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Ask Alex: WTH Is Up With Potty Training?

Lisa (who you can blame for the existence of “Ask Alex”) asks: I am terrified of starting this “potty training.” How did you know when to start and how did you do it?

So you know how everything you read says WAIT FOR SIGNS OF POTTY TRAINING READINESS?

My kids forgot to read those three hundred million articles because refusal to wear diaper and inability to duct tape your child is not on any list nor is obsession with underwear and potty-training without permission.

My son showed some potty interest at 18 months. We told our doctor and he laughed so I left a dirty diaper in his trash can. Except he was right. it was just like the time E showed interest in avocados. Short-lived with a lot of mess.

A year later, N was born and we were warned to not start potty training until at least three months out. Except a months out, E stopped using his diaper. Oh, he did NOT start using the potty that we had now owned for 14 months. He used the floor. So in between breast feeding and putting my new baby to sleep every other hour, I was on my hands and knees cleaning up pee.

Our doctor recommended duct tape, which while awkward to purchase at the gas station (“What are you looking for?” “Duct tape…. for my child.” “Oh”), was a thousand times worse getting on him.

He would develop eight legs and the ability to morph into a greased up pig and I had to make a DUCT TAPE BELT just to keep him from ripping it off and yelling FREEDOM as his buns took off down the hallway and balance a baby in a sling around leaking boobs and a cesarean incision.

So we potty trained. We put an entire weekend aside and decorated the potty and sang the potty song and bribed him with candy daily. I set my iPhone timer and every 30 minutes said: Do you have to use the potty?
E: No.
Me: Do you want candy/watchTV/do anything you want because I need you to potty train?
E: Yes.
Me: Great. Sit on the potty and you can have ice cream for dinner in front of the TV. Again.

And within a month, he was accident-free or at least house-trained. (Yes, I said a month. That’s fast. NO ONE TELL YOU THIS CRAP.)

On the other hand, my daughter became obsessed with underwear at 18 months, and I’m fairly certain that it was a fashion statement. By 20 months, she had 8 pairs of her own underwear and began peeing in the potty. By 21 months, she stopped having accidents anywhere but home. BECAUSE MY CHILDREN LOVE PEEING ON THE FLOOR.

We did the song.

But mostly she potty-trained herself. For underwear.

Serious moment: I would actually recommend waiting until after 2 years old because my son never regressed once he trained, but my daughter regressed whenever she got sick during those first few months, which made me even more anxious whenever we were out and about.

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

18 thoughts to “Ask Alex: WTH Is Up With Potty Training?”

  1. I too am terrified of potty training. My son turns 2 in a few weeks. Thanks Lisa for asking this question. Is it all just trial and error – which method, which timing, which reward, which bribery will finally be the answer?

    I’m not looking forward to this. But glad you suggested 2 1/2 – I will be making my husband read this – as he keeps dropping hints (they feel like atomic bombs) about how nice it would be if Mommy could potty train the little guy over her summer break!

  2. Ok, it’s official.

    Your husband is ADORABLE.

    I’m going to teach mine the Pee Pee song and dance, just so I can enjoy this on a daily basis. Or maybe I’ll just bookmark your video. LOL

  3. potty training is such an experience. My first had to begin potty training at 18 months since she wanted to be naked…all.the.time. She seemed to understand about going in the potty, so we went to the store, picked one out, decorated it with stickers…and she started going in the potty…but it was 6 months of peeing everywhere…she would lift her leg, like a dog on all the furniture just to see what would happen. She once crapped on the floor out of sheer anger at me. We even had 2 months of back to diapers. But once I had her sister, well she just stopped having accidents, as she would get more attention when she went in the “mommy I need to be wiped” kind of attention, that always happened when I began nursing the new baby. Soon after she told me she didn’t even want to wear diapers at night….we had something like two accidents in bed.

    Number two, also a girl, is almost 22 months and seems uninterested in going in the potty. She’ll sit on it, she’ll even tell me when she pooped or peed, which in her mind is the same thing, “Mommy I poo poo” could mean either. But she is not ready, even though I am anxious just to get it over with…summer is here and I keep thinking that I don’t want to wait until winter and her being 2 1/2 to start it….Maybe in two months…sigh…it is quite messy.

  4. My oldest Nikolas was fully potty trained at four and I was afraid he was not going to make it in time for preschool. He just refused to do…instead my couch was his favorite place to pee. (We ended up taking it to the dump) I tried everything, books…potty movies, potty dances, wearing a pull up like a hat…you name it I tried it…and he just refused. I think what did it for him was I told him he could not go to school if he did not potty like a big boy.

    The 2nd boy literally trained himself around age 2…just took off the diaper and hopped up on the toilet. I have my toes crossed that boy #3 will also be a self starter because I really don’t want to lose another couch…I like this one.

  5. Okay, the video is hilarious. They’re so not buying it.

    As usual, my children thwart my plans in every way. The first, it was tough. She was interested. And then just wanted her diaper. Now. Always! Or nothing. And was shocked and appalled by what came out on the floor. Eventually, when school required it, I pushed with treats and prizes. Even so, no fun.

    My second declared in Wednesday, no diapers. She’s had accidents, but lots of success too. I am not foolish enough to imagine this process is well on it’s way, but I’m surprised by the difference. I planned to go on a potty song spree right after school got out when we could stay home.

    Follow them. No. Literally, follow them. They pick the best spots to hide.

  6. We trained Hayden at 20 months. Really, it was easier than I thought it would be. He was “cured” of the wee wees in a week, or maybe less. The poo poos took almost a month, but once I figured out what worked, it was easy. He regressed a little at 2 1/2 when he started school, because he was not telling his teachers when he needed to go potty. After two weeks of school, he was fine. He has not been potty trained almost 2 years. BUT LORD ALMIGHTY THAT KID CAN WEE WEE A KEGS WORTH EVERY NIGHT WHEN WILL HE BE ABLE TO SLEEP IN UNDIES?

    1. I don’t know. My youngest (who trained early) cries when she pees in her diaper at night now (so rarely does). My oldest almost immediately night-trained when we potty-trained him and then regressed a year later at night right around the time of some really hard sleep issues — which means he’s probably not a good example because it’s not really a potty-training problem…
      Honestly, I think it’s just kid-dependent. Which is another way to say: Sucks this one didn’t go your way but at least no daytime diapers for a long time now! Yay?

  7. If only there had been an undiscernible musical source, your world would have been a musical for those few seconds.

    The underwear is what made my daughter want to potty train too. Maybe it is a girl thing.

  8. I have potty-trained three now and my observation is that there is a window at 18 months much like you noticed. You either need to seize that moment in a serious way just hold off for another year. I didn’t have any regressions except for the last kid who was on the delayed track.

  9. Your husband is cracking me UP! He is getting down with his bad self over the potty song!

    I agree about the age and the regression thing. Every mom I know who started training young (whether it was because the mom was pushing it or because the kid was saying, “Change me”) ended up spending SUCH a looooong time before they could comfortably trust their kid and call them “trained.”

  10. I’ve decided that all children show “interest” at 18 months, and that as an indicator of potty training prognosis, it’s a pretty worthless indicator. Kids seem to fall into several camps: those who train themselves really young but have relapses, those who can be slowly bribed over time, and those who resist all bribery, cajoling, pleading, cries of desperation from parents until one day close to age 4 they finally consent to use the potty, and are suddenly cured of their diaper addiction, overnight.

    I’m still waiting for son #3 to be “ready”. For now, I’m just utterly sick of wiping poop off somebody else’s butt. I’ve been diapering one or more kids for 8.5 years. Can I be done now?

  11. I made my husband watch this video and told him to please dance like Scott when we start to potty train Lil’ Bit. Which, for the record, will not be anytime soon. Because the entire process terrifies me to my very core.

    P.S. Your husband’s name IS Scott, yes? I thought so.

  12. interesting, interesting. we had my daughter first. we introduced potty at 18 mos but it was short lived. baby boy was born when she was 20 months old. we also took an entire weekend when she was 24 months and devoted to PT’ing… it worked. she had no peeing accidents. pooping, on the other hand, took more than a year later. yes, an entire year later… ugh.

    boy is now 2 years 4 months old. we just started “bootcamp” this weekend. a few small accidents and only a couple drips on the potty today. i think tomorrow will be better. but i can tell he’s holding it in. any tips for training boys?

    1. We figured out what our son loves/wanted (we did M&Ms then switched to another candy when that got old) and he got one for sitting and two for peeing. We also put the potty in front of the TV. TV was a big deal to him so it was very easy to convince him to sit down on the potty when it was on. That way he could see how excited we got when he peed. We also did a lot of peeing outside on bushes, trees and grass. E LOVED that — still does!

  13. so I am giggling like a freak at how into the potty song your hubs is.

    also? E is 23 months and knows when he poops and pees (he pats his crotch an announces, “OOP!”), and he doesn’t pee or poo in the tub anymore…instead he begs for a diaper or goes on the floor after the bath.

    I set him on the toilet the other day when he patted it and said, “oop?” he just sat there giving me a terrified look as if i would quite possibly drop him in.

    then he asked for a diaper.

    he is getting a potty chair for his birthday. cuz we bring the fun.

  14. Thanks for your post! I got really excited when I read the part about waiting until she is 2 1/2!! haha This means I have a little time to avoid that dreaded task and can focus on training the puppy first!! I think I will be singing that song all day today!

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