Monday, January 6, 2014

How I potty trained my 23-month-old in 3 days



See also: Readiness, DIY Potty Charts, 50 Ways to Prepare your Child for Potty, Old Men on Potties
The quick method of potty training is also called the 3 day method, boot camp, or cold turkey.  I prefer to call it the “Diligent Method” because the number of days it takes will vary, and boot camp and cold turkey suggest something grueling.  It's not that bad. This method gets results relatively quickly, but it requires a concentrated effort. Parents need to be committed to the technique and learn to be super vigilant. It’s not for everyone. This method might not be for you if you can’t get a few days of one-on-one time with your child, if you live in a rental unit with white carpets and a steep damage deposit, or if your family is undergoing some major transitions, or if your child has a condition which makes him unable to cope with sudden changes to routine.

The first time I tried to potty train my daughter she was 21 months old. It was an instant success, and then an utter failure. I had checked a potty training video out of the library, which she would watch and faithfully complete the task every day. Then after a week the library phoned. They wanted their video back.  I returned the video and my daughter promptly returned to peeing on the floor.  What went wrong? She was ready, she had used the potty for 7 days. Clearly, I had no idea what I was doing.

I had heard of the 3-day method so I looked it up online. I discovered some introductory articles and videos from women who had done all the research and compiled all the best information, and then cleverly put it behind a paywall. While I admire their entrepreneurial spirit, I don’t like paying for things. But I do like doing research, so I went off to the library and came up with a plan of my own. It worked so well that I tried it on other children in my care and had great success. Here are the lessons I learned and what I did.

1. You need to have a clear plan. This includes reward systems, training methods, backup plans, and personal knowledge. Before my failed attempt I thought that if I just showed my daughter some videos she would figure it out or we could wing it. But that didn’t work. If you don’t know what to expect, neither will your child. Even if the diligent method isn’t right for you, it would be beneficial to read some potty training books before you begin and you will be equipped to tackle any problems which arise immediately. In my case I personally enjoy reading about science so I chose books by renowned developmental psychologists and applied what is known about human behaviour to my potty training methods. Check out "7 Old Men on Potties" for a summary.

2. Understand what readiness means. Yes, your child will show some signs of being ready to potty train. But the right time won’t always be obvious.  And waiting for readiness doesn’t mean you should wait for your child to train herself.  I’m not a fan of enabling the diaper habit for longer than necessary and you can read more about why here. In my case, I felt that 20-24 months of age was the ideal window for my daughter because there were no major events, vacations or interruptions and I had some time off work. I also didn’t want to wait too long because I thought that once the “terrible twos” began, she wouldn’t be as obedient and willing to listen. And BOY, was I right. I’m convinced that if I had waited another three months I wouldn’t have been able to train her so easily amidst her tantrums and intervals of shouting “NO!”

3. Ready your child. Despite what you’ve probably heard, there are plenty of things you can do to help your child become ready. In our case, my daughter responded very well to potty training books, especially “Once Upon a Potty.”  She also loved stuffed toys so when I played with her, I showed her how her stuffies could use a toy potty.  We chose big girl underwear together, we decorated her potty, and we made potties out of play dough.  These are things that interested my daughter specifically, but all children are different. For some individualized suggestions check out this list of 50 ways to prepare your child for pottytraining.

4. Set a date for going diaper-free and begin the countdown. If you have a general idea of when your child’s best window will be for potty training, have a look at your calendar and mark off at least three days when you will be able to have solid one-on-one time with your child without distractions.

5. Make preparations. Arrange for a helper or a babysitter if you have other children who require a lot of attention. Clean the house, buy groceries, and do any chores beforehand that will consume your attention. Freeze meals or pre-package something to put in a slow cooker so you don't have to cook. Tell your child that Potty Day is coming, and explain that it will be a celebration of “no more diapers!” Put a super treat in a treat bag and pin it to the wall in the bathroom out of your child's reach. Print this out, then turn off your phone and computer.

6. Go shopping. You will need:
• 15-20 pairs of underwear, slightly large. Not training pants, not Pull-ups.
• Juice, popsicles, freezies, chocolate milk, or any other liquid your child will consume lots of
• Snacks which are rich in fibre: Cereal or cereal bars, broccoli, prunes, beans, etc.
• Treats. I used small Easter eggs, you can also use jelly beans, M&M’s, grapes or berries
• Super treats: Small toys or candies that your child has a special interest in
• A very small gift bag with a photo of your child on it (optional)
• A mattress cover, absorbent blankets and several plastic tablecloths
• Waterproof drop cloths if you have carpet (These are available wherever paint is sold. Be careful!  Never leave your child unattended in a room with loose plastic, as it can be a suffocation hazard. For bedrooms just use blankets or towels)
• A potty chair for each floor in your home, preferably light in colour
• Stickers or a self-inking stamp
• A potty chart (I like to customize them. Click here for a DIY tutorial)
• Potty day decorations (Optional)
• Fold-up travel potty seat

 

Potty Day

Make sure your child gets a good night’s sleep the night before Potty Day.  If desired, inflate some balloons and draw potties or underwear on them. The point is to show him today is special and that the game is changing. Cover the carpets if applicable, and maybe even draw some happy faces on the drop cloths to make it fun. Place the super treat in the gift bag and pin it up on the wall out of reach. (I prefer to make the bag look enticing and leave its contents a surprise, but you don't have to.)

Shortly after your child wakes up, announce that it is time to ditch the diapers. Let your child do the honors if he wants to. In our case case, my child wore both disposable diapers and expensive cloth diapers and I didn’t want to throw them in the garbage. So Instead, I put a clean bag in the garbage can, carried the bag to the curb while she watched, and then retrieved it later when she wasn’t looking.
               


Once all the diapers have gone “bye-bye,” put big kid underwear on your child. Pants are not necessary. Explain to him that when he feels like pee is going to come out, he will go to the potty and then get a sticker on his chart. Don’t ask your child to sit down on the potty right away, just explain what will happen when it comes time to pee.
                
Begin the day’s activities by giving him a drink. If you provide a special drink like juice or chocolate milk, he will be inclined to drink more than usual. This is what you want. More pee means more accidents, and more accidents mean more opportunities. Blue doesn’t consume drinks very quickly so in our case we made Popsicles. 


                
Now go about your business as usual. Watch a movie, play with toys, or read a book. Keep putting liquids into your child. Once in a while, say “Tell me when it’s time to go pee!” but don’t be forceful. 
Passing the time until "pee time"

                
WATCH your child. And I mean really watch. Be super-duper vigilant. Don’t take your eyes off him. He will eventually begin to have an accident. He will pee on the floor, on your lap, or on his chair. This is good. The second the pee starts to drip down his leg, don’t panic, but scoop him up and walk to the bathroom. Place him on the potty.  Do this calmly and reassure him that all is well. Then check the potty. If even a milliliter of urine is in that potty, even if it dripped off the soaked underwear, make a huge deal. Praise your child up and down and let him know that what he did was really special. Put a sticker on the chart, and slip him a candy.  If he goes poop, give him two candies or something big. HEAP on the praise and make sure to be specific about what your child did right. Don’t just say, “good boy.” Be specific and say, “that’s where the pee goes; right in the potty! You did a great job getting some pee in the potty!” 
If your child doesn’t manage to get a drop of pee in the potty, don’t say anything negative. Keep the conversation light and humorous. Say, “Oopsy. You peed on the floor! It’s supposed to go in the potty, silly. Maybe next time.”

Let your child get up. Do not make him sit for any length of time unless you think he is actively having a bowel movement and he wants to be there. Wash up and carry on.

Continue this all day throughout the next few days. When a row of the chart gets full, administer the super treat. Remember, do not tell your child when it is time to try the potty. Your aim will be to have your child recognize the feeling he gets when pee is imminent. If you use reminders, a timer, or any external source, all your child will learn is to respond to an unnatural cue, and he will have accidents as soon as you stop reminding him. In Blue’s case, I had accidentally taught her to respond to a video instead of her body’s natural cue, which is why she regressed when I returned the video.

At first it will seem like this method is a flop. But remember, there is a science to it. Like any scientific endeavor it will take repeated attempts and repeated failures before you achieve success. Then it takes a number of successes before they become ingrained. So continue on as best you can and don’t get discouraged. My daughter had many accidents and didn’t appear to be getting it at all until the fourth day.
 
Nap time
Generally naps go better than parents expect them to. You may wish to postpone nap time until just after your child has peed. Some people say to use diapers for nap and bedtime, but I personally prefer not to, at least until the training has taken hold.  After all, you have already told your child that he no longer needs diapers and you don’t want to send a mixed message. I prefer to protect the bed, not the bum.  You can use layers to make it easier. I used a waterproof sheet, and absorbent sheet, then a regular fitted sheet. I alternated the three for three or four layers so that when an accident occurred, all I needed to do was pull off one layer and replace my daughter’s underwear. Sometimes she didn’t even wake up.
You don’t need to spend a lot of money on bedding. I went to a goodwill store and bought extra sheets and absorbent blankets, and I used plastic table clothes from the dollar store, and a plastic mattress pad on the very bottom.

Night training
Do the same thing as nap time with the layers on the bed. If your child has a big kid bed, you might want to put a potty chair in the room and tell him to get out of bed if he needs to go. For a child still in a crib, tell him to call for mom and dad if he needs to go pee. Some people suggest cutting off liquids two hours before bedtime, which makes sense. For some children, having extra liquids does the job just as well. If your child is capable of getting out of bed and going to the potty, having liquids will cause him to get up for a potty break earlier in the night, and not at 3 or 4 am when he is in a deeper sleep and more likely to sleep through it. You might need to experiment to see which works for your child.

The Scoop on Poop
Bowel movements are often harder to manage than pee, partly because they happen less often and also because your child will be able to hold them in if he gets scared. It is common for young children to hold poops for three or four days at a time when first learning the potty. If this happens, keep your child well hydrated and give him fibre rich foods so that he isn’t constipated.

If your child begins to soil himself, one trick you can use is the “fake out.” Rush him to the potty and begin to remove his underwear, and with your best sleight-of-hand, try to get the poop into the potty without him seeing you do it. Then ask him to try to poop. He will either think he made it in time, or he will think he fooled you. It doesn’t matter, either way, it will give you an opportunity to demonstrate what happens when he goes poop.  Heap on the praise, and if desired, give a big reward. 

Blue did quite well with both #1 and #2 at first, but a couple weeks later began to hold her bowel movements because she was nervous.  The way I solved it was I didn’t make a big deal out of it or try to force her, I just upped the ante on the reward system and appealed to her natural curiosity. On the wall across from her potty, just out of reach, I hung a small gift bag with a picture of her face on it. Inside the bag I put a toy rabbit, with its ears poking out the top. I didn’t say anything about it but it drove her crazy wondering why her face was on a bag that clearly contained something good. When she asked about it I just casually said, “Oh, that’s your bag. You’ll get that at bag time, but that is not until after poop time. And poop time isn’t right now.”

You can just imagine her reaction to my sly little bit of reverse psychology. “It is if I say it is!” she must have thought, because she went, on the potty, right then and there. I had four rabbits so I put another one in the bag.  The great thing about toddlers is that they can’t count or keep track of their things. When all four rabbits were gone, I put the first one back in the bag and started over. I rewarded her with the same four rabbits for a month.

 About Rewards


There is a reason I like using small candies for potty rewards which I discussed in previous posts, and that is because potty use is a mindless habit that lends itself well to operant conditioning. Your child responds appropriately to the pee cue, and they are rewarded with a small amount of sugar, which in turn causes an immediate spike of dopamine in the brain. This causes the habit centre of the brain (basal ganglia) to connect potty usage with pleasure.  You don’t have to explain, “you get this treat because you used the potty.” I used this method with a child who didn’t speak English and he got the picture right away. After repeating the process several times, your child will catch on without having to think about it. If you make it into a big thing your child might try to start negotiations.

The reason I do both a candy and a sticker is because you are appealing to two parts of the brain. The candy enforces the habit, but the sticker appeals to the visual cortex. Many children are visual learners and the chart will help them see their progress. If, however, your child doesn’t seem to be interested in the chart, you can skip it.  You can either have your child fill a whole chart and have the satisfaction of completing it, or you can have small goals, such as 5 successful potty visits for one big treat. The chart should clearly indicate how many successful potty visits your child needs to aim for at a time.

There is a difference between bribes and rewards. A bribe comes in the form of “If you do this, you’ll get that,” and the prize will become the cue instead of the “urge”. When you use bribes, you might end up with a child who refuses to go until he sees the jellybean in your hand. In the case I just mentioned, it was important to note that my daughter was already doing the “gotta go” dance when I placed the incentive bag in sight, so she already had the cue. Also, I didn’t tell her that she had to go poop to get the prize.  The way I phrased it was that I expected there to be a time for poop, and following that, a time for a treat bag. The “bag time” became a natural consequence of using the toilet, and it also gave her the illusion that she could manipulate the schedule. Toddlers love to manipulate. 

Night Treats
Dental Hygiene is important, but so is consistency. So what do you do if your child uses the potty after he already brushed his teeth?  That’s your choice. I gave the treat anyway the first few days of potty training, figuring that a couple days of treats weren’t going to do major damage. Then after the potty routine was more set in I had a “tomorrow” bag. I let my daughter choose between having one piece of cheese for a treat now, or putting an Easter egg in the bag for tomorrow. If she chose the cheese, it wasn’t a sugary treat so I didn’t have to worry about her teeth.

Removing the Rewards
Once your child is sufficiently trained and can go at least a week or more without an accident, you can start to remove the rewards. One thing you can do is just let the jellybeans run out as your child uses them up. Upon giving out the last one, say, “You did it! You earned every single jelly bean, and now you are a big kid who can use the potty!”  If he really puts up a fuss, just say, “I see you like having treats, so I’ll write ‘treats’ on the grocery list and we can buy some next time we’re at the store. He’ll probably forget, and if he doesn’t, just replace the treats with something healthier like small crackers and then transition to no rewards.

Leaving the House

Eventually, you will have to leave the house with your child. Don’t be nervous. Most children do better outside the house because their bladders become shy in a public place. Just bring a couple extra changes of clothes for both of you. Carry some paper towel just in case.  If you have a choice as to where you are going, look for a family bathroom or a bathroom that does not have loud hand blowers or toilets that flush with a jet engine force. Those can terrify your child and set him back. If your child is still having frequent accidents you will have to take him to the public bathroom once in a while instead of waiting for him to tell you it’s time, because if you are in a restaurant or a store it will not be as easy to dash to the bathroom and make it in time.

 

Troubleshooting

• If your child just has accident after accident, don’t sweat it. The first two or three days it may appear that you are just not getting through. If you are doing everything right, you are likely to still feel like the method is failing. DON’T GIVE UP.  Blue had 20 accidents her first day. She had 15 the second day, and about 10 the third day. I put her to bed the third day thinking that it was going to be a long road.  But she woke up on day 4 asking for the potty and didn’t have one accident that day.
I’m not saying it will take three days for everyone. I have heard of people using a similar method for a full two weeks before the accidents stopped altogether.

• If your results are not consistent, make sure you are being as vigilant as you can possibly be. Try to catch your child immediately as soon as the pee begins to drip onto the floor. Your success lies in that last little bit going into the potty.
              
• If your child gets very angry or upset and fights you, it might be time to abort the mission. Bring the diapers back and try again in a week or more.

• Clever children will learn to manipulate the system. If he pees just a little and then jumps up for the reward, have him sit and complete the pee before giving it to him. Don’t give him more than one reward in a short time span, except at the very beginning when he is first catching on.

• Sometimes children like the chart but they don’t like relinquishing the sticker. That happened with the little boy I trained, so I would just put the sticker on his shirt and make a mark on the chart. Starting a debate about the reward system is counterproductive, so follow your child’s lead.

• Often children will be trained for one parent or caregiver but have accidents for another. If you have chosen to use this method, print out this page and give it to your child’s alternative care provider. If possible, provide the exact same bag for treats, the same potty and a copy of the same chart. The more consistency you have between environments, the easier the transition will be.

• Children who are over 3 might not be as easy to train. That’s understandable. Old habits die hard. Just keep with it and stay positive and it will happen eventually. Don’t enable your older child by putting a diaper back on him just because he asks.


• Keep in mind that the length of time is not guaranteed. When I say this took me 3 days, I am referring to the time it took between ditching the diapers and the time I could safely say that my daughter had caught on. The readying that happened before this day took a few weeks or months. And this is not to say that accidents didn't occur from time to time afterwords. At the time of writing this she is 2 and a half, and she has an accident maybe once or twice a month, usually at night.

Questions:
Q. What if my child doesn't tell me when it is time to go?
A. The important thing is that you try to sit him on the toilet when you know he is feeling the urge, whether or not he expresses it. At first, your child may not verbally tell you when it it time. But a child who is not emptying his or her bladder automatically will usually "tell" you in one way or another with body language, if you pay very close attention.   If you consistently make a trip to the bathroom every time your child eliminates, even if you miss the entire "opportunity," your child will get the hang of the routine and may turn toward the bathroom out of habit when it is time to go.



















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