you are a big boy!" Simple as that.

The first day we started training we actually ditched the diapers completely (and I haven't bought a single diaper since--hallelujah!!!)

That day I spent 100% of my time at home with my little man completely butt naked (him, not me, but it was hot as hades so it certainly crossed my mind). Thank the Lord it was summer, so we were able to spend most of our time outside. If you live in a cold climate, I definitely recommend waiting until warmer months, it is a pure sanity saver.

I had no cell phone to distract me, no tv, and just a smidgen of radio in the background. All day was spent focusing on my little guy and I absolutely loved the time we spent together, even if he was on the toilet for most of it.

Day one was merely spent learning my kid's cues, watching for the pee-pee signs, and getting him to the toilet ASAP.

Be warned: you will have pee on your floors all day long. Roll up the rugs, stay off the carpet if you can, and get yourself a giant roll of Clorox wipes. Also, don't sweat it...pee happens. I am certain by now you have been covered in so many forms of your child's feces that it really shouldn't matter anyway. The risk is worth the reward!

Day Two-End of Week:

Commence the suck. Here is a video I recorded on my second day of potty training. I was naive and thought I would be able to post this after a month....hahahahahahaha. But, I am still very proud of myself for sticking to it.

Day two was filled with more pee on the floor with the occasional look of recognition from my son letting me know that he knew what was happening. Lo and behold, Ms. Glowacki was right. He moved into the I Peed and I'm Peeing stages starting on this day.

By the end of the week I felt pretty confident that E could effectively understand when he was peeing, but I was incredibly frustrated that he did not ever tell me. I lost my temper more than a few times and hurriedly handed my son over to my husband the moment he walked through the door each night.

Moms and dads, this is tough, be sure to practice regular self care and get away for a little bit while training. Believe it or not, your child senses your frustration and it negatively affects them.

End of Month One:

You guessed it, month one sucked. Here is what I learned:

  • If you are stressed and react negatively to each accident, your child will have more accidents. Trust me, I learned from experience. Lashing out only left me with a tremendous amount of mom guilt and a child that resented the potty.

  • Buy yourself a potty book! These are perfect for reading with your kid and getting them to sit on the potty for an extended amount of time. Even today, every time my son pees in the potty (which is all the time now) he screams "Hooray...I did it...Undies!" (see Potty book). Here are the ones we used:

    • Potty by Leslie Patricelli

    • How to Potty Train Your Monster

    • The Quest for Cloud Kingdom--A book that came with our Potette portable potty insert.

  • Don't feel ashamed if you need to throw on a TV show, sit your kiddo on the potty, and leave the room for a bit just to regain your sanity.

  • Let your kid go commando. Any time during the first month that I put E in a pull-up he almost immediately peed. Toddlers have muscle memory when it comes to peeing/pooping. Like it or not, pull-ups feel like diapers, letting your child think its okay to use as a diaper. Going commando was the perfect way for my son to not only feel when he had an accident, but learn to be uncomfortable with it (this took a while, but was IMHO the key to training success).

All in all, by the end of month one, my son was technically considered "potty trained." What I wish I had a better understanding of before hand is that "potty trained" does not mean "accident-free." It simply means your child understands that he/she needs to pee and that it needs to go in the potty.

By the end of month one, we were still watching him constantly for cues that he needed to pee because he wasn't consistently letting us know he hand to go before hand. 

Number of accidents this month: 3-6 per day.

Months Two-Three

It was during this time that E started telling us more frequently when he needed to pee. Yay! But this was also a very easy time for accidents to happen because of various distractions. If E was busy playing with his toys I had to make sure to take him to the bathroom every 30 minutes.

Month two was our first breakthrough month and I have my mother to thank entirely. We went to spend a week at my parent's house and I was happy for the brief reprieve from home. Needless to say, I was an exhausted mama and so, so wanting to be done with the potty thing. I felt the stress, my son sure felt the stress, and we were ready to be done. Fortunately, my mother was a fresh trainer, ready at the start to offer patience and love to my son when my last fuse had been all but extinguished. For the week we spent with her, E had almost no accidents.

Of course, he regressed in month three and it took another few weeks to get back on schedule. However, it was during this time that we finally reached a new sense of normal in our household and things were finally beginning to feel comfortable again. Still, I never left the house without extra clothes and made sure to keep a potty in the back of my car for roadside emergencies.

Number of accidents this month: 1-3 per day.

Month Four: The Beginning of the End

Here we are in month four and I can finally say, we are 99.9% fully potty trained! I think the biggest breakthrough came when E started to get very uncomfortable with being wet. Starting mid-November, if he had an accident he would pull at his pants and immediately ask to be changed. Now, he always tells me when he needs to go to the bathroom.

Though I still have him go when we leave the house and before bed/nap times, he is really good about being the one to initiate potty time. He is even starting to try and go unassisted.

Number of accidents this month:!!

Ultimate Lessons Learned:

I am not an expert by any means. But now, being in the clear, I feel I have a lot of knowledge to share that I sincerely hope can help any new moms and dads who are currently where I was four months ago.

  1. If you aren't ready, they aren't ready. Potty training is just as much (if not more) about you as it is your child. If you are not prepared to level-headedly deal with the wet pants, pee on the floor, solitary confinement with your child, then don't try this type of potty training. Wait until your mental health is ready to take the hit.

  2. Prompting is key! In the beginning of potty training it is absolutely imperative that you prompt your child to go to the bathroom. I fully admit I was so bad at this. Either I was over prompting or under prompting, but I never seemed to do it at the right time. Even worse, I could not get past asking my son if he needed to go potty instead of telling him. Because you know, if you ever ask a toddler anything the answer is almost always no.

  3. Don't announce your plan to potty train on social media. You guys, this advice is gold and I am so glad I listened. If you want advice on potty training, find a seasoned mom or dad and ask them outright. Putting your plans on Facebook, Twitter, etc. only opens you up to unsolicited advice and criticism. I can only imagine had I done that I would have gotten a slew of negative comments on how I was "forcing" my kid to potty train before he was ready.

  4. Buy a potty chair and a potty insert. Having both a little potty chair to use in the house/car and also my Potette to use in public places saved my butt.

  5. Know that no two kids are the same. Just because this worked for my kid does not necessarily mean it is best for yours. Do your research and trust your gut. 

  6. Hang on for dear life and do not give up. It has been my experience that each time I was on the verge of throwing in the towel, something then would happen that resembled progress. I am so happy I did not give up during that first month when things were so hard. Hindsight is 20/20 and I know that when you are in the pits of potty training it seems there is no end in sight. But just like the sleepless nights and the teething, this too shall pass and you will be so happy you stuck it out!

  7. Learn to let go of your expectations. I was so unprepared for potty training and I am certain it was because I had an idea in mind of how it would go and then reality set in with a swift kick in the behind. Here are a few things you need to accept most likely will happen before starting to potty train:

    1. Accidents happen and will continue to happen for months, sometimes even years after your child is potty trained. Though they are now rare, I always carry and extra set of clothes and undies wherever I go...just in case.

    2. You will be wiping butts long after your child can use the potty. I hate to break it to you, but the bottom wiping does not end with the diapers. My son is no where near being able to wipe his own butt clean and, from what I hear, it may be a while before that happens....sigh

    3. Daytime is different than nighttime. Unless you plan to both day and night train your kiddo at the same time, be prepared for a different experience training during the day than at night. And don't stress if you put off the nighttime training until you have daytime under your belt. As always, do what works best for you and your sanity.

From one parent to another, let me just say: You've got this! One day you will look back on these days and miss them (this is advice I have gotten from older parents...I'm not quite sure I believe them).

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