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potty training

When Potty Training Gets Derailed: One Strange, Uplifting Potty Journey

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What’s your first thought when it comes to potty training? Is it rainbows and butterflies, or nightmares and heavy sweat? As a first time parent, I was absolutely TERRIFIED of potty training. It was by far the scariest transition for me. Below you’ll find out how the 3-Day potty training method turned into a year and half of starts and stops, but ultimately ended in a successful (though bizarre) finish. Our story is meant to offer you hope and encouragement for your own potty learning experience, too. 

Mentally preparing for Potty Training

As a first time parent, I appointed myself team captain of the “I’M SO WORRIED” Potty Team. I was so nervous and apprehensive, and my head filled with thoughts of the unknown… omg how do I do this, what will happen?! I’m also an over preparer when it comes to everything, but especially raising kids, big life events, parenting, etc.

So, I did what I do best: research.

I read anything and everything about potty training; all the books, articles, tips, techniques, other people’s potty training experiences, blog posts, everything I could find. And it helped. A little. I felt more confident about guiding my child through this epic journey, although still very nervous.

I was also very interested in doing early potty training (before/around age 2). Furthermore, through all of my research and reading I learned that the Montessori view on potty training is first to call it potty learning instead. 

According to Simone Davies of the popular blog, The Montessori Notebook, 

“Using the toilet is a very natural and gradual process that develops at the child’s pace, rather than when the parent decides the child is going to be toilet ‘trained’.”

Potty learning is all about helping your child identify and understand their bodily sensations (“Oh, I have that pee-pee feeling”), and then learning what to do about it (“I need to get the pee in the potty”). It should be a respectful, cooperative process for everyone involved.  

potty training

Physically preparing for potty learning

After all of my research and reading it was time to buy all the supplies! I bought 3 different potties (different sizes and shapes – since you never know which one your kid will want to use), a bunch of kid potty books, flushable wipes, pull ups, undies, all the things! (In hindsight, I went way overboard, but what can I say, I like to be prepared.)

At this point, I reluctantly acknowledged to myself that this wasn’t actually a good time for such a big life transition. I was struggling with my health, a rocky marriage, my career, and dealing with tons of anxiety, depression and challenges. 

So I talked myself out of it, and tried to make peace with that decision.

After all, I really wanted to be done with diapers, plus Jack seemed ready to tackle this next step, too. He had more awareness of his body sensations (telling us whenever he was pooping, telling us when he needed a diaper after peeing), and always followed us into the bathroom whenever we used the toilet. 

Alas, the timing didn’t feel right and we decided to wait.

Late to the potty training party

Fast forward about a year later, now Jack is approaching 3 years old and I’m feeling late to the potty learning party! 3 years old is when all the experts say is a great time to learn the potty. Plus, I was feeling the pressure: he needs to be potty trained in order to go to PreK and to level up in gymnastics, and it would make life so much better to be done with diapers, and gosh he’s so smart I bet he could do it in no time. (Also, apparently, once you turn 3 you’re supposed to function as a tiny adult now.)  

So, I decided that “we” were ready! We jumped right into the 3-day Method!

(The 3-day potty training method is where the kid goes completely naked for at least the first day or two and you follow them around the house, pumping them with liquids and trying to catch as much pee in the potty as you can. Sounds pretty comical, and it is!)  

Have you guessed what happened for us yet?

🎶 HE HAATTEEDD ITTT, IT DID NOT WOOOORK. 🎶

Keep in mind, we prepped for this big potty learning experience for about a week beforehand, reading all the potty books to Jack, telling him how he would be naked all day and drink lots of juice and Powerade (watered down of course) and run around and learn how to use the potty like mommy and daddy! We even marked the day on the calendar and told him how we’ll say bye-bye to the diapers. 

The big potty day arrives

So the big day arrived. We got Jack up in the morning and reminded him that it’s day 1 of potty learning! We said bye-bye to the diapers, thanked them for their help, yay yay yay. All positive, all smiles, trying to pump him up for this exciting day. 

We took off his diaper first thing (like all the books said) and he REFUSED TO GET OFF THE CHANGING TABLE. 

He screamed and cried in the most epic meltdown. He was so physically terrified to be naked! When we tried to put him down on the floor it only got worse and he got even more upset.

We tried to get him to come off the table for 30 minutes.

Literally 30 minutes.

We tried to convince him that everything’s fine, he gets to be naked, it’s no big deal, we’ll still be with him all day same as always, we’ll play and eat and have fun, blah blah blah. 

Nope. Not having it.

I never saw him so completely terrified before. I was honestly shocked.

After 30 minutes of trying to convince our poor, anxious, deathly-afraid child that it’s no big deal to be naked and that everything’s fine, we just gave up. It simply wasn’t worth it to force him to do something that he was so clearly distraught about. (This was also a few months before his 3-year-old well check where we would ask about some sensory sensitivities, including being naked.)

We scrapped the whole potty plan

We scrapped the whole plan, put everything on pause, it was clearly not the right time, we needed to regroup. 

Was I upset? ABSOLUTELY.

Did I have to grieve the plan that didn’t happen? YOU BET. 

It was immensely difficult for me to move on with that day. All of my hopes and dreams of more freedom and possibly more work time (if we could send him to PreK) came crashing down in an instant. I was devastated.

I also started spiraling into super negative thoughts, feeling like he was never going to learn the potty, never be able to go to PreK, that I would be stuck forever…

I had to remind myself (over and over) that this clearly wasn’t the right time for Jack. That I can’t control his bodily functions. That it’s my job to follow his lead, not force him into something just because it would be more convenient for me. 

We immediately and completely dropped all things related to potty training. I begrudgingly surrendered my perfectly laid plan (which is super hard to do as a Type A planner). He still continued to watch us go potty and became very interested in reading his potty books over and over again as well.

Fast forward 6 months later

Fast forward about 6 months and he suddenly has the worst diaper rash I’ve ever seen on him. Red, itchy spots all over his poor little bum. His skin has always been prone to eczema, but this was by far the worst rash of all time.

So I said, “You know what buddy, we really need to let this air out. Your bottom needs some air flow and healing time, away from a diaper.” He was very nervous and hesitant to not have a diaper on, but I said these three magical words,

“Let’s just try”

I said, “Let’s just try wearing no diaper, with pants.”

He still wasn’t sure about it, still anxious. 

So then I added a time frame, “Let’s just try for a little bit, let’s just see. We really need to help this rash heal up.” That way, it sounded more temporary to him and we could put a diaper back on if he wanted.

Finally, he agreed. 

And you know what? 

HE LOVED IT. ABSOLUTELY LOOOOVED IT. He kept saying “I’m freeeee” which just cracked me up laughing. 

Now, was I nervous about going straight to wearing pants and no diaper, without ever doing any naked time first? ABSOLUTELY.

You know what else, though? One of our cats has a peeing problem (he literally pees on any piece of fabric left on the ground) and so we’ve cleaned cat pee out of all kinds of things. So, compared to cat pee, kid pee is actually very diluted so it was easy breezy. Plus, this way was actually better for us because we didn’t have to take out our giant area rug (a surprisingly hard task). If (when) he peed in his pants we could just change into clean pants. Boom. Crisis averted.

potty training

Potty Learning success

Ever since that bad rash day, he has been diaper free! He only had one accident where his pants and legs got wet, but he hated that feeling so so much that it hasn’t happened since.

Finally, finally, finally, after almost a year and a half of potty learning starts and stops, we found success. He now tells us every time he needs the potty, sometimes he even uses it all by himself, and he even poops in the potty! Which completely blows my mind! (From everything I’ve read, getting poop in the potty can be a whole ‘nother journey that can sometimes take months, if not years to master.) Plus, he started waking up with dry diapers overnight now, too. Again, blowing. my. mind.

Hope For Us All

I share this story to give you hope and encouragement. To share a very unusual experience of potty training (at least from everything that I read out there so far). To remind you that every kid will indeed, eventually, learn how to use the potty (even as doubtful and hopeless as it may feel right now).

This goes to show you that each child will have their very own, very special, very unique potty journey. It’s our job as parents to support them and love them through that process. Sometimes, that means completely dropping our expectations and plans along the way and letting them do it on their own time, in their own way. 

Plus, remember, as always, you are the absolute BEST parent for your child and you are the expert when it comes to knowing your child best. While I’m all about preparing and researching for these big life transitions (and I still think you should do what you need to do to feel confident and ready for yourself), it’s still very important to remain flexible in how the transition happens.

Now, I'd love to hear from you!

Have you gone through the potty learning process yet? What surprised you? What was easy? Hard? Any words of advice for others? Tell us below!

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