It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Two down, three to go

Nigel arrived today, peeled off his own diaper, sat on the potty, and peed. The boy is potty-trained.

It was just about that straight-forward, too.

However, so as not to discourage all the rest of you who’ve never been through this before, let me clarify.

This is not the first time we’ve explored the notion of potty. We’ve played with the idea from time to time for a while now.

I do not push potty-training. See, I am quite, quite confident that all but children with genuine disabilities of some sort will be trained by kindergarten. Will almost certainly be trained sometime during the year that they’re three, in fact, and often before.

I will not, I refuse, to spend hours and days and weeks in intense endeavor, trailing the child, hauling a potty everywhere, overflowing with reminders and pleading, anxious and hovering. It is simply not worth the effort. Whether I put us through that or not, the child will eventually use the toilet. In fact, it’s arguable that a contrary two-year-old will take longer to train when they see how very, very invested that grown-up is in it all.

I know some pundits discourage back-sliding. Once you take off the diapers, they declare, the diapers Stay.Off!!

Pfft. Talk about pressure. What if you’ve misjudged? What if the child is genuinely not ready? I allow for the possibility of back-tracking. We make it very clear from the get-go that we’re just “trying”. We’re “seeing how it goes”. (I do not also say, “If you don’t want to, you can wear diapers.” That’s making the option too explicit, and, contrary little cusses that they are, they’ll go for it more than half the time… No, I’m just lightly casual. Oh, the potty. Just trying this out for now, la, la, la…)

In fact, sometimes, because the child is just too slapdash and laissez-faire about it all, or is taking too long, or is having too many accidents, I decide we won’t continue. I am just not that patient. I will do this even as they tot is declaring their readiness for the task. (Which is fine. They want to “defy” me by piddling in the potty? There are many ways to deal with a toddler. Devious works. Then I can be all happily astonished: “Well, how about that? I guess you are ready after all! Silly me! Good for you!” And they can be all proud and self-congratulatory: “Ha. Stupid woman! Showed you!”)

Nigel has been too hit-and-miss. He was mostly willing, when he thought of it, but he frequently didn’t. Keeping him clean and dry required far too much input of energy from me. That hovering thing. Which I don’t do.

One day two weeks ago, however, Nigel needed Malli for some Important Game, and she was — gone! I explain that she’s upstairs using the toilet, because (oh, casual, lalala…) Malli is a Big Girl.

Nigel bites, totally and completely.

“I am Big, too!” His eyes are wide and sincere. Ha! Excellent!!

I sigh and shake my head with sad regret. “No, Nigel, I’m afraid you’re not. You’re getting big, yes you are, but see, you still pee in your diaper. You won’t be Big like Malli until you pee in the potty. Malli is Big, because she never wears diapers any more.” And I am just so filled with regret that this should be so, but, oh, so sadly, it is.

His wee face falls. Oh, yes! I have so got him!

My voices rises, buoyant with hope and encouragement.

“But you are getting big, Nigel! Soon, you will not pee in your diaper any more! Soon, you will pee in the potty!!!” Oh, the joy! Oh, the exultation! Soon, soon, soon! Yes, yes, yes!

And Nigel nods. “Yes! I will use the potty and be Big!”


That was Friday. Last Monday he arrives. “Okay, Nigel, today you get to be Big like Malli. Today you are going to use the potty!!”

He’s a little taken aback, but, with great confidence I peel off his diaper. Twenty minutes later, we put him on the potty. Nothing. Twenty minutes after that, again. Nothing.

Twenty minutes after that — Houston, we have liquid! Lots of it.

And then I lose the thread, and forget. Which I am prone to do, in my state of constant distraction.

“Mary! Mary, I peed!’

And that is a Good Thing, girls and boys, because when you stop attending, they get to take control. All last week, Nigel stayed clean and dry every morning from arrival till naptime, when we put a diaper on him.

And thus we come to today, after a weekend in diapers at home.

He comes into the house, greets me, hugs his friends, peels off his diaper and pees in the potty.

He’s nailed it. The boy is trained.

February 4, 2008 - Posted by | Nigel, peer pressure, potty tales


  1. Congrats:-) I tried the “big girl” thing with LMD. She was, after all, only a few weeks off being three and had been in and out of nappies since summer, depending on her mood (and my willingness). She immediately turned round and told me “I not big. i only little!” and wee’d on the floor.


    Now I have learned never to suggest that being clan and dry is a big thing. I congratulate her when she uses the toilet, and accept it if she asks for a nappy. that way, we are both much happier and now she rarely remembers to ask for a nappy any more. She could hold it for hours (literally) when she was barely two – easily until the moment you gave in and put the nappy back on! Contrary doesn’t do her justice:-)

    My idiot cousin read a book that told him he could potty train his baby at three months if he just perservered. that child has his parents so well trained now I can not see them ever managing to break him of such control and learn to chose when to go! You’ve gotta laugh sometimes.

    All kids are different, but I agree, they’ll all make it clean and dry duringt he day by school age. unless they are particularly busy/interested/contrary or taught to be ashamed….

    Sounds like LMD is trained — except when she remembers not to be! Contrary, thy name is toddler.

    As to your cousin. Now, now, now. Is “idiot” fair? After all, he’s right — the child will be trained if he perseveres. For about three years… Evidently the book took no account of physiology. It’s astonishing what can get published!

    Comment by juggling mother | February 4, 2008 | Reply

  2. Awesome! Go, Nigel!
    Ours totally backslid, but she started earlier than I was really expecting, and I knew she’d be switching caregivers shortly, anyhow, so I left it. A few months later, after settling in at daycare, she went for it again and informed her teacher that she wanted to learn to pee in the potty so she could wear Dora undies. And that was all it took, once she decided she was ready. Now I was lucky, in a way, so it’s easy for me to say it shouldn’t be a struggle. But I also agree that making it into a big thing is handing them a stick to beat you with.

    “Handing them a stick to beat you with” is such a good idiom to keep in mind with toddlers. Some people say you can’t win a power struggle with a toddler. I disagree, having won many of them. However, it is far, far better not to get into them in the first place!

    Comment by kittenpie | February 4, 2008 | Reply

  3. Good job Nigel! Welcome to the big boy world!

    Indeed! And he is so very proud. We do the potty dance and hug twelve times a day now.

    Comment by S | February 4, 2008 | Reply

  4. I wish I had backed off with Ian. Sometimes I pushed pottying too much, only ending in power struggles. Fortunately, I realized what was happening and let it go. Finally, he took interest in it himself, and voila, he’s no longer wearing diapers.

    Over confident, I thought Laurel might be ready, she just turned two. Ha, four accidents in two hours time. I think I’ve finally learned my lesson to let the child lead me.

    You can’t expect to do anything perfectly the first time you tackle it. Why should parenting be any different? Trial and error, advice and gut feelings, experts and friends … you mix that all up, make your decisions, and do your best. If you learn better along the way, then you do that! Ian is out of diapers now, so you were (both) successful. Which is all we were after, right?

    Comment by mamacita tina | February 4, 2008 | Reply

  5. This is very helpful for me–to remind me to be casual, to “see how it goes.” I WAS smart enough to back off when my first started resisting, and then she decided she was ready (with the help of a doll who “pees,”). I plan to take the boy’s potty training as slowly as we need to.

    And boys’ training does tend, overall, to go more slowly. I don’t know if it’s physiology or psychology — or social expectations, even — but boys do tend to be trained six months later than girls. But my son has been out of diapers for a long time now, so it all works out in the end!

    Comment by Alison | February 4, 2008 | Reply

  6. Oh, how I am so frustrated over potty training. Our son is 3.5 years old. We’ve been really wanting to send him to preschool. Besides being ready for it, we really think he’d love it. However, most of the preschools in our area require potty training. We’ve tried everything to get him interested. And he is, when you’re talking about it. But I’m lucky if he asks to go potty once a day. I’m beginning to think that just backing off and letting it go is the way to go. Thanks for making me feel less frustrated!

    It’s hard when you have external pressure, like preschools, to contend with. You can understand the preschools’ restrictions: they’re generally not set up for diapers, but how aggravating for the parent of a … relaxed … child!

    Does he dislike being wet? Because something that does work (though not with all children, of course!) is to simply take the diapers off, cold turkey. He’ll wet himself once, almost certainly, but some kids are motivated enough that they will then strive to stay clean and dry.

    And some kids will just let fly at will and not care — but you’d know that within a couple of hours…

    Comment by silverdragoncub | February 4, 2008 | Reply

  7. Sweet! Now how do we go about night time training b/c that’s the problem these days.

    Night training takes longer. (Noticed that, have you??) Are her diapers totally soaked every morning? She’s probably not ready. If they’re mildly damp, or dry at least 30% of the time, you might consider simply taking them off. She will wet the bed once, likely. (When I do this, I have another bed all made up, so all I have to do is rip the sheets off and change the clothing, but I don’t have to remake a bed in the dead of night.) Sometimes, though, just the awareness, tucked away somewhere in the unconscious, that there ARE NO DIAPERS, is the key.

    Given your current housing, however, I just wouldn’t be sweating it right now!

    Comment by Undercovermutha | February 4, 2008 | Reply

  8. Q uses the toilet intermittently, but it’s great to have your commentary on not pushing the point. Absolutely no interest in the big boy underwear with firetrucks on them, so I think we’re just going to have to wait.

    If there’s no external reason to push the point, it’s usually far better just to let them get there on their own. And it is true, that, for whatever reason, boys just tend to “get there” later than girls. Average for girls, I’ve read, is 2.5 – 3 years, boys about six months later.

    Comment by Lady M | February 5, 2008 | Reply

  9. I’ve got three right now between 3 and 3 1/2 who show no interest. I’m frustrated with it because it’s hard for me to just not do anything. Their parents are asking me what to do – I guess I need to back off and do nothing.
    Eventually they WILL want to, right? Because seriously, I could see this group in diapers in kindergarten. They just don’t care. And if you put them in panties they’re happy to sit and play in the puddle.

    They have each other, too, as their little diaper support group. You don’t have the leverage Malli gave me to work a bit. Yup, until one of them cracks, you’re probably stuck with diapers for a while longer. Girls, huh? It’s less common for girls to malinger in sodden diapers quite so long.

    Comment by kelli in the mirror | February 5, 2008 | Reply

  10. I completely agree with you. We are also members of the “whatever” school of potty training (though my mother used to beat me up about this regularly — I was trained at 18 months, don’t you know?). And, my daughter is almost there. We bought the potties, videos, and rewards when she turned two. She started using the potty when she was ready, not before. And, given that she’s so bullheaded, I would think that if we would have pushed the issue, she would truly wait until Kindergarten, just to get even with us. Being in daycare helps, because she thinks it is very “cool” to wear underwear.

    I was told tales of children who were ‘trained’ at a year, but it’s very clear from the tales that a) the child was sitting on the potty a LOT of the day and b) it was the parents who were trained, not the child. Potty trained means that they can do it themselves, from start to finish, with no parental involvement — except perhaps with clean-up assistance after a bowel movement, and the hand-washing. And the necessity of that varies from child to child.

    And isn’t peer pressure great? At least at this stage, where you have so much more control over it???

    Comment by midlife mommy | February 5, 2008 | Reply

  11. Ooooo I’ve been hoping you would post more about your approach to potty training. Your timing is great. I thought we were probably trying too soon with our son who is 2 1/2. A day filled with accidents and no success on the potty confirmed that despite advice to the contrary from the well meaning grandmother at the gym nursery, he is not ready. I love your laid back, non-hovering approach. It fits our style much better…much more in line with benign neglect.

    “A day filled with accidents and no success” would seem to indicate he’s not ready. There has to be at least one success to build on, and a success fairly early on. (Now, sometimes my ‘success’ has been engineered by spotting the facial expression or body posture that tells me they’re about to have a bowel movement, and we QUICK slip them over the potty to catch it.)

    And then we dance and clap and sing and hug!!!! It’s the cheers and general rejoicing that give them the enthusiasm for the task. If there’s nothing but “Oops” and “Uh-oh, let’s clean you up”, there’s no reason for them to want to do it, and every reason for you to think that maybe this just isn’t going to happen quite yet!

    Comment by Tricia | February 5, 2008 | Reply

  12. I wrote a post about this a couple weeks ago. We tried because we thought it “was time.” Only to realize… well, it wasn’t.

    Back to the diapers and no one’s worried about it.

    Comment by Childsplayx2 | February 8, 2008 | Reply

  13. This has been one of my biggest frustrations with the toddler (although the biting/hiting/squashing of babies is perhaps more of a concern). It doesn’t help that we have carpet throughout our place and that we were too aggressive in our approach in the beginning (because cleaning poo off carpet is not something I’ve ever aspired to do). He’s been in pull-ups now for about 6 months, and I’ve just started him back on undies only. We haven’t had any accidents yet, so here’s hoping. He’s most prone to accidents when he’s engrossed in something and doesn’t want to interrupt his play with bothersome things like, oh, going to the toilet! (And I do hope we get past this soon because I’m so very sick of rejoicing after every bowel movement. LOL)

    Comment by Kat | February 8, 2008 | Reply

  14. This is silverdragoncub, comment #6. Thank you for the response to my comment. I’ve meant to respond but thought I’d give letting him go at his pace a try.

    And still nothing. I know it’s only been 2 months and I don’t know why it bugs me so much, but it really drives me crazy. We’ve tried candy, toys, special lunches, big boy undies, the promise of school…nothing works. He has no interest in anything.

    I put him in underwear for a couple of weeks. But I’ve gotten tired of cleaning him up. And really, he’s trained. He always tells me when he has to tinkle. And he obviously knows when he has to do more. But he refuses to tell us so we can put him on the potty. He chooses times when my attention isn’t on him, during his quiet time every day, during physical therapy with my daughter, and while I’m at an exercise class that he plays with his toys at. It’s the only time that my attention is really divided. I feel bad enough that my daughter needs extra help, and can’t constantly keep an eye on him. When I do catch him in time, he sits on the potty but does nothing. Then 5 minutes later he goes in his diaper.

    We really feel like he needs some sort of outside activity to socialize and use up some of his 3 year old energy. But he’s at the point that he needs to be trained to go.

    I usually don’t comment and am the classic example of a lurker, but I’m extremely frustrated and have no idea where to go or what to do.

    Comment by Andi S | March 28, 2008 | Reply

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