A Potty Training Miracle

The Potty Training Years 1988–1992

The Potty Training Years (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Considering that my children couldn’t be much more different, I shouldn’t have been surprised that potty training the second one would be absolutely nothing like the first. Yet I had this idea that I’d done it before and knew what to expect.

We learned our lesson with Peter (child #1), starting too soon, and had to put potty training on hold for six months. Then it was a month of on-and-off frustration before he got it. What really helped were the incentives. We promised him that he could move out of his crib and into his big boy bed once he potty trained. But the biggest motivator was that we would use the money we saved on diapers toward a trip to Disney World.

Disney? No, problem. Peter was potty trained like that (imagine me snapping my fingers). And ever since, he’s only had one daytime accident. Ever.

With Ian (child #2), I didn’t even pull the potty chair out until he was two-and-a-half. Why cause myself more angst than necessary? I had no idea what was coming. One Saturday last June, I decided to dedicate my day to potty training, giving Ian juice and treats and sitting him on the potty until he got it, Peter-style.

Nothing happened. On the potty, that is. As soon as I put underwear on him, Ian had an accident. I was on the third or fourth pair of underwear when my husband got involved. Miracle of miracles! Ian sat on the potty, and when Thomas told him to go, Ian went.

About a minute later, he had an accident in another pair of clean underwear.

That was when we discovered that Ian knew exactly what was going on, and he simply didn’t care.

We tried everything. For nine months we tried, and we took advice from any- and everyone, and we would take two steps forward and giant leaps back. We offered him candy for keeping his pants clean and dry, but usually he just didn’t care. Other times, he would ask for candy after having an accident. There was no problem at all getting him to use the potty, but we couldn’t get him to quit wetting his pants, too. People advised us to just put him in underwear, and he would learn his lesson when he had an accident. I can’t tell you how many times we tried this and failed.

Our solution was Pull-Ups, which many people say is a potty training no-no, but he didn’t need diapers, and I didn’t want to have to wash every pair of his underwear five to six times a week. We bought Pull-Ups for eight months. I hope and pray that I’m finally on my last box.

His pediatrician assured me that we were on the right track with incentives, but I tried to explain that Ian and incentives aren’t the best of friends. The candy was hit or miss. Sometimes he got excited about moving to his bed. But when it came to visiting Mickey Mouse (whom Ian adores), he would flat out say that he didn’t want to go. Still, I persevered. I was determined to reward him with a trip to Disney before he turned three (mainly so his admission would be free).

Naturally, there was little improvement until a couple weeks after his third birthday, when Ian finally seemed to turn the corner. Although still in Pull-Ups, he would sometimes tell us when he had to go, and he even woke up dry some mornings. He even seemed willing to undress and take himself to the potty (but only if we asked him to).

I finally decided we were going to Disney World over spring break, and if Ian still wasn’t potty trained, I would just tell him we were proud of his progress.

Then last Tuesday (three days before our trip), I decided that if Ian was going to be rewarded for supposedly being potty trained, I was going to go ahead and put him in underwear. If he messed up his clothes or his car seat, oh well. Maybe if he had an accident and had to sit in it, he would learn his lesson.

So that’s exactly what I did.

There were accidents – none in the car, thank goodness. It was the panicked, “I gotta go potty, Mommy!” about two seconds too late. But at least he finally cared.

For our first day at Disney World, we decided – even though we hadn’t chanced it with Peter – that we would put Ian in underwear. We were armed with multiple changes of clothes, and I even lost sleep over it, but he was fine.

Disney fireworks

Disney fireworks – appropriate for how I felt after Ian’s success

I figured a good thing couldn’t last two days in a row, but it did. In fact, all three days that we were in the parks, Ian was 100% accident free. Every time I took him to the bathroom, I praised him, wondering if he would make it another hour. Was it giving him the reward that he hadn’t fully earned that made him finally earn it? Who knows, but I’ll have to say that it worked – and it’s still working (at least as far as #1 is concerned). He even wakes up dry from naps and overnight. I’m not going to hold out hope for only one accident ever, like his big brother, but so far so good. (#2 is still a work in progress, but for the first time in nine months, I think he’ll actually make it.)

After all this success, I’ve been beating myself up about it. If I had decided to put Ian in underwear and live through the accidents back in November or December, would we have had similar results? Would he have gotten one last free trip to Disney? Or would I have pulled my hair out even more and caused myself more frustration than was necessary? My husband thinks that, even though Ian didn’t care about Disney World until we actually go there, he had so much fun that he didn’t want to deal with the hassle of multiple wardrobe changes. I guess it will always be a mystery, but I’m glad it finally happened.

For all frustrated parents out there, please know that if someone promises there’s one proven way to potty train every single child, it’s a lie. Every child is different and will take a different method. I would love to hear other potty training stories (the good, the bad, the ugly) and encourage you to keep trying. As people have often assured me, there isn’t a kid yet who’s gone to college still in diapers. I thought we were getting close, but it seems that Ian will make it to preschool next year, after all.

Next on the agenda… how to get him to eat healthy food.

3 thoughts on “A Potty Training Miracle

  1. releaf1954 says:

    It’s true that no two children are alike. My mother’s first child was so perfect that he was born on his due date, so Mom thought all children were like that. Her second child sure surprised her. I was fifth, so I had a pretty easy-going Mom. I followed that example as much as I could with my own, but potty training was still challenging. They all get it eventually. The healthy food thing, well…good luck with that.

  2. […] at the end of twelve months of potty training hell (read the account of the first nine months here), Ian was bowel trained the same day we solved a dietary issue – we got him on a magnesium […]

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