Potty Training: How I Ended Up With Four Dry Teenagers.

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I have several friends who are the moms of toddlers and preschoolers. I offer them my sympathy on a regular basis. My youngest child is ten. I loved the years that my kids were small, but I have not forgotten how incredibly hard and overwhelming they were either.

Magical M&Ms

These days I’m thrilled that the only thing stopping me from getting a full eight hours of sleep is my cell phone beeping with a text that one of my teens will be home a bit late. I have no high chairs to sweep around. There are no loaded diaper bags at my front door. And, thank the heavens, it’s been years since anyone had a potty accident on my carpet.

In fact, my sister always says she’ll never buy a house from someone who has potty trained a child or a puppy there. Too much potential for mystery stains to emerge from every room of carpet in the house. We’ve all been there. Pee pee happens.

Since I have successfully (eventually) potty trained four children, my friends with little ones sometimes ask my opinion on the matter. I start with my disclaimer: “This worked for me. It may or may not work for you. Don’t see that as failure on your part, or genius parenting on my part. I just lucked out and found the right thing for our family.”

Next, I default to my mother’s sage wisdom. She raised all five of her own children, countless foster babies, and then years of baby sitting charges. The woman now sits in the special part of heaven where only Gold Member potty trainers get to go.

She believed in cloth diapers. Even after plastic diapers became more reliable and cost efficient. I spent my elementary school years packing bright colored bread bags in the family diaper bag, the perfect way to bring home wet cloth diapers from outings.

When it came to potty training, she said it was the key. Her philosophy was that paper diapers pulled too much of the wetness away from the toddler’s body. It wasn’t uncomfortable. There was no incentive to not wet. Walking around with a heavy, wet piece of cloth between your legs was really motivating to not wet again.

I tried this with my kids. I bought plastic diaper covers (the old fashioned kind, they were the most versatile) and hooked up the cloth diaper to my 2-3 year old. It worked well for most of them. One of my sons was just hard headed enough that it was worth winning to him, on principle alone.

Then, once my oldest was potty trained, I stumbled upon another way to potty train her younger siblings, when it became their turns. I used that magic trick called peer pressure.

I bought  huge bag of M&Ms and poured them in a glass bowl. Then I cleared a shelf in the top of the cabinet, where they could see it, but could not reach it.

The rules went like this: If potty training recruit went potty in the toilet , he got three M&Ms and his big sister got two. If he pooped. they each got an extra.

This set up a system where *I* wasn’t the one constantly asking, “Do you need to potty?”, his sister was. She had a driving motivation to get him to let go in the right place. She not only related to him more effectively, she rejoiced with him more energetically, since she actually got a reward too. He never realized her claps, cheers and hugs were more about her sweet tooth, than his accomplishment.

As their younger brothers were born, and took their turns, the system remained in place. We definitely went through more M&Ms in the later years,  but it was worth every bright one of them.

I feel for those of you headed into this fun new world of knowing where every toilet is in every store you shop. I won’t blame you, if you buy Pull Ups for long car trips and use any kind of bribe that matters to your kid, to get the job done. It’s tough enough being in charge of little people, 24 hours a day. Sometimes adding the job of making them civilized just seems downright cruel.

Hang in there!


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5 thoughts on “Potty Training: How I Ended Up With Four Dry Teenagers.

    1. Love this post. We’re *just* entering this phase, and are trying to figure out the best plan. What treat would you give an 18 month old? I think he might be ready…

  1. Good Luck, Anna! Are there special crackers (like Goldfish) that he likes, or even the colored goldfish crackers…something small that he doesn’t normally get…anything bright and exciting will usually do the trick.

    Some kids are ready by 18 months, but dont get discouraged if he doesn’t ‘get it’. Some of it is also physiology, and his bladder might not be ready.

    Cant hurt to try esp if he’s excited about it.

    Good luck!


  2. Haha, love the post and the title. I’m glad this way of potty training worked for your kids. We thought about this and a few other methods our friends shared with us, including rewarding with cartoons, etc. But we didn’t want to tie any kind of food rewards to going potty. As for TV watching, we weren’t thrilled with moving the potty to our living room either. So it stayed in the bathroom and our son refused to use it. As a matter of fact, he used it exactly once. We didn’t press the issue and only asked him occasionally whether he wanted to try sitting on a potty. The answer was always a firm “no”. Then one day, when our son was 3 years old, I was going to change his diaper when he said to me that he didn’t need diapers any more. He wanted to use the toilet (not the potty though). And that was it. He did have a couple of accidents the first day, but nothing major. And that was it. We’ve heard horror stories from our friends about ruined carpets, furniture, car seats, accidents in stores and cafes, temper tantrums, etc. So we were very happy none of it happened to us.

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