Wednesday, August 8, 2012

5 Things that Work: Part 5

And now, the final installment of:
5 Things that Work (right now) for Parenting (my) Two and a Half Year Old

5. Potty-training!

I can't believe this is my number five!  And by that I mean to say, I can't believe Lila is potty-trained!  After much counsel, advice, opinion, and experimenting, I had sort of resolved to take a break from potty training.  You see, I sort of took the lazy man's approach to potty training.  I didn't feel all that compelled to do the whole "potty training in a day" or three days or whatever "They" recommend.  And by that I mean I was lazy and I didn't want to stay home for three days straight.  I just kind of figured it might just happen as it needed to happen.  

Of course, I opened the doors as needed: I got out the big girl undies, bought a potty seat (in addition to the one someone gave us that sets on top of the big potty), talked about it a lot, showed her how I went potty, explained where potty belonged, etc.  And she seemed to be making progress.  Over the course of a few months she started to voluntarily sit on the potty, ask for her undies, be able to "hold it" for several hours, wake up dry from naps on occasion, etc.  But the thing that wasn't clicking was the actual going in the potty.  My mother-in-law teased me when I told her that Lila was 90% potty trained - the only thing she couldn't do was actually go in the potty.  My mother-in-law said, "It sounds like she's 0% potty trained!"  Which was true.  Sort of.

Anyway, I reached out for advice in this post, talked to every mommy friend I have and tried everything people advised - blowing through a straw worked twice, the hand in warm water was unsuccessful, as was distracting her, bribing her and having her dolls/toys/animals, etc "go potty."
I rescued this little potty leftover from our garage sale donations.  Lila's baby often has to go potty when Lila does.
It was like she just didn't understand the mechanics of it.  Which is weird because I've been changing diapers for two and a half years now and I know that kid knows how to go to the bathroom!  

But last week, something clicked.  It was like she just sort of...did it!  And once she did it, she realized which muscles were involved and could do it again!  And we've had success each day since so I think we're rounding the corner - Hallelujah!  I wish I could tell you what worked, but I honestly have no idea.  It just happened.  But I will say that keeping the pressure off her kept her interested.  I was very cautious about her getting stressed about it.  So maybe that helped?  I don't know.  Rookie Mama, here.  It's a mystery.

But I'm so proud!  And despite the few weeks stressing about why that final thing wasn't falling into place, it was a really easy transition.  I think in hindsight, I chose the "lazy" approach because I know my tendency to be determined to force my will on Lila.  If I had done the potty training in a day or three days, it would have been on my timing, my planning, my execution.  I would have set aside three days, confined us to the house and been absolutely miserable if it hadn't been unsuccessful.  I'm sure by the end of day three I would have been hollering, "You will go potty! NOW!" to a crying, stubborn toddler.  It would have (or could have) turned into a battle of wills.  And that is a lose-lose situation.

Because expert wisdom tells us that there are three things mamas can't control when it comes to our kids: eating, sleeping and pooping.  You just can't force a child to do any of those things.  In fact some of our adoption education taught us the same thing.  The lesson was: avoid power struggles as best you can, but if you find your self in one, WIN.  But then it gave the caveat that you should always avoid power struggles around sleep, food and the bathroom because you simply can't win those.  So, if you tend to be someone with control issues (ahem, like me), approach potty-training with as few expectations as possible.  That way you can spare yourself (and your child) a battle of wills that you will never win.

And okay, since I'm an expert now, (stop laughing!) I'll give you my top five list of things that I think helped and things I heard over and over again from moms who had gone before me:

1. Have options.  Toddlers naturally want to control as much of their world as they can - it's an important developmental step in learning autonomy and independence - so have several options for the potty.  We bought a little potty seat (the kind that they pee in and then you dump it out) and someone gave us one that sets into the big seat.  Lila initially only wanted to sit on the little seat, and it was nice because we could bring it out into the living room to watch a show while we were trying the (unsuccessful) distraction method.  But we've had all of our successes sitting up on the big potty using the seat insert.  Also, I've heard that some kids might have a fear of sitting on that big potty (even with a seat in it), so the little potty might be the only thing they're willing to try.

I will say that we went the penny-pincher's route with the little potty and bought the cheapest one they had.  However, it's also the smallest one they had, and I've wondered if we had gone for a slightly bigger one if Lila would have been more comfortable on it.

We also bought a fold-up travel potty seat that we can put on big potties in public bathrooms - takes away some of the ew-factor and makes it a little more comfortable for her to sit on the potty without fearing falling in!  Plus it folds up so it's easy to shove in my purse to take into Target or restaurants - I couldn't do that with the big one above without looking like a crazy person.

We keep it in the car along with a change of clothes, two clean undies, wipes and emergency diapers and pull-ups just in case.  It all fits into a ziplock which I slide into the seat-back pocket.  Look at me all organized!  Never-you-mind the bunny crackers smushed into the car seat and the wadded up napkins strewn on the floor.  And the billions of toys that Lila somehow squirrels into the car with every excursion.  That seat-back pocket is organized!

2. Use a reward.  While this may not motivate in the initial breakthrough (it definitely didn't for us), it is certainly helpful for motivating once they get the basics down.  Lila has outright said to me, "I need to go potty!  I don't want to go in my diaper, I want to go in the potty because I get a chocolate chip!"  Make it something small, something special they don't get otherwise, and something that you won't mind handing over a few times a day.  Lila has taken to showing off her spoils to anyone with eyes, "See Franny? I get a chocolate chip because I go potty!" (Franny licks her lips and considers the injustice of the fact that she doesn't get a reward like that every time she goes potty - "That small human gets treated like a queen and I'm forced to do my business in the yard like a common dog.  Oh wait, I am a dog.  Still, I've been here longer.  Where's the love?")

3. Look for signs that she is ready. Every resource I have ever read says this so it's not like I came up with this brilliant tip.  But things I noticed in Lila that told me she was on the right track were:  She told me when she had to go, she could put on and take off her undies/pants by herself, she was interested, she wasn't fighting it, she was waking up from naps and occasionally overnight with a dry diaper, she was interested in the potty habits of others, she wanted to wear big-girl undies, and she was "regular" with her "movements" (hee, hee - I'm such an adolescent sometimes, all this potty talk is making me giggly.)  If your child is showing some of these signs, he might be ready, but if there are stark things that stand out like he don't even want to sit on the potty at all, trust me - it's not worth the fight.  Give it a few weeks and then try again.

4. Be enthusiastic and supportive.  Make potty-training a positive experience rather than a negative one.  Whenever I found myself getting frustrated or stressed about it, I could immediately see a change in Lila's emotions, too.  Have you ever tried to pee on command?  Imagine your flight is about to leave and you decided to try to make a quick trip to the restroom before you board so as to avoid those hilariously small and mysteriously stinky airplane bathrooms, and as you're sitting there you hear, "Last call for Your Flight Number, service to Where You're Going.  All passengers must board immediately."  Now tell me, would it be easy to go?  Stress doesn't help.  Don't scold or punish or threaten if your child has an accident.  The more relaxed and positive you can be, the easier it will be.  Once again, remember this is one power struggle you can't win!  When we had an accident, I would say, "That's okay.  It's an accident.  Next time we'll try to make it to the potty."  (By the way, I read somewhere you're not supposed to say, "that's okay" because it communicates that, well, it's okay to pee your pants.  But really, who cares?  When my kid is crying and afraid I'm going to be mad at her for having an accident and the words "it's okay" escape my lips, I'm not going to beat myself up for word choice.)  When we had a success, I let Lila choose someone to call and brag to, so many of my family members received muffled voicemails from an unintelligible (cute) voice saying something like, "I gfnskink matdgsa potty dsgheip chocolate chip!"

5. Remember, every kid is different. One thing I did learn from my "research" is that every kid is different when it comes to potty-training.  Moms I talked to with more than one child all said this.  Some kids may get it immediately and hate the feeling of having an accident.  Others may defiantly poop in their undies and then smear it all over the bathroom (yeah, that's a true story).  Others may take forever to be potty-trained overnight.  So I guess the advice here is, "Mama, know thy child."  You can probably guess based on your kid's temperament which battles you will face.  A defiant, strong-willed child would be the more likely poop-smearer than the perfectionist compliant child.  For us, I knew that I had to give Lila the control, the choices and positive reinforcement.  I could see the frustration in her when she would try to go and couldn't and as her mom, I knew that frustration quickly erupts into explosive emotions - tears or screaming.  So to combat the frustration, I wouldn't force her to sit there if she didn't want to, I would distract her or simply say, "It's okay!"  What works for one kid might not work for yours and what worked for us...well, is a complete mystery so I can't help ya there!  Sorry!

So concludes our little unintentional series about parenting a two and a half year old.  I hope you weren't bored to death and I hope maybe something was encouraging and helpful.  And now (because I love lists), I'll recap the five things with some handy-dandy links for ya:

1. Have Realistic Expectations
2. Sticker Chart
3. The Timer
4. What I'm Proud of You For.  By the way, I realize that is horrible grammar, and I hate having it typed out because I'm a grammar lover.  But what kind of a weirdo would I be if I said, "Can I tell you the things for which I am proud of you?" to my two year old?  Isn't it weird how correct grammar starts to sound incorrect or snobbish when it's used less often than the incorrect grammar?  But I digress....
5. Potty Training

Good luck, Mamas and remember - soon enough your terrible Two-and-a-Halfer will be a lovely and angelic Three back in equilibrium!  In the meantime, try not to sweat the small stuff and remember to celebrate the small victories.  Preferably with ice cream.
We celebrated a good day of obedience and following the rules with Lila's first ice cream cone.  She'd had ice cream, just not in cone form and she wasn't sure how to go about eating it.  Kept trying to take bites off the top and ended up with an ice cream beard.  We tried to teach her how to lick the sides, but she refused to be coached.


Sarah B said...

I am sorry for being a slacker in the comments, but i have LOVED this series...(you know I love a good series!) It was packed with so much goodness for this mama about a year behind you. I especially loved the 'what I'm proud of you for' post. So, so good. Thank you for your honesty, for sharing your wisdom and for the encouragement in advance that I know I will need. P.S. Your little sweet pea is super cute!

dragon-mouse said...

Slinking in from lurking about to say:
From my own experience, you might want two ZIplocs. Because after the accident that involves one change of clothes, you'll want somewhere to put the wet stuff to get it home. I packed each change of clothes in their own Ziploc so I could just change wet for dry.

Kelsey said...

dragon-mouse, you are brilliant. Done! Thanks for the tip! And thanks for de-lurking. :)