An Earth Day Potty Training Tale


April 22nd is Earth Day and it also marks my son being potty trained for a full year. Hallelujah!

We’d had some false starts, and there were times I wondered when and how this would possibly happen, but it did. I thought saying goodbye to disposable diapers (at least for one child) on Earth Day was particularly appropriate. It also assuaged some of my eco-guilt for never jumping on the cloth diapering train despite being an environmentalist. So take heart Mamas in the thick of potty training, especially those of you trying it for the first time. It will happen.

There are lots of opinions and methods on potty training from elimination communication for infants to “3 day methods” (ha!) for older kids. This is our journey:

The summer my son was 2 I figured I would let him run around diaperless and pantless in the warm summer air and things would progress naturally and easily. I asked my pediatrician if it was too early for potty training. He assured me that it wasn’t, “Potty training is asking your child to master control over a set of muscles. No one says ‘don’t let your child walk yet, he’s too young. Why should using the bathroom be different?'”

So we tried it, but the biggest obstacle was that my son hated being diaperless or pantless. His clothes were his security. This kid liked to wear socks with his crocs, so ’nuff said.  I tried encouraging him to pee on trees outside to make it fun. Daddy and Grandpa tried to encourage the idea too. My son liked the idea, but it never panned out, no trees were successfully peed on that summer.

In the fall when he was 2.5 I had a friend trying the 3 day method. I bought my son a ton of cute underwear and put him in them. He was excited about his big boy underwear, but he peed at least a little every few minutes it seemed. We went through 10 pairs of underwear in a couple hours, and never once did any of that pee go in the potty. I was disheartened, and not willing to put either of us through the misery, not to mention the laundry and spot cleaning the carpet for an unknown period of time.

Don’t rush it, was what I heard next. My pediatrician told me that it’s ok if he’s not potty trained yet. Kids who are forced to potty train are often the ones who develop issues with bedwetting and holding their stool at a later age because it’s one thing in their life they can really control. Just ask him if he wants to try the potty the doctor said. If not, just say, “maybe next time.”

Ok, fine, we won’t rush it. I gently encouraged him to use the potty each day without any real progress. We even started feeding him juice while sitting on the potty and reading books. That way I could get him to sit on the potty for extended periods (without it being punishment). I thought if he saw his pee go in the potty he would really “get” what we wanted him to do. Success was met with praise and a sweet treat. Still, my son saw it as a game. Eventually he didn’t want to sit on the potty again.

“My child trained in a day when s/he was ready,” someone told me. Yeah, right! I thought. That will never happen.

Then came Earth Day 2013. It was one month past my son’s 3rd birthday and he had diaper rash bad enough that it hurt when I tried to clean him up after a soiled diaper. We were upstairs and he needed a change but fought getting it done. After he was clean I told him, “If you wear underwear and use the potty you won’t need to use diapers or wipes that hurt your bum anymore.”

He went for it!

That morning I made sure the potty was always in the same room with us and he started using it successfully. He got his sticker and treat and his chart was filling up quickly.

There is a space to get a prize after 10 successes, but I think we gave him a special prize just once. We only used the chart for a few days.

That same day I told him he would get an extra special treat if he pooped on the potty (an old MicroMachine car saved from my own childhood). I was in the kitchen when suddenly he said, “Mommy, I pooped on the potty!” I was shocked and went to see. He really had done it, but it was also smeared on the potty seat and some of it was in his underwear too. Hiding my horror at the sight of poop loose in my living room, I praised him and gave him his first MicroMachine as his reward.

For lunch that day we had plans to meet my mom and sister for lunch at a restaurant in town (30 minutes away). He stayed dry for the ride. In the restaurant I told all the staff that he was potty trained today and wearing his big boy underwear. They were all so excited and supportive. I think my son really felt like a rockstar. We used the bathroom before driving back home. Dry all the way again, and we never went back to diapers. He moved from the potty to the real toilet maybe a week after training. Oh, and he loved peeing on all the trees he could that summer.


Sandra’s Potty Training Trips

1. Be Patient, Don’t force it

2. Encourage your child to use the potty and say “let’s try again next time” if they say no

3. Buy some fun underwear to make the transition away from diapers more enticing

4. If you have a boy, teach them to pee outside on trees

5. Reward your child for successfully using the potty  with sticker for a chart, small candy, or a prize. Consider doing something a little more for #2

6. Get a travel potty for long trips or if you live in a more rural area that requires more driving. We still use ours on occasion.

7. Even after potty training accidents can still happen. Don’t stress it, keep up the positive encouragement. I ask my son if he has to go to the bathroom when I notice it’s been a while. He almost always answers no, but if I remind him to make sure his pants stay dry he’s usually headed to the bathroom within a few minutes.

Travel Potty
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Sandra O'Flaherty
I am stay at home mom to two wonderful kids. I grew up in Vermont, but it wasn't until I left this great state for a few years that I truly appreciated what a wonderful place it is. My husband is also a Vermonter, so we are happy to be able to raise our kids here surrounded by a large extended family. In fact, we like it so much that we bought the house next door to his parents, and my mom lives in an apartment on our property. We enjoy playing outdoors and poking around our little "gentleman's farm" that we started in 2010. We have chickens, goats, a work-in-progress vegetable garden, fruit trees, and we tap our own maple trees for syrup. I have a BA in environmental studies and an MA in urban planning. I try to keep a toe in the professional world that I left when my oldest was born by serving on our local Planning Commission. You can learn more about me and my passion for this planet we call home on my blog: Mama of Ma'at



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