This is about control: our toddler’s control. Control of what she says, control of what she does, control of when she goes pee-pee on the potty.
A while ago we tried toilet training with mixed results. We knew for Olivia to attend pre-K this September she needed to be fully toilet trained, so we had to get serious and find something that worked. I did some internet searching and found a good program by Jam and Lewis, which called for patience, drum machines, synthesizers and lots of underpants. Unfortunately this was vetoed by my wife and we ended up trying a three-day method that we found online. Ready or not, it was time to give Olivia control. Lots of it. But was she ready?
Track 1: Control
Positive attitudes? Check. Sticker chart and rewards? Check. Alcohol for the end of the day when our child is asleep and our patience has been exhausted? Check.
We started by getting Olivia out of bed and making a huge deal that toilet training today was “Big Girl Day.” There were balloons, cheers, a key to the city presented to her by the mayor and lots of underpants for Olivia to choose from. We explained what the day meant, reminded her to tell us when she felt like she needed to go potty, and pointed out the big girl toilet where all business transactions would need to go down from here on out. She was excited, and frankly so were we, because no more diapers or pull-ups sounded like a dream come true.
After picking out the inaugural pair of underpants we all sat down on our living room couch to eat breakfast. Olivia had requested a bagel with cream cheese and we threw in chocolate milk as a treat; something to help set the positive tone and entice her into compliance. Big girls who go pee-pee on the potty get the better things in life: chocolate milk, underpants with cartoon characters on them, timeshares in Aruba, etc. We were all smiles, enthusiasm … and then she peed on the couch.
We put on our best faces. We cleaned Olivia up, remained positive, reminded her to tell us when she felt like she had to go and resumed our breakfast.
Minutes later she peed on the couch again.
And then on the floor right after we cleaned her up.
Every time this happened we gave her encouragement and guidance, and every time she’d say, “OK,” and nod yes like she understood. Much of the morning went this way, and it seemed like relying on her to tell us when she had to go wasn’t quite working. Accidents continued to happen, and our child seemed to enjoy watching Daddy clean up her messes. I swear I heard her sarcastically say, “You missed a spot!” one more than one occasion. This was not going to be easy.
Track 2: Nasty
Of all the things you need to bring into toilet training, cleaning supplies are definitely up near the top of the list.
You will be cleaning up after your child a lot, and in our case that happened very frequently. Since we were having some difficulties early on we decided to keep Olivia off the couch and only let her sit on a small wooden chair. Luckily we have hardwood floors in our apartment, which made spotting the messes and cleaning them up fairly easy. This was a good thing because for a while there it seemed like I was cleaning up after her every 10 minutes. She’d get lost in an activity like coloring or calculating the odds in an upcoming horse race she had a bet on, and then suddenly we’d hear the yelp signifying that another accident had happened.
The guide we were following says to pick your child up immediately when you see a sign that they have to go (or in our case, after the fact) and hurry them into the bathroom to sit on the potty. Instead of pointing out what needs to happen when she has to go, all this did for Olivia was instill anger and resentment.
So I decided to try what I like to call the ‘CSI scared straight approach’ to toilet training. While she sat on the potty protesting, I followed the trail of urine from the bathroom to the scene of the crime, marking each puddle with a numbered evidence flag. Then I made a chalk outline of the initial accident, police taped off the area, positioned all of her stuffed animals as shocked onlookers, and then brought her out to see what she had done. I pulled out my sunglasses, put them on as I made a one-liner about all the messes being made, and then cued The Who’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again.’ Needless to say my reference was lost on her, so it was time to move on to Plan B.
Track 3: What Have You Done For Me Lately
The potty chart/sticker system we set up for our child seemed pretty straightforward: one sticker for a successful pee on the potty, two stickers for poop. Olivia asked about how many she’d get for a toot, and though we applaud her efforts those, unfortunately, do not count (but are quite hilarious).
Every time a row on the toilet training chart was filled with stickers, she would get a prize from a mystery box we set up. It was filled with an assortment of things we figured she’d love to get as a reward, like small toys, books, games and office supplies (what toddler doesn’t want a staple remover?). Olivia was excited at the prospect of getting a prize, but it seemed like she was never going to get there.
We finally decided to throw in a “gimme row” of stickers for her when she halfheartedly finished going pee on the toilet after another accident. We cheered and applauded, hoping that maybe this would boost her confidence. She excitedly grabbed her prize, took it into our living room to open it up … and peed all over the floor again.
Track 4: You Can Be Mine
The rest of Day 1 went mostly the same, but there were a few bright spots. There were no accidents during her nap, and we even had a few instances where she actually told us she had to go. My wife put Olivia down for the night while I mopped the floor to get the ‘my toddler just marked her territory’ smell out. Then we knocked a few back, discussed what did and didn’t work, and hoped that Day 2 would bring about some positive change (and drier floors).
We knew Olivia got what we wanted her to do during toilet training, the problem was getting her to want to do it. If there’s anything we’ve learned from our child, it’s that she won’t do anything we ask her to if she’s not into it. She needs the proverbial carrot on a stick to get her motivated, so we decided to put a little more emphasis on the prize box, stickers and any other incentives we had.
We also determined that Day 2 would need us to check in with Olivia every 20 minutes or so to make sure she’s mindful of whether she feels like she needs to go. Basically, we were going to bug the crap out of our child all day, but make it worth her while.
— Part Two of this toilet training saga appears tomorrow.
A version of this first appeared on Our Little Mixtape.