- age: 24-27 months
- gender: male
- method: Oh Crap Potty Training
- tags: constipation, bare bottom, cold turkey, rage, hovering
Early experiments. My 1 year old son (I’ll call him M) taught himself to pee on command. When his diaper was off, he’d flex his little round belly and stare at his penis until a thin stream puddled on the floor. Naturally, he found this mesmerizing.
I didn’t think M was ready for potty training, as he was neither verbal nor particularly obedient nor at all aware of the concept of a mess–but I also didn’t want to quash his learning about bodily functions. After a few attempts at catching his pee in a cup and talking about excretion, which disastrously resulted in M darting into a corner to poop on the floor, I sought advice from other parents.
I was encouraged to get a potty so that we could establish a choice and boundaries: he could either poop and pee in his diaper, or in the potty, and nowhere else. This basically worked, as he used the potty a few times over the next several weeks, but I didn’t push it and we were still in diapers for many more months. At least he wasn’t pooping on the floor anymore!
No more diapers. As M’s second birthday approached, we felt that the timing was right. He was more verbal, eager to please, and aware of the difference between dirty and clean. We didn’t want to do it just before starting preschool, which would happen at his second birthday, so we decided on the two week preschool winter break. I got two more potties, read Oh Crap! Potty Training, rolled up our carpets, and prepared to grind it out.
On the first day of winter break, we said “no more diapers,” and our son went naked from the waist down. There were several pees on the floor but by hustling M over to the potty, we usually managed to end in the correct spot, and we could see that he was learning.
We felt encouraged after the first day, but also aware that he hadn’t pooped at all, as compared with his usual twice-daily schedule. The second day, we continued to make progress on pee and even managed to get a small poop in the potty. We felt great.
Day three was when it fell apart. We don’t know exactly what happened, but the novelty of potty training was probably starting to wear thin, especially with our constant hovering. There was pee on the floor with no fucks given, and M was running around on his tiptoes while grabbing his bum, not knowing how to get the poop out.
There had only been one small poop over the three days, and we were worried that if constipation made his next poop hard and painful, it would become difficult making any progress at all. So we gave him prune pouches and vowed to back off, simply saying things like “let me know when you need help with the potty.” M was trying. My husband said he’ll never forget the serious, ashen look on M’s face when he said “Poop coming, Daddy, big poop coming!”
Poop rage. The next few days were up and down. Backing off seemed to help, until it didn’t. We were doing a lot of laundry, and developing a new term: “poop rage.” When he felt a poop on its way, our son would shriek and run around, throwing toys and overturning furniture. When he thought the poop might be making its final descent, he would dash over to the potty chair, but then spring back up almost immediately. If he got the poop in the potty, it was with milliseconds to spare.
At one point, he leaped off the potty so fast that the poop, still attached to his bum, ended up on the floor. This caused a meltdown, because he felt he had done what he was supposed to do, and yet didn’t get the outcome and praise he was expecting.
After several days of this, we were at our wits’ end and shifted strategies again, going back towards a more in-your-face approach. When M clearly needed to poop, we brought him to the potty and did what we had to do for him to stay sitting: cajoling, manhandling, toys, screen time. We got some poops out this way, and there was progress, but there was still lots of jumping off the potty, and we were still getting poops in the pants and on the floor. It was around this time that I got “food” poisoning and spent an evening in a cold sweat. I was tired of this shit.
The big toilet. There were only a few days before M would be back at preschool. It was frustrating, because we had devoted our entire winter holiday to potty training and we still weren’t sure if he would be far enough along to be out of diapers at preschool.
We decided that the little potties weren’t working for us anymore. They had been essential in those first few days when proximity was key, but at this point it seemed more important for him to learn to poop without running around in a panic. Because the big toilet was not something he could leap off so easily, we decided to make the switch, with the help of the very stable IKEA toilet seat.
This was when we felt like poop doulas, because we would stay with our son for fifteen minutes or more at a time, holding his hands literally and figuratively. Sometimes we’d show him the animated story ‘Poo Goes to Pooland’ to make it fun and help him stay on the toilet a little longer. Sometimes we’d look away and talk about closing our eyes and listening for the “plop”–an idea that appealed to him after we let him hear our own poops fall into the toilet. Sometimes we’d block the bathroom door and play bad cop, telling him he had to stay in the bathroom until he pooped. Sometimes he needed us to hold him. One particularly memorable time, M grabbed me with both arms and screamed “Mommy!” just before letting out a particularly large log.
It was an intense few days, and it was clear to us that learning how to navigate the sensations and process of pooping on the toilet was a new and difficult thing that our son had to figure out on his own. This wasn’t something he could really understand by watching, in the same way that you can watch someone else walk or hold a spoon. But it started getting easier each time.
Gear and outings. It so happened that at this point, we didn’t have a stool the correct height for M to climb on or off the toilet on his own, and I think this was helpful for those few days, as it helped him to stay on the toilet. After some trial and error, we eventually settled on the IKEA Bolmen stool, whose height is helpfully about halfway between the floor and toilet. For convenience, we also eventually installed a training toilet seat on our toilet, the kind that replaces the usual toilet lid and hinges up and down to reveal the adult toilet seat below.
At the same time as all of this, we were also working towards longer outings, with the help of a folding toilet seat cover (for public restrooms) and a travel potty (for hikes and other places far from toilets). There was some trial and error, but nothing as dramatic or frustrating as the poop training.
Where we are now. In the end, after 16 days of intensive potty training with two parents on full duty, our son was able to go back to school commando, and started wearing underwear (the GAP ones fit him well) about two weeks after that.
We often still need to prompt and coerce him into visiting the toilet, in the same way that it’s hard to get him to get dressed or come to the table for dinner. I think it’ll be months before he’s fully self-initiating, as he gets very involved in his play and just doesn’t care that much if his pants get wet. But on the bright side, he doesn’t seem to have poop accidents, which we think is related to the fact that he struggled to get his poops out, and still has to focus to get it done.
We still use diapers for sleep. After a few weeks of training, his nap diaper started to stay dry about half the time, and as this gets more consistent, we’ll move him to training underwear for sleep, but we’re not in a rush.
While our process was definitely labor-intensive, it’s worked out well for our family and we’re so proud of our little guy.
The Poop Doula Tales is part of Littldata’s Potty Project, which also includes the Potty Training Exit Survey, a quantitative investigation into potty training timing, methods, and results. This post uses Amazon Affiliate links. Littldata may earn a small commission, at no cost to you, if you click on a link and buy a product. You can join Littldata’s mailing list here.