“And she still was not willing to sit on the seat!” cried exasperated mom at the coffee clatch. “What am I going to do? She is 3 1/2, and the Montessori School will not accept her unless she is independent in the bathroom!” “J is 4 and still not dry at night!” another complained.
The sunlight streamed through the kitchen window, and I was starting to overheat. I could not take another sip of coffee. Could I tell them what was happening in our house? Would they think I am trying one-up them – “you think YOU got it bad….?” Would they be shocked, would they blame me, would they think I was not a competent parent?
I read all the books, watched every potty training videos, tried numerous strategies. Tried a soft seat insert on the toilet. Tried rewards like jujubes, runt candies. Read stories, videos, tried social stories with few words and lots of pictures, tried visual schedules. Tried “sink the cheerios.” Tried the little plastic potty instead of the big scary porcelain bowl, even tried a potty stool that applauded when a successful deposit was made. I can tell you one thing: none of it worked. NOTHING. He did not understand the expectation that this chair with a hole for a seat and a base filled with water was the place he was expected to pee and poo. It took 8-9 years of repetition and perseverance before we could say with any accuracy, Nick understood the purpose of the toilet and cooperated accordingly. It took longer for reasonable hygiene to be practiced…but that is another story!
Matters were made worse when he seemed to delight in mom’s reaction upon discovering turds in a carpeted corner of the basement rec room, or a large pee stain on the family room ottoman. This happened irrespective of whether pull-up pants were on or off. You can imagine the delight of the preschool program which I enrolled him in, to discover such a challenge in the ranks of the kids. I have to commend them, the preschool daycare centre was persistent and ultimately instrumental with daytime pee potty training. They took N to the toilet regularlybb , at least 3 times during the 4 hours he was there. He had a picture strip to guide him in the bathroom. They reinforced his successes. I do not think it was the age similar role models, but the adult intervention, that was responsible for the learning. We followed suit at home, we took him to the bathroom regularly and used a graphic visual picture strip in the bathroom to reinforce the learning. Yet it seemed to be harder at home. For a long while we did not see the results reported by the preschool daycare. I had despaired that perhaps it would never happen for me. I imagined my pubescent son lying on the change table, all hairy and with legs dangling over the sides, while I did his diaper singing “twinkle twinkle little star”. Fortunately my horrific imaginings did not come true. He was around 8 years old when we achieved daytime dryness. As time went on, he lost interest in wetting the furniture and soiling for attention. He found other ways to assert himself.
Nighttime pee was a real challenge. He woke up wet everyday for year after endless year. The effectiveness of underwear-style night diapers, which I called sleepers, declined as he got bigger and the volume of pee got greater. As time went on he would simply flood the night time protection, linens, blankets and comforter, each and every night. I was having to wash and change the bed linens and pads daily. It was clear that pull up pants were not designed for the action of a real big kid!
By the time N was 8 I was really getting fed up with the mess and the laundry. Since everything was getting wet anyway – I figured let’s take the sleepers off. So I did. I just put him to bed in his PJs. And lo and behold, that extra bit of “wet and cold” that came with the loss of the sleeping diapers was the catalyst for change. Within a few weeks nick was dry through the night. Another possibility – maybe it was not the discomfort that did it, maybe it was the message that taking off the diapers gave him: maybe he understood that he was not supposed to go in the bed once the diapers were removed. At any rate – the problem quickly cleared up. Currently age 11, we have not had an accident for 2 years.
Then, there was POO. POO, the ultimate PPP. For some reason he did not (still does not) seem to mind having a soiled back side. In the summer he pooed outside in the back yard. He pooed in our pool. He was a serial deck pooer, leaving his relics regularly upon our (and babysitters’) back yard decks. In the winter he pooed everywhere, inside. On the floor, on the carpet, on the chairs. It was so incredibly discouraging. Not to mention damaging, disgusting and gross.
In desperation I invented a song to teach him to use the toilet. I repeatedly sang it to Nick, ad nausium. “Poopoo in the toilet, poopoo in the toilet, in the toi…let, in the toi…let” using a catchy and easy to remember string of notes. Music seems to work as a hanger or organizer for words for Nicholas. Music provides a link to join them together, make them meaningful, and give them a life of their own apart from the other sounds around him. It worked for us. It was through music that I succeeded in teaching Nick the skill of potty pooing (and several other skills as well).
When we got our first successful potty poo we made a BIG fuss. It was a CELEBRATION in our house! I made him a cake and on the cake i drew with icing, the top down view of a toilet, with a brown symbol of his success inside it. I even made chocolate cake! With porcelain white icing. And on it I wrote – Nicholas Potty Pooer! While this possibly sounds disgusting to you, gentle reader, you must realize that for Nicholas he was able to see the connection between his poo in the toilet and a tangible reward. While we did not have 100% success after that, we did see a large leap forward. It gradually got better and better. Every once in a while when Nick is wanting to make a point of his dissatisfaction we will still get the odd poo outside the toilet in a place designed to make a strong statement. However the expectation has been successfully communicated.