Rockin’ on the Potty

It’s been over a week since Alex has made any significant mistakes, so I hereby declare him POTTY TRAINED.

If you, gentle reader, are the parent of a recently potty-trained child, you will know the mix of delight, amazement, and exhaustion I’m feeling right now. Delight, because I don’t have to change his nappies any more. Amazement, because I see now what a fundamentally unnatural thing Alex has achieved. And exhaustion because potty training is hard work for a parent as well as a child.

If you are the parent trying to, or contemplating trying to potty train, a child, I know how you feel too. Curious, right? I used to read potty training books and websites, looking for some magic formula that would make the effort easier. Well, sadly, there is no universal magic formula, but let me tell you how we did it.

If you’re not a parent, you’ll have to find your own motivation to read this.

So how did we do it?

For almost a year, we tried rewarding Alex’ use of the potty with little toy cars, stickers, any little titbit that might get him interested in the process. Although I felt at the time that this effort was wasted – his success was sporadic at best – I have realised that this long run-up laid the groundwork for the present success. First of all, it clued him into the fact that potty training was a fertile area for rewards, and secondly, it started him working on his bladder control.

It did not, however, convince him to be clean and dry. None of the trinkets on offer were worth the effort of managing his wastes himself instead of lying there while we did it. Not even the thrill of “big boy underwear”, just like Dada’s was enough. So we found two things that he loves best, and used them as levers.

First of all, Alex is a very social boy. He thrives on interpersonal interaction, and values approval very highly. (I’d worry more about how this will leave him prey to peer pressure if he weren’t also stubborn as a mule.) So when his grandparents Sutherland started in on how important potty training was on his first overnight visit to their house, he began to realise that people in general were keen on the endeavour. I think he felt Martin and I were eccentrically obsessed before then. This social awareness also allowed us to use praise as a reward, and mild shunning as a penalty for failure (particularly poo failure).

The second lever we had on him was gaming. Alex loves Playstation and GameCube games. Even PC games, or the Flash games on the CBeebies website, can captivate him for however long we allow him to play them. So we started changing the rules. First, he couldn’t play anything until he peed in the potty once in the day. Once he was reliably peeing first thing, then he could only play until he was wet or dirty, then they went off until he asked to go to the potty and produced somthing, then on until the next mistake, etc. Finally, they were off after a mistake, with no reprieve.

It all took a week or two from the visit to his grandparents’ to being always dry. But poo was still a consistent problem. Then his grandma Foley came over and reinforced the social leverage about stinky poo. So instead of messing his underwear, he clenched. Like a drug smuggler refusing to produce the evidence for the customs officer, he simply held it all in. And we held our breath – would he ask to go to the potty when the peristalsis was too strong to overcome? Or would he let it all out?

He asked to go to the potty. And there was much rejoicing.

Now I’m trying to roll back universal games access, since I don’t actually want him to turn into a couch potato, even one with excellent bladder and bowel control. But I’m also so proud of my boy that I’m rolling it back gently…

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