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Follow-up on potty training

Since posting "Try to see it my way" and "Why not?", my previous blogs on the topic of potty training, I've had several people ask me how it went and what we did to successfully potty train our three-year old. From the beginning W and I had a plan: bribery. We started actually potty training D a month after his third birthday. Before that we would have conversations with him about the restroom and taught him the whole potty training vocabulary. When we ran out of diapers on August 30th, my husband and I were ready to be done with, well, a three-year old's diapers (if you have ever changed those, you will know what I mean). So here is how we tackled the potty training beast. Upfront, I knew that we would not be using those plastic potty seats with the bucket. To me, that is not much better than a diaper (and probably a lot less sanitary). I wanted to completely stop cleaning up the, uh, mess, not just transfer it to a different receptacle. (My girlfriend L has heard my many rants on those seats.) I did buy a potty seat that fits over the toilet to fit his tiny toosh when he would rather sit than stand, keeping the Clorox wipes close by for frequent wipe downs. I went to the party store and bought a tiny treasure chest, chocolate and plastic coins (aka gold dubloons), peanut butter M&Ms, and regular M&Ms. As for underwear, we stuck with tried and true Gerber: Gerber underwear (http://www.amazon.com/Gerber-Training-Pants-18M-24-28/dp/B0029TR9X6/ref=sr_1_1?s=apparel&ie=UTF8&qid=1321059835&sr=1-1) and Gerber all-in-one waterproof covers (http://www.amazon.com/Gerber-All-Waterproof-Training-Pants/dp/B000UBGTMC). Once we had the gear, we were ready. It was on.

The day we ran out of diapers was the first time D used the potty, ever. We had sat on him on the potty before, but he had no interest. Somehow, my husband motivated him enough to try. As Monty Python said, there was much rejoicing. The next morning, it was just me home with the kids. D had 3 accidents before I punished him. I've been a little on the fence about posting our potty training plan because I know that starting off potty training with punishment may be a little controversial to some. I punished him for the accidents because he didn't just know better, but was celebrating his accidents, "Guess what, Momma? I went potty in my.... UNDERWEAR!" I tried stern discipline, taking away toys, and then I took away his favorite movie, Hercules. Suddenly, he had an interest in potty training. That was the turning point. From then on, he used the potty for the smaller functions without accidents. The first couple days, we did everything: timer every 30 minutes, stickers, and candy. The timer would go off, we would run to the bathroom and try, regardless whether he went or not. If I knew that he had to go and just wasn't, I would set the timer for a much shorter time after he tried. I never pushed him to try longer, or sing a song, or lecture, "I know you have to go, just go." I used the oven timer at home and my cell phone when out. In between times, I wouldn't bring it up. When it would beep, I would say, "What was that?" He would jump up and yell, "POTTY TIME!" and we would race as fast as we could to the bathroom, take off pants as fast as we could, and then try to go potty. After the first couple times, he would yell, "The timer went off!" before I had a chance to remind him, which was the whole point of the timer. I did not want to be the one dragging him to the bathroom, begging him to go, pleading with him to try. The timer put the power in his hands and taught him how to run to the bathroom when he felt like he had to go. It naturally tapered off after three days. The first two, it was indispensable; the third day was just for D's benefit (he had fun with it).

When he used the potty, we put a sticker on his chart and then gave him a gold dubloon. Theoretically he would get one for smaller functions and two for larger. We had a hard time getting him to do the larger functions. W and I made sure to be very casual about it, never asking, "Are you afraid to go on the potty?" We wanted to keep that kind of vocabulary as far away as possible from our potty training experience. I kept him in the Gerber training pants with the Gerber all-in-one waterproof covers over the training pants (the all-in-one waterproof covers, not just the regular waterproof covers). We called the waterproof covers his "travelling pants." At home, I let him only wear underwear. If we were leaving the house to go to the park, a walk, the mall, or anywhere, he wore his travelling pants. This system kept the leaks in until we made it to a restroom. Seriously. No leaks. No diapers. We didn't tell him why he wore them besides, "Big boys wear travel pants when they are potty training. Let's grab Buzz and head to Target," because we didn't want our clever system to turn into a pseudo-diaper. The turning point with the, er, larger movements happened when one of my male relatives brought D in the restroom with him for some man time where he explained that we do all our potty in the toilet. This conversation inspired D and he wanted to be just like my relative, a big boy who uses the potty like big boys do. I asked my relative what he said, but he just smirked and replied, "That is between us big boys." A huge thanks to my relative. After that, it was all systems go.

When the gold dubloons ran out, we switched to peanut butter M&Ms. I used those because they were larger and felt--to me-- like more of a reward than a paltry M&M. One for the small functions, two for the large. We did stickers until he lost interest. I kept the chart up for a few days and he would sometimes say, "Oh! We forgot the sticker!" but that just faded away and I took the chart down about a week after we began potty training. Then D discovered the joy of, "Oh, I have to go potty!" All the adults would praise him and ooh and ahh as he emerged from the bathroom, whether he went or not. No matter how many times in the hour he said he had to go potty, he received no reprimand. He had only been using the potty a week and it was a novelty, an easy way to get positive attention. For about three days, that was his favorite game, then he lost interest in spending all day in the restroom, to my relief. After the peanut butter M&Ms ran out and his sticker chart was off the wall, W and I told him if he went all day without any, you know, large accidents, he would get a big reward. The next day, I would remind him after every time he went potty, "Great job, bud! Remember, no accidents today and Daddy is going to give you a special surprise!" That night, with clean underwear, he got his first surprise: a toy semi truck. Granted, it was from the dollar bin at Target, but a three-year old doesn't care. It was a big truck for a big boy. We did that for a few days, though the prizes got smaller, Matchbox cars instead of big trucks. He would tell our waitress, "Look at my car! Big boys don't poop in their underwear!" and flash his little grin. People probably thought we were crazy.

I think we did Matchbox cars for three days. Then we switched to a gold dubloon chart. I took a piece of computer paper and drew three circles on it (the size of the plastic gold coins), a big equal sign, and an ice cream cone. I explained he would get ice cream if he went three days without an accident. There were nerve-wracking days where I didn't know if we would make it, but more often than not, he kept his eye on the prize. The first time my family descended upon our Coldstone, D and I were so excited about his potty training success he was telling everyone he uses the potty and I was boasting to the 17-year old behind the counter that he has gone three days in row without any accidents. We did three days a couple times, then moved to five days, when I noticed his diapers were dry at night. At this point, he was going through these rewards like a champ, no accidents. I told my husband, "Why not? We have newborn twins, a puppy, why not put our three year old in underwear at night?" He shrugs his shoulders and off we went to Target for waterproof mattress pads.

His mattress is now zipped in a waterproof mattress cover. The cover is plastic, completely seals the mattress in, and makes his sheets poof slightly. I put a fitted sheet over that, a loose sheet on that, and then a fitted waterproof mattress cover on top of the made sheets. Over that waterproof mattress cover I have another fitted sheet and loose sheet. That way if he has an accident at night, I just have to pull off the wet sheets on top and under the fitted waterproof mattress cover is a made bed. (Great idea from a twin mom. Thank you!) On the top most sheet, I lay a waterproof sheet in the hopes that if he does have an accident, it will not permeate the comforter. The gold dubloons switched from going all day without an accident to going all night and travel pants became night pants. I don't know if it is because we waited until he was over three years old or if he was just ready, but night training was a breeze. He had an accident the first night that did not leak through his night pants and an accident the second night that barely leaked. He has had no accidents since then.

It took us about three weeks to go from zero to potty trained. We stopped mentioning gold dubloons or "pirate treasure," as we called the M&Ms. I did fill up the pirate chest with the regular M&Ms. From time to time he will ask for treasure and I give him an M&M (when I say time to time, I mean once a week, if that). We never punished after that first day for accidents, even when we wanted to. We were stern if we thought he was doing it for attention, "We go potty in the toilet, not our underwear," but if we didn't see the accident or we knew it was a real accident, it was all comfort and explaining that accidents happen. We really focused on encouragement and empowerment, giving him control of his potty training. He wore night pants for a couple weeks, then we just sent him to bed in underwear and haven't had an issue. His bed is still saran wrapped, as I call it. Better safe than sorry when it comes to happenings in the middle of the night; I value my sleep. The timer helped a lot with teaching him that when you are done with the bathroom, you can come right back to what you were doing, "Okay, let's go back and finish our movie. Good job trying!" We also really liked Time to Pee by Mo Willems to help teach that concept (http://www.amazon.com/Time-Pee-Mo-Willems/dp/0786818689). If I see him looking down the hallway towards the bathroom and back to his toys, I will suggest, "Run and go potty then help me finish this train track." While he usually won't have accidents anymore, it helps eliminate a lot of dancing from one foot to the other before he decides he really does have to use the restroom.

Potty training had some definite low points that I will not post online; I don't even like thinking about them. One of my girlfriends posts on Facebook from time to time, "Things that I never thought I would be doing, but now do because I am a mother." Let's just say I added a lot of items to that list. However, the pay off is remarkable. He wakes up at night and uses the restroom by himself with hand washing and goes back to bed. I mean, c'mon. Is it too early to start counting off the days until the twins turn three?

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