For the most part, when it comes to figuring out how to do all this stuff that we've never done before, we've referred to just a handful of books, one of them being our pediatrician's guidebook, The New Basics. What I like about this particular book is that it's pretty laissez-faire. Michel Cohen, who wrote the book, is French and his advice basically boils down to "don't worry so much." I like that.
The book's been super useful. When Aki started getting picky about eating, and we were worried that we'd be down to hot dogs and ketchup in no time, I picked up the book and looked up picky eating. It said "The best reasons for a toddler to eat are hunger and pleasure." When it's time to eat, you put the food you made in front of her. If she eats, great, if she pushes it away or starts throwing it, no problem. Take it away, wait until the next meal time, and serve it again. No praise or pressure for either choice: you choose what she eats, and she chooses how much. She'll eat as much as she's hungry for, when she's hungry. And it worked like a charm. We had one rough meal, where she went to sleep without dinner because she didn't want it. And she woke up very hungry the next morning. And she saw the dinner. And she was very very sad. Then she got over it and started eating. Booya.
So when it came time for the potty training, I went back to the book, and looked up what to do.
You should read that link. You really, really should read it. In fact, here, I'll just repost it for you:
Okay, get ready for this. No matter what you may have heard or read, toilet training is unnecessary. Children learn to move on from diapers, not because they are run through drills but because they become sensitive to the increasing discomfort of marinating in their own dirty diapers. Just like any other milestone, this occurs naturally as a normal part of a child’s development, and it does not require training.
Oddly, modern technology delays the process somewhat; today’s diapers, which are super-absorbent and designed to fit perfectly, don’t cause the same discomfort that diapers did in years past. I bet one of the reasons you’re toilet trained is that you grew tired of walking around with a soggy, stinky diaper around your waist. Nowadays, children are less motivated to graduate from this phase as quickly. This delay may make you wonder if Jimmy is ever going to be out of his diapers. Compounding the issue, day-care centers and preschools often impose toilet-training ultimatums for enrolling children, not so much for your child’s benefit as for their own convenience
The truth is that all children will be done with diapers eventually, some earlier than average, some later. But the child-care industry and certain behavioral psychologists have conspired to create a huge amount of pressure for children and parents alike. I recommend that you merely help Jimmy decide when he wants to be clean and offer a little assistance along the way. My laissez-faire toilet training method, scientifically tested on my own three children, goes something like this:
- Once Jimmy becomes aware of his daily waste production, around eighteen months of age, he’ll start to let you know when his diaper is full. This is a fine time to start the process.
- Buy a potty, and set it on the floor in the bathroom next to the adult toilet. There’s no need to discuss the function of this new piece of furniture.
- Let him run around naked as often as you can and wherever it’s practical. Not only is this the best way to prevent diaper rashes, it will make him much more conscious of what comes out of him. Unless you have expensive carpeting, it makes little difference whether you swab the floor or swab his butt.
- Now let him go about his normal business. Occasionally, he’ll stop playing to go number one or two. The first few times, he’ll be surprised to see what comes out of him and may even enjoy the novelty, but that will wear off quickly when he slips in his own urine. Soon enough, when he feels the urge, he’ll look around for a place to satisfy his needs where he won’t be bothered by them later. That’s when he’ll remember the new piece of furniture.
- Because Jimmy vaguely remembers seeing you—his role model—sit on the toilet, he’ll mimic you.
- Before he has fully mastered his potty, he might ask you for a diaper when he feels the urge. Oblige without comment. This is just as good as going to the potty.
- If the process becomes too messy or starts to drag on, you may have started too early. Give it a few weeks and try again.
WHAT NOT TO DO
- Don’t pressure Jimmy. Pressure can be as subtle as a suggestion. It is at best pointless and at worst can delay the process and even lead to stool retention, a dramatic situation wherein kids withhold their stools intentionally [See: Stool Retention]. If your child’s day-care center or preschool pressures you, just pay your tuition on time, tell the director that Jimmy’s almost there, and stand by him supportively.
- Don’t reward or bribe him because he went to the potty. Jimmy is definitely smarter than a pet and will figure out that you have a major stake in his bladder and bowel elimination. As part of the toddler exploration stage, he’ll try to reverse the circuit and figure out what happens when he does not use the potty. Also, rewards become a form of pressure, because he will start to feel punished without them.
- Don’t make him watch toilet-training videos or read toilet-training books. They are boring and unproductive.
- Don’t suggest that Jimmy sit on the potty when he’s not feeling the urge. He won’t understand what he is doing there if he does not have the need.
- Don’t rush him onto the potty if he starts urinating or defecating elsewhere in the house. You probably won’t get him there in time, and these mad dashes will introduce unnecessary commotion.
- Don’t worry if he suffers occasional setbacks after achieving some control. It’s not always a perfect process.
If you stick to this method, most kids will naturally achieve control between the second and the third years, first with urine and then with defecation. When they are comfortable with the potty, the transition to a real toilet happens relatively slowly but spontaneously.
...Okay. So that stopped me in my tracks for a bit. Letting Aki shit on the floor felt a little too laissez-faire. I was half wondering if Cohen was playing a big joke on parents, and when we went in for our 18 month checkup, we'd get the real dirt (ahem) on how to potty train. But nope: the pediatrician asked if we were going diaper-less yet, and mentioned that since it's getting nice out, we should take the potty out to the park for a few hours and try it there.
Well, hmm I thought. Maybe this is where I start losing my cool-parent cred. I'm okay with that. I bought a potty book with reward stickers (it's really insipid. You know a book is bad when there's no author) and I started putting Aki on the potty and reading it to her over and over, promising stickers if she pooped. I looked at her face for clues that she was pooping, and would rush her diaper off and then toss her onto the potty. She sat, compliant enough, listening to the potty book until she got bored, then she'd get up, and I'd put her diaper back on, and a few minutes later she'd poop.
Finally, earlier this week, we packed up the last two rugs in the bedroom and living room, and this morning, we took off her diaper, put the potty in the living room, and let her run around. She peed. Onto the floor. Three times. The third time she got upset about it, and I put her on the potty. But cleaning it up wasn't terrible. Our floors are a very resistant bamboo, and are very cleanable. But she also hasn't pooped yet.
Am I crazy for doing this? I don't know. I hope it works. We'll give it maybe a week and then try again later, I expect. It's weirdly nerve-wracking. But I think it's better than making her feel pressure to poop or pee, and I'm confident that she's smart enough to figure this out. So who knows. Maybe we'll be buying big-girl underwear this weekend. Maybe just an extra bottle of Murphy's.