“Have you thought about potty training?” asks my son’s daycare teacher. The truth? Not really. Judah’s our last baby and we aren’t in any big rush. But he’s almost three years old, and showing many signs of readiness, so we figure it’s time to do this thing. We read up on the most common approaches and opt for a slow and steady method. Here goes nothing!
Day 1: He’s a natural
“I wanna pee standing up,” says Judah when I ask if he wants to use the potty. I take off his diaper, and within 10 seconds, he pees in the potty. (Well, half in the potty. The other half on the floor.) But still. Why do people say potty training is hard? I’m feeling good, like I should have done this months ago.
Day 2: Thinking of returning the diapers
This morning he wants to use the toilet, not the potty. Fine by me. Better, even. He stands on a stool and pees like a champ. I decide against a food reward on the advice of Ishtar Gabriel, a potty-training consultant (and child and family therapist) in Hamilton, Ont. Instead, I clap and dance around. He shoots me a grouchy face. (He doesn’t like positive reinforcement, I guess?)
Day 3: Bring on the bribes…
Judah refuses both the potty and toilet today and I panic. “If you try, you can have a treat,” I blurt out. (So much for no food rewards.) But it works, so I give him two chocolate chips. “I want moooore!” he screeches. “I want 20!” He throws them in my face—literally—then flings himself on the floor and sobs. I comfort him with hugs and Paw Patrol.
Day 4: Major roadblock
It’s the weekend, so I can finally focus on potty training at home. I’m determined to bring Judah to the washroom frequently and make this work. But he flat-out refuses to use the potty or toilet every time we ask, and I’m afraid to revisit the food reward thing, lest his demands get more unreasonable.
Day 5: Calling in the experts
More refusals today. I email Gabriel with an update. “He’s clearly showing emotional resistance,” she says. “Some kids will say no just because they can. You can’t force it. Push him too much and he may begin to hold in his urine and bowel movements.” Ugh. Gabriel recommends trying again in a month or two.
Day 6: Ready, aim, fire!
I haven’t tried the Cheerio trick yet, so I ignore Gabriel’s advice and give it one more shot. “How about I put some cereal in the toilet and you can try to hit it with your pee?” He’s down with the plan, and pees into the toilet. He smiles at me, proud of himself. “Good job, buddy,” I say, casually. Again with the grouchy face.
Day 7: It’s not looking good
I offer the cereal again but he says no. I give him all the choices—standing, sitting, toilet, potty—and he’s having none of it. I go online for more information. “If your child refuses to use the potty, take a break from the training for about one to three months,” says the Canadian Pediatric Society’s website. I feel like a failure.
Day 8: We’re gonna need more diapers
I wonder if Judah would be better suited to the three-day method and I run the plan past Gabriel. “A method only works if the child is ready,” she says. “It’s not the method, it’s the readiness.” Judah, she believes, isn’t quite there. So it’s officially time to throw in the towel for now. Good thing I didn’t return the diapers.
A version of this article appeared in our Summer 2016 issue, titled “Adventures in potty training,” pg. 62.