Friday, July 9, 2010

"Potty in the USA"

I've been meaning to write a potty training post for a couple of months now, since March I think when I ordered the BabyBjorn Little Potty from Amazon, but since I keep putting of potty training, I was putting off posting until I had something real to say.  Last winter I did some research on infant potty training and elimination communication (lots of online links about both if you type them into an internet search bar, one helpful one is Diaper Free Baby) and read a book I found at the local library that was pretty old (copyrighted in the '80's I think...) and talked about all the different kinds of potty training (I read the chapters on infant potty training and also the readiness approach).  And then today I opened my inbox and the advertised article in my daily newsletter was Potty in the USA: Why we're slow to the toilet--how very timely and appropriate!!

The basic concept is that in many poorer countries who can't afford diapers and even in this country prior to the 1950s, babies were potty trained by the age of 1.  Parents learn to recognize signs that their baby is going to eliminate (elimination communication) much in the same way that they pick up on cries that mean the baby is hungry or tired. Once I started picking up on the difference between Hannah's, "feed me" cry and her "I'm tired" cry, I could see how she probably also had an action for, "I gotta go", but to be honest, I haven't prioritized figuring it out.

Infant potty training advocates suggest holding the baby over a sink, toilet, or other receptacle when they start eliminating.  While they're eliminating, you make a "ssssss" or other similar noise to create a Pavlovian response. To start with, you have to be paying close attention so that you can "catch" the pee or poo right when it happens and chime in with the "ssss-ing", otherwise you end up with pee everywhere, which is where we are right now.

From what I've read, infant potty training takes place between 3 and 15-18 months.  I thought it'd be easier to start once Hannah was sitting, and anyway, for the first 6 months of her life I put all my efforts into trying to figure out why she'd rather scream than sleep, so I didn't even order the potty until she was in her 6th month.  In retrospect, I think it would have been easier to start earlier, before she was capable of so much movement.   By 7 months, Hannah was pretty mobile, and I couldn't figure out how to watch all of her at once, her face for a sign that she was going to pee (no clue what that sign looks like) and her legs for signs that she was already eliminating.  How do you watch both?? I can't learn her sign for peeing if I have to focus on her not peeing on the floor (repeatedly).  If she were younger, I would have been carrying her around more and could just resolve myself to getting peed on for the sake of learning the sign.  Maybe after getting peed on a bunch I would eventually start to draw some correlation between a certain noise or facial expression and her peeing.  Of course I'd try not to get peed on by holding her over a receptacle every few minutes, and she'd be immobile enough to stay where I put her for a couple seconds, and odds are that I'd catch something every once in a while, right?? But she's mobile so every time I try to put her on the potty, she just crawls off of it.  I'm obviously not going to hold her down, and if I keep placing her there, she gets mad, which I definitely don't want.  I don't want it to be a negative process (lots of research indicates that potty training is actually a more positive experience when done earlier).

So anyway, the result is that Hannah has peed all over our floor on the few occasions that I've tried this because I never catch it in time, and even when I do, as soon as I pull her onto the toilet, she stops midstream (I would too if someone started jolting me around while I was midstream).  Since I kept missing it, I started watching her legs more intently in the hopes of catching the stream at the beginning, and I started watching the clock to see if there was any rough amount of time between pees (about 15 minutes is what I've gathered so far), that way I knew when to really pay attention.  So I started putting her on the potty every 15 minutes, but she'd just crawl off and then pee a minute later.

The other issue I have with it is that I don't know what to do when we aren't at home. I feel like when I decide to take the potty training seriously, I need to clear my calendar for a couple of weeks and just hang out here, and there's always something on the calendar so I'm always saying, "oh, after we do that, then I'll start." I'm being a lazy parent, I know.

Prior to becoming a stay-at-home mom, I thought I'd have SO much time to do stuff and OF COURSE I would infant potty train because what else would I be doing but devoting my entire being to my darling little creature?? Well, I do devote quite a bit of my being to her, but even so, I can't seem to fit this in. For me, it hasn't been as easy as I thought it would be (what is???).  If anyone else has tried it and has any advice, please share because I think I'm going to give it another go here soon. I feel like I should start by trying to catch her poops since I can always tell when she's pooping and she's fairly routine with when she does, but I worry that putting her on the pot will scare the poop away mid-poop like...I guess I can at least try.

Disclaimer: In spite of finding this impossible, it does NOT stress me out, and I'm NOT frustrated with Hannah or anything so please, NO advice on being patient--I assure you that I am patient. I'm not in any big hurry to get her trained. If I were, I'd have tried this out more than the three or so times that I have.  I do want to give her the tools she needs to be clean and comfy and independent, and if she refuses those tools, no biggie, but I want her to at least have them so she can start making her own choices about what she wants and we can start moving in a potty trained direction.  I guess that means I'm kind of combining the infant potty training approach with the readiness approach...My only goal is that she gets the hang of it prior to entering that phase where kids say "no" to everything....I feel like that phase would make it hard to potty train....

For anyone interested in more, I copied the below passage from the book I took out of the library (for some dumb  reason I didn't write down the name of the book, and I can't find it in their online catalog so hopefully I don't get in trouble for copying):

Early approach (between 3 and 15 months)
Step 1: Prepare yourself--get your attitude right and get your equipment and start observing current patterns

Step 2: Elimination conditioning--(like Pavlov's dogs) keep the potty within 2-5 feet of baby when possible. When you obserrve a body signal, hold or tap the potty so child pays attention. Hold baby over potty.  If business is done when child is picked up, don't place them on potty since that will confuse the conditioning. If child goes in potty, show pleasure and excitement. If child does not eliminate, put diaper back on and resume activity. If child goes in diaper, quickly and impersonally change diaper without showing any signs of anger, disappointment, etc.

Step 3: Self-initiated toileting--keep potty within 5 feed of baby when possible but now make sure it is always in front and to the right. When baby signals, help her grab for the potty by taking both hands and helping her reach, then place her on it. Place baby on potty anytime she reaches for it. If she doesn't show signs, help her reach for it. Gradually reduce the number of times you prompt your child to reach for the potty until she reaches on her own or when you call attention to it.

Step 4: Reinforcement--Put child in training pants so you can easily see if she wets. Increase distance between child to between 2 and 15 feet.  Continue to praise all reaching/grabbing efforts.  Call baby's attention to potty when you anticipate a soiling but keep prompts to a minimum.


  1. Wow, that is thorough research. All I did was every so often put you on the potty and hope to hear the sound. Then tried to get you excited about hearing the sound (knowing you'd done good.) After that you were content to sit and read a book on the potty for a moment or two. If you had to go, you did, if you didn't - well, we tried again later. I don't even want to talk about how difficult it was with Chip - ADD impacts this big time.

  2. Oh, and yes, buy training pants. They're thick enough that you won't hear spashing on the floor, but thin enough that you can feel when she's gone (and she can be uncomfortable)

  3. Very interesting stuff. Since Anna is at daycare we can't really do anything until their potty training timeframe so this doesn't work for us but keep everyone updated on how it goes!

  4. Each child is a unique human being. All children will have their own way of training. With guidance tailored to the child's needs and personality, the potty training experiecne will be another milestone to boast about.

  5. Sounds like you are taking everything into consideration. It is sure to work out well. Hannah will do fine.

  6. I think you need to move to an african village! Lonjie at 18 months had this down - she didn't wear a diaper (or barely clothes) and if she was playing in my house and had to pee she would run outside the door just stand there, pee on the porch (no porches in the village were she learned this)and then come back in! I thought it was the funniest cleverest thing - she didn't even talk yet! If you want I will write Jane an email and ask her tips from a malawian village on how to potty train your baby- we'll see what we get!

  7. Yes!!!! Do that!!! That would be really interesting!! Anna, Brian's wife, wrote me an email about what they do in Russia. It would be really cool to compare her experiences and culture with those of a Malawian village!!! It seems so far that the key is just to let her go without a diaper the majority of the time....


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