The best potty-training experience I ever had* was when I followed the guidelines in this book by Dr. Glenn Latham. A few of the main points are:
- Use 100% positive reinforcement – you don’t say anything negative about it ever.
- Take all the emotion out of it – when there’s an accident you just clean it up. No disappointment, no anger, no conversation at all, not even eye contact.
- Explain exactly what it is you want the kid to do – instead of “Stay dry,” you say “When you feel that you need to pee or poop, tell me and we’ll go to the potty together.”
- Praise even the smallest effort to do the right thing.
Dr. Latham suggests hanging a simple chart in the bathroom with a pencil nearby. Every time the child sits on the potty, you draw a smiley face on the chart. If he goes pee too, you draw a second one, and if he poops, you put a third smiley face on the chart. It does say that some kids may need more of a reward to get going, but with this particular child of mine, smileys worked just fine.
Part of the idea is that, surrounded by positivity, the child will feel safe to try, and once they do anything in the right direction, they get more encouragement, and so they want to do it again. You praise them to the sky and comment on how good it feels to have a little success, so they start to connect those good feelings with the actions they took to get there. That leads to more good actions and more success, until they’re pretty well set.
After a past miserable failure, I followed this method to a T and, combined with the personality/motivation/age/readiness of my son, it worked gloriously well. Of course there were accidents, but not too many. Because I was being 100% positive, there was no nagging or fighting. And because of the separation of emotion from using the bathroom, there was no shame or embarrassment or despair. It was AWESOME!!!
Ok. I didn’t set out to write a tutorial on potty-training. I just wanted to outline what has worked for me to help illustrate something I realized today:
Training my child to use the potty is just like training myself to exercise!
K, hear me out.
I’ve never been an exerciser, and for years I’ve been trying to find that one sport/activity that will just click and make me want to do it. But guess what? It’s never happened.
Last fall I found myself in a doctor’s office being told that I really needed to exercise. It would help with my unexplained joint problems, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and depression. I told the doctor I knew I needed to work out, but I just hadn’t found my thing yet.
She said I had to do it anyway.
So I started trying stuff. A trial gym class here, random work-outs with a group of friends there, swimming, yoga, beginner YouTube pilates, etc.
I always thought you had to be consistent to be a fit person. Have a routine and stick to it – that kind of thing. But after only a couple weeks of doing just whatever exercise happened to work out, I noticed that I felt different – happier and more confident. My troubled knees were handling it amazingly well, and even feeling better than before. I wasn’t doing anything special, but just working more active things into my life was making a difference already!
I decided to set a goal to work out 100 times this year. That may not seem like much to someone else, but for me it’s huge. So I made a chart to keep track of my efforts. I don’t have to make it to the gym or do anything crazy to mark the chart. I color in a space for walking, a 15-minute pilates video at home, or working out on the playground while the kids play at the park. Anything I intentionally do to be active.
Right now the year is 30% over, and I just did my 31st workout yesterday. Do you know how good that feels???
So, to draw the parallels between working out and potty-training:
- These are life-long habits that you’re trying to cultivate. You have to be willing to look at the long-term goal of a healthy (or accident-free) lifestyle, instead of just what will get you immediate results.
- Along those lines, you can train a parent to tell a kid to go potty every hour, OR you can train a kid to actually know when he needs to go. Short- vs. long-term success, right? Similarly, you can come up with a wonderful exercise routine that will make you lose 10 pounds in a month or whatever, OR you can teach yourself to enjoy being active and stay that way for the rest of your life. No guarantees here – see # 7.
- Once you have a little taste of success, you will want more and try harder. Be sure to look for and make those connections. You feel good/dry/clean because you went potty when you needed to. I feel good/strong/happy because I worked out.
- Charts are amazingly motivating! Or is this just the three-year-olds and me?
- Give credit for any effort in the right direction, especially at first. I remember my son almost making it to the toilet, which is the best kind of accident to have. It’s easy to wipe up the bathroom floor, and you get to say “Way to go! You were so close!” When I sleep in and miss my 5 AM gym class, but I still do a quick workout video or at least some abs, I still feel good and I still color in my chart. Something is better than nothing!
- Take the shame, embarrassment and despair out of it. There’s nothing wrong with being a beginner. Everyone has to start somewhere.
- You’re never really done training. As anyone who has potty-trained someone before knows, just as you think your child has gone for a long time with no accidents, he/she goes through a new phase of slip-ups. I’ve found that expecting lapses to happen, and upping the positive reinforcement when they do, really helps with overall, long-term success. I’m sure it’s the same with exercise. I may be all fired up now, but maybe in a month I’ll get lazy, or in ten years I’ll have a health issue knock me off my feet for a while. I’ll just have to be kind to myself, remember how far I’ve come, make a new chart and keep going.
Soon I’ll need to potty-train my daughter. I’m dreading it for sure. It’s going to be hard no matter how positive my attitude is. And I’ve only worked with boys before, so this may be a totally different ball game. Wish me luck! In the mean time, I’ll stick with working out.
*While I would definitely recommend giving this approach a try to anyone interested, I wouldn’t even THINK of making any guarantees that it would turn out the same for someone else. Every kid is different after all.