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In the trenches of potty training
June 7, 2012 2:59 pm | by
Did you read Jill’s wonderful and informative post earlier this week about the Potty Training Boot Camp method? Let me warn you, this post is nothing like that. We are, as I type, smack in the middle of attempting potty learning with Little Sir, our 2.5 year old son. This is a post, not from experience and hindsight, but from the trenches. I can’t tell you “how we did it” as much as “how we are attempting to do this”. May you learn from my ongoing mistakes!
Potty training with the iPadLet me set the stage for you. Little Sir is what some might call “high spirited”. It would also be accurate to say “wow, how much sugar/caffeine/stimulants did you just feed him?!” at any given time during the day when in fact, he has had no sugar at all, and might have just woken from a nap. As you might imagine, his toddler tantrums are epic. He is extremely stubborn, and he gets it from me. Therefore, my main goal in the potty learning process was to avoid making this into a battle between us, because no one would win that battle. My desire is to keep it light and fun. He just loves learning new things, so I want it to be about learning and not about shaming or failing or forcing him against his will.

We did acquire and read the Potty Training Boot Camp book. There were a few parts of the Boot Camp that stood out to me as needing modification to work for us. One was forcing the child to clean up accidents and then making them, against their will, do a potty drill 10 times after every accident, to the point that they melt down. So we removed that part and just talked to him gently after an accident. We would clean him up, letting him help, and put him on the potty and talk to him about what happened. One time we did make it a game to “run to the potty”, but he lost interest pretty quickly.

One part of the Boot Camp method that unexpectedly didn’t work for him, even though we had planned to go with it, was the nudity. He would NOT go nude. It was very warm outside, and we had removed the carpet from our downstairs (which is all hard wood flooring or tile). But he would have none of this nudity. He asked very specifically for underwear, and he was scared and uncomfortable naked. He would not be distracted. Meltdown was eminent, so underwear it was. As you might anticipate from a cloth diapered child, he proceeded to use the underwear like a diaper. Still, I think it worked out in the end as long as we kept putting him directly onto the potty and talking about where the poop and pee should be going.

On the second day, we had planned to go to church in the evening. By mid-morning I could see that this was a terrible idea. He was not going on the potty with any intentionality, and had absolutely no self-initiation. I did not want to hand him over to the already-overwhelmed volunteers in his class with the full knowledge that he was going to pee in his pants and they’d have to clean it up. So we had to skip church that week. A week later, he was still tenuous in his regularity but he did go to church. And he did pee in his pants. Fortunately, this was a Sunday where we were the volunteers so we cleaned him up ourselves.
Potty in the back!
Our car’s hatchback, packed for a 4 day trip,
with space for the potty in the back!

The first time I took him out to pee in public, I found out that he was scared of all potties except his own “little green potty” (a cheap Ikea potty). For the last few weeks, we have been putting the green potty in the back of our hatchback Honda Fit and taking it wherever we go! Before we go into a store, he and I climb back there, close the hatch, and go potty “in secret”. And yes, I often empty the pee into nearby bushes or just leave it in there until we get home.

We are having quite the time with poop. It is not working out at all, really. He either waits until he gets a Pull-Up at night or he uses his underwear. Let me tell you, poop accidents are another great reason that every household should install a diaper sprayer. It has saved my sanity!
For naps during the day, we are using Flip trainers. I tell him this is “nap time underwear”. Before we started potty learning, he was frequently waking up from his nap dry, so the Flip is perfect for small accidents while sleeping. At night, however, we do have to pull out the disposable option because he pees like crazy all night long. I do try to put him on the potty first thing in the morning so he can pee for the first time on the potty and not in a Pull Up.
It’s been almost a month since our first potty learning weekend, and he’s been in underwear during the day ever since. We never went back to diapers, even when he requested. He has about one accident a day, sometimes more. He still does not self-initiate (ask to go to the potty), and most of the time when he does have an accident, he doesn’t even tell me. He just runs around wet until I notice. I might have had to use a wet wipe to wipe up some pee at Hobby Lobby one day. Maybe. Surely this has happened to someone else?
I’d love to hear your encouraging stories and suggestions as we make our way toward the accident-free, self-initiating day. When will it come?!

About the Author

Jenny Bradford lives in the Dallas, TX area and blogs at Living (formerly Conscientious Confusion). This includes everything from green living, natural health, conscientious consumerism, cloth diapering, and living frugally. She is a wife to Christian and mom to Little Sir born Oct. 2009, and Little Lady, born Feb. 2011.



  • Jenna said...
    June 13, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.

    • Jenna said...
      June 13, 2012 at 1:43 pm

      This comment has been removed by the author.

  • Anonymous said...
    June 8, 2012 at 10:14 am

    I’m so glad I stumbled on this post. I desperately needed to hear other parents’ struggles with potty training. My husband and I have been trying to potty train our son (now 2.5 yrs old) for a year. We get so close, can see the end in sight, and Mr. Strong-Will decides he’s done and back to diapers we go. We have tried potty parties, prizes, stickers, treats, even a special toy he can play with only after he goes, and currently offer most of the above, but don’t press the issue anymore because it has become too stressful. We are desperate to potty train him because he has super sensitive skin and constantly has rashes. Plus, he needs to be potty trained to start in preschool in the fall (when we signed him up, we were at one of those “we’re almost potty trained!” points). He’s a strong little guy and fights us with diaper changes, as well as sitting on the potty. It’s frustrating to us because we know that he knows how to control both pee and poop and he can communicate to us that he needs to go or needs to be changed. He simply refuses to do it. We cloth diapered him for 16 months, but because of his larger build, he outgrew his cloth diapers. We switched to disposable training pants because daycare requires him to be diapered until he is successfully using the potty almost every time at daycare. We think that’s the problem – he slips backward every time he returns to daycare and the training pants. I’m currently home on maternity leave for the summer with baby #2 and we’ve kept him in daycare to keep his routine normal while we adjust to the new baby, but I think I’m going to have to keep him home for a week or more to push us through this and will probably have to try the boot camp style. My only concern at this point is how much change our son can handle…new baby, change in routine, still adjusting to toddler bed, and potty training??? (And, how much stress and struggle I can handle in the sleep-deprived new baby phase). At least I know I’m not alone in the potty training struggle…

    • Jenny Bradford said...
      June 8, 2012 at 1:45 pm

      I am so glad this was at least helpful – so sorry you guys are struggling! You are probably totally right that all the change for him recently might have caused a regression. I have some friends that potty trained at 18 months or around there and they all experienced some kind of regression at some point too. Maybe it’s just when kids reach the point where they realize it’s a choice and they’re exercising their right to choose?! But for each of the ones who regressed, I also saw them come right back after a while. So maybe your little guy will too!

    • Anonymous said...
      June 8, 2012 at 3:10 pm

      my son also starts at nursery (pre school) in September, but here in the UK they cannot insist your child is potty trained as they have the right to the education regardless. Still worried about his lack of progress though, as it’ll be hard work on the staff with his constant accidents

  • Anonymous said...
    June 7, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    My now 6 year old was one who knew how but chose not to. I finally took away diapers 100% (even at night) one day, when she was 4. I was just fed up. It took a good week of constant accidents but then she finally relented. It wasn’t that she didn’t know how though, she just wanted to stay in diapers. Once she figured out that she wasn’t getting her way, she started using the potty and stopped having accidents at all.

  • Anonymous said...
    June 7, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    also interesting about the cloth diapering being an obstacle to training. My son does not care about being wet or dirty, and this might be because he felt it more in his nappy, so is more used to it than a child who only had disposables.

    • Anonymous said...
      June 7, 2012 at 10:13 pm

      See my post above, the very first one. I didn’t know about the wonders of modern cloth diapers until I was pregnant with my 2nd child. My daughter was raised in disposables. I did a cloth trial on her a year ago to try out Flips before I bought them for the new baby. I had also hoped they would help my daughter potty train. It didn’t work. She always used disposable diapers and pull-ups, but she still doesn’t care if she’s wet in a cloth diaper or trainer. Being wet (and sometimes even dirty and VERY sore because she hides it) is just not a deterrent for her.

  • Anonymous said...
    June 7, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    Yes we are going through a hard time trying to potty train our 3 year, 2 month old son. He came out of nappies during the day about three months ago and has shown little progress since then. He has days with one accident, but most days it’s several accidents. He says he doesn’t want to go when reminded and refuses to go when requested (such as when we are about to go out) Pull ups are the only thing that keeps his trousers and everything else dry when he has an accident, so we only use these when we are out. Was once in a shop without pullups and he made a massive puddle that everyone kept walking in, so very embarrassing. Looking for a washable alternative, but find the Bum Genuis ones a bit pricey, considering we’ll need a few.

    • Jenny Bradford said...
      June 8, 2012 at 1:56 pm

      With our Flips, I am able to get away with only 2 covers because when he pees I can just wipe them out, so it isn’t as expensive as I thought in that respect. The poop, however, sends them straight to the laundry! So if I think he might poop (like overnight), I definitely have to use PullUps.

    • Anonymous said...
      June 8, 2012 at 3:05 pm

      my son sometimes poops several times a day, so I need several of everything. He’s addicted to fruit, so might be something to do with it!

  • Adrian and Meredith said...
    June 7, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    Wow, I just read my comment, and it sounds a little harsh. I should add that he really did WANT to use the potty; he just had to overcome his fear.

    • Jenny Bradford said...
      June 8, 2012 at 1:54 pm

      No worries at all, good to know there are other kiddos also afraid of being naked 😛 Yay, I am so excited for him going out with no accidents!!

  • Adrian and Meredith said...
    June 7, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    Our little guy isn’t “high spirited”, but he’s very sensitive, which, for potty training, presents just as much of a challenge. He doesn’t like new experiences, and he hates having someone mess with his body. The first day we took off the diapers, we discovered that he was terrified of his own pee. He wasn’t scared of the potty or of being naked. He was afraid to relax and let himself go. The first few times he peed in the potty, he held it until he was very uncomfortable, then screamed like a banshee when he finally went, as we held him on the potty. After the first week or so, he got used to it, but, over a month later, we’re only just now braving public toilets, even with a travel potty seat adapter. He had his first big day out with no diapers today… and no accidents either! He was so proud of himself! Hang in there!

  • Anonymous said...
    June 7, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    After nearly 2 years of ups and downs in the trenches with a strong-willed girl, we have left them all together. 🙁 My daughter will be 4 in a few months and wears Flip diapers. She has done wonderfully at times and it seemed the end was in sight, then she completely gave up. To save our sanity, we have taken breaks before, with more success when we returned to the potty. This is the first time we have gone all the way back to diapers, though. It feels like total defeat and I think my husband and I both have concussions from banging our heads against the wall. We have come to the conclusions that: 1) our daughter is “trained” in the sense that she knows exactly what she is supposed to do and has fully demonstrated that she is capable of doing it. She has just decided not to. 2) there’s nothing we can do about it. We’ve tried everything. She has chosen diapers and we have to wait it out until she decides to use the potty regularly. We try to be firm with her about notifying us of poops for the sake of her own sore bum. Sometimes she tells us, sometimes not.

    I know this sounds exactly like the opposite of encouragement, but here is the encouraging part! I have heard that some kids train late and literally one day wake up and decide that this is the day they will start using the potty. For a strong-willed child, I think that is the magic that has to happen. There is no way in the world to force it, so relax, teach as you can, but don’t try to push your desire for potty training on your child. The more they know you want it, the more they push in the opposite direction. If nothing seems to work, go to a level where your child is comfortable, take a calming breath, and wait it out. It will happen someday.

    • Marissa said...
      June 7, 2012 at 5:35 pm

      Oh my gosh! We are in the exact same boat! I am so glad i just read this! My daughter is almost 3 1/2 and knows very well what she needs to be doing but is so not interested! I have beaten myself up over this but have recently decided to relax and wait for her. She doesn’t want diapers, so its either a pull up or her Flip trainers :/

    • Anonymous said...
      June 7, 2012 at 10:06 pm

      We have flip trainers, but she pees so much in them they leak. It’s not the trainer’s fault. It’s because trainers are made for kids actually trying (mostly) to use the potty. She isn’t. She’ll pee multiple times in it and never complains of being wet. So she needs a diaper. I hate that my big girl wears them, but it’s also a relief that I’m not stressing out over potty training and leaks anymore.