It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Potty woes

Not the kids. Parents. Over-enthusiastic parents.

“Nissa’s so excited about using the potty!” exclaims her mother, very excitedly. “She sits on it even when she’s fully clothed, and she says ‘poo! poo!'”

Much as I hate to quash this enthusiasm, I know a few well-placed questions likely will. Nissa is 17 months old, and while it’s not impossible, it’s exceedingly unlikely she is anywhere near ready for potty training. It’s not impossible, and I know it, because I’ve seen a child fully trained at 19 months. Wet and dry, night and day, able to get himself to the potty without prompting, without adult intervention at all, except for help with hand-washing afterward. I’ve seen it. Once in 14 years.

She likes to sit on the potty. She also liked to stand in it and drop toys in it. Does that mean she’s ready to use it? Your three-month-old delights in kicking out against things held to the soles of his feet. Does that mean he’s ready to walk?

She’s on the way. She’s not there. Or, almost certainly not. I tell these eager parents that most children this age don’t have control over the sphincter muscles. They may be aware of the goings-on in the diaper, but they can’t control them.

“Does she know in advance that something is coming?”

“Well, sort of. She’ll say ‘poo! poo!’, but you have to get her there RIGHT THEN, because once she tells you, it’s pretty much happening.”

Dad laughs as he describes how, the previous evening, Nissa had been playing at his feet in his study. “She’d just finished her bath and was naked. I hadn’t dressed her yet because this email, it would just take a couple of minutes, right? So then she starts staying ‘poo! poo!’, and I grab her by the armpits and race to the bathroom, but the poo is falling onto the stairs as I run. Plop, plop, plop!”

Mom and Dad laugh together, beaming with affection.

Yes, well. They’re describing the problem, all right. She knows what’s happening when it’s happening. She doesn’t know in advance that it’s coming, and she can’t stop it once begun. She just recognizes the sensation.

Which is good! That is one of the intial steps: to know what’s happening and be able to label it. She feels pee and she correctly identifies what’s happening. She feels poo and can tell you about that, too.

But until she can actually predict its arrival and hold it in long enough to make it to a potty? Wasted effort. Any and all parental efforts that result in the stuff being deposited in a potty are evidences of the parents being trained, not the child. (And me? I do not need to be potty trained.)

I say all this (about the muscles and the necessity of being able to predict and hold). Respectfully, kindly. Mom’s jaw firms a bit. Dad scowls. This is not what they want to hear. Mom carries on, enthusiastic.

“Well, we won’t push it, but we’ll keep on with the potty. At least we’re getting her used to it, right?”

To my mind, plopping a child without muscle control onto a potty is pushing it, but so long as Nissa’s not being stressed out, so long as it’s an entertaining game for her, there’s no harm in it. But really? At this point it’s a pointless exercise. I certainly don’t have the patience for it.

“So long as she’s enjoying it, sure.”

“And she can use the potty here?”

(Won’t be pushing it, they say, as they push…)

“Sure. Any time she wants.”

Which is what we’ve done all along. What she does with it is play. She’ll be using it when she’s got control over those muscles and is developing some personal interest in the thing, rather than playing a fun new game with mommy and daddy.

In, oh, 10 or 12 or 15 months or so…

October 14, 2009 Posted by | Nissa, parents, potty tales, power struggle | | 12 Comments