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Riding the Potty Train

There we sat – crisscross applesauce on a cold kitchen floor – surrounded by a sea of Duplo LEGO blocks. One of us didn’t have pants on.

The look on her face was a combination of shock and delight. My little building buddy glanced down to see if a puddle had formed under her mommy’s bottom, too.

I had read about this strategy from parenting expert and psychologist John Rosemond a few weeks before. Apparently, because disposable diapers are so effective at keeping icky wetness away from a toddler’s skin, there’s no urgent desire to get out of them. Rosemond said toddlers need to be aware of what is really going on down there.

So pointing out the little puddle, I told Sam calmly, “That’s your tinkle. Next time, you can put it in your new potty.” She cocked her head slightly and looked at me as if to say, “Why, that makes perfect sense!” We cleaned up the tinkle and went back to the LEGOs. A little while later, she scampered into the bathroom to try out her potty for the first time. She had just turned two.

A friend of mine was skeptical about my timing from the start. Potty training had been stressful for her older child and she wasn’t going to force it the second time around. “He’s not gonna be in diapers when he goes to college,” she’d said. “It’s not worth it.” 

For me, it became worth it at about twenty months. That’s when every diaper change had turned into a test of wills. And I was flunking miserably. Little arms and legs were flailing everywhere. Diversionary tactics like toys or board books didn’t work for very long, at least not beyond the few seconds it took her to throw them at me. 

But it wasn’t just changing the diaper. A child approaching two is eating table food, drinking real milk, and pooping like it’s nobody’s business. The contents of an infant’s diaper are much easier on the senses than what you will find in a toddler’s. Call it what you want – stinkies, BMs, number two, poop – it’s nasty. All these years later, I can still remember asking for backup on a particularly gross occasion, all the while thinking how pathetic it was that changing a diaper had become a two-parent endeavor.

There are lots of reasons for wanting your child to use the toilet. Many of them are parent-based, if not a little selfish. Maybe you’ve had it with the price of diapers. Or if you’re like me, you had a second baby on the way, and the prospect of having two in diapers was unacceptable. All things being equal, by potty training early, I accidentally stumbled on the most important reason there is to try to get your child into underwear before age two. It is, quite simply, because he or she will one day be age two.  

Some time after two – and experience has shown me that it comes up quickly after the actual birth date – your child will have little or no interest in pleasing you. The quest for independence and the establishment of identity take over. A hug from Daddy or a great big smile on Mommy’s face just won’t cut it anymore. Likewise, a simple incentive plan – like the sticker and chart reward system we used for potty training – probably won’t be as effective. In fact, when we tried stickers later to establish a bed-making routine, it was a bust. Hands down, the most valuable lesson I learned while potty training Sam was this: Try it while your child still wants to please you – and before she gets too dang smart! 

On your child’s part, it’s human nature to want to achieve and to desire independence. So taking advantage of this natural stage of early development could be a good fit when it comes to potty training. 

About now, you might be thinking that the smartness factor could be a good thing – that you can somehow use logic to convince your older toddler to use the potty. Get this out of your head right now. A friend of mine used the pull-up training pants approach with her 3-year-old. After about four weeks of going through five of these a day, she announced, “We’re all out of pull-ups. You have to put your pee-pee in the potty now.” Little one promptly and very wisely replied, “We can buy more at the store, Mommy!” When a child gets to this point, she is probably ready to use the potty. My point is, there is a chance this toddler sensed how badly her parents wanted her to use the potty, and that is precisely why she wouldn’t. 

I am not suggesting that any child is plotting in some sinister way to drive her parents over the edge by refusing to use the potty. But there aren’t many things a toddler can control. The daily menu, toys, friends, clothes, bedtime. That stuff is all dictated by adults. As biology would have it, elimination is something that’s totally left up to the toddler. Now that your child is getting older and smarter, of course she doesn’t want to relinquish authority over the one aspect of her life she does control. 

Finally, I have to tell you that my youngest child pretty much taught herself to use the toilet sixteen years ago. What inspired me to share my knowledge of potty training here? I read an article about college students wearing adult diapers so they could drink more beer, and it made me wonder about my friend’s child: Could he still be in diapers?!

I know I’m not the only parent in the world whose kids started using the potty at age two, and I don’t think my way is the only way to potty train. But I am saying it worked, and at a relatively early age. If it worked for my kids, it could work for yours. Whenever it happens, try not to stress out over the potty train ride. College will be here before you know it! 

Karen Schwartzkopf has her dream job as managing editor of RFM. Wife, mother, arts and sports lover, she lives and works in the West End with her family, including husband Scott, who not coincidentally is RFM’s creative director. You can read Karen’s take on parenting her three daughters – Sam, Robin, and Lindsey, also known as the women-children – in the Editor’s Voice.
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