Dear Father Hood: is my kid ready for toilet training?

Never mind whether your kid is ready for toilet training – are you ready for it? I ask, because the moment you begin toilet training is the moment you unleash an unforgiving world made up of urine, poo, stress, soiled sofas, bottom wiping and a complicated manoeuvre involving your hands, your child’s legs and a pair of poo-filled pants. And that’s just on the first day. Blimey, what happens after that? Well, who knows?

You might discover that your little one is a toilet training natural who works out how to chirp “Mummy/Daddy I need a wee wee/poo poo” within the first few hours. Or you could find out that no matter what you try the accidents keep coming.

How we knew our son was ready for toilet training

In a bid to ensure our experience was more like the former than the latter, my wife and I decided to follow Lora Jensen’s acclaimed 3 Day Potty Training programme. According to Jensen, any kid over the age of 22 months can be toilet trained. Having heard horror stories from other parents, I’m not so sure, but I figured my 29-monther was ready for the following reasons.

  1. He was becoming more and more interested in what my wife and I did when we went to the toilet.
  2. He could name the kids at his nursery who went to the toilet and ones who still wore nappies.
  3. He’d asked to sit on the toilet a couple of times (note: he didn’t actually do anything, he just sat there smiling).
  4. He talked a lot about wanting to be a big boy.

And do you know what? In the first 24 hours it looked like I was really, really wrong.

Toilet training day 1

After his early morning football class, we brought our son home, took off his nappy and with great fanfare (positive reinforcement is a major part of Jensen’s plan) presented him with his first pair of “big boy” pants. Within five minutes these were soaking and there was a big patch of urine on the sofa. Within 35 minutes he’d hosed his way through another three pairs. And by the end of the day the numbers read as follows:

13 wee wee accidents
1 poo accident
2 sits on the toilet without actually doing anything
1 traumatised uncle, who visited on the wrong day

The good news is this is pretty common (Jensen’s first son had 30-50 accidents in 24 hours before “getting it” on day three). The bad news is every accident makes you more frustrated and negative, and these are two things you can’t be if you want the 3-day method to work.

“It is important you don’t get frustrated,” explains Jensen in her eBook. “Kids pick up on frustration and will do the opposite of what their parents want. Stay positive and consistent and your child will get it.”

This is obviously easier said than done when your child doing a poo poo in the garden two minutes after you asked them if they needed to go, but as a parent who has made it to the other side I can tell you that taking a deep breath, searching for the positive in every accident and endlessly repeating Jensen’s “just let mummy or daddy know if you need to go pee pee, okay?” mantra is worth it in the end.

Toilet training day 2

After the carnage of the first 24 hours, we had no idea what to expect when we awoke for toilet training round two. We went downstairs for breakfast, followed the usual routine and… nothing. No poo, no pee, no anything. Weird. Or maybe not? Perhaps he was ready for toilet training and had now suddenly “got it”?

A well-timed shower pee pee provided further hope before a lunchtime wee wee accident brought us back to earth with a mop and a bunch of kitchen wipes.

Had he got it or not? It was so confusing. Then, an hour or so later, the little man uttered the words that no-one apart from a toilet training parent wants to hear.

“Daddy, I need a poo,” he said.

What followed wasn’t pretty, and it most certainly did not smell good, but it did land in the toilet, our son did sit on his seat until he was finished and he did let my wife wipe his backside without too much fuss. I can honestly say I have never celebrated another person’s bowel movements so vigorously.

By the time we’d finished off the bedtime routine the day 2 numbers read:

3 wee wee accidents
2 wee wees in the toilet
2 wee wees in the shower
1 poo in the toilet

It was both a remarkable improvement and a remarkable display of bladder control.

Toilet training day 3

Day 3 dawned and, on Jensen’s instructions, we began the morning with a call to granny. Okay, okay, so the toilet training guru didn’t directly tell me to phone my mother, but her eBook does say the following:

“It also helps to have other people praise them. Call anyone close to the child (parent, grandparent). Brag on the phone in front of the child. Make sure the child knows you are talking about their accomplishment. Look at the child as you say it over the phone. The child needs to see and feel how great of an act it was for them to go in the potty.”

I love this advice, and it really worked for my son. Knowing that his mum, dad, granny, grampa, nano, cousins and nursery teachers (note: we didn’t actually call all of these people) were proud of him and thought he was a “big boy” boosted his confidence and increased his willingness to talk openly about needing to go. And this meant day 3’s stats read as follows:

0 accidents
8 wee wees in the toilet
1 poo in the toilet

Whoop whoop!

Why I’d recommend Lora Jensen’s 3 Day Potty Training method

There are lots of toilet training methods out there, but if, like us, you are looking to go straight from nappies to the toilet, then I would thoroughly recommend Lora Jensen’s 3 day method. I say this for two reasons.

First, my son is proof that it works. Second, her language and tone just makes sense. I’ve mentioned a few of her top tips earlier in this article, but three more I’d like to flag up are:

  1. Never force a child to “try” to go the toilet or keep them on the toilet on the basis that you know they need to go. “Force creates a negative learning environment and can prolong the whole process,” explains Jensen. “The 3 day method is about training the child to learn his or her own body signs. Taking him to the bathroom to try will never get him to learn those signs and many times it just causes fear in the child. They start looking at the toilet as a punishment.”
  2. Use stickers and treats as silent rewards rather than bribes, as saying “go for a pee pee and I’ll give you a sticker” can turn things into a power struggle if the child see what is happening and decides he or she “wants one now”.
  3. Challenge your child to keep their underwear dry and hold regular pop quizzes to see if it is. “Each time the child checks the underwear and finds it is dry, give positive reinforcement and praise. It’s a simple thing, but you would be surprised how effective it is when it comes to potty training,” says Jensen.

The bottom line

And that’s it. As of this moment, those are all the pearls of wisdom I can give you about toilet training a toddler (update: I now have written an article on stage two of potty training. Second update: we recently dived headfirst into toilet training at night). If you think your kid is ready for toilet training, then I suggest that you block out three days and give Lora Jensen’s technique a go. If you think he or she isn’t, then I suggest that you bookmark this post and re-read it when they are.

Until next time…

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