Monday, May 6, 2013

Update on Toilet Learning


We've been following the Montessori approach to toilet learning for quite some time now. At 26 months, Henry pretty much only wears thick cotton underwear (the ones from Hannah Anderson are better about containing urine, but we now use the ones from Target because they are less expensive and not so tight). He just recently told us for the first time that he needed to pee in the toilet. Mainly, we ask him to use the toilet every 1.5-2 hours, and that strategy works to keep him mostly accident-free. 

When we leave the house, we ask him to pee right before we get in the car. We usually bring his little toilet with us because he prefers to pee in it rather than use the toilet seat we bought or the real toilet. He now prefers to pee standing up while leaning both his hands against the wall.

Henry still doesn't poop in the toilet, but his thick cotton underwear usually prevent it from coming out the sides.

We've definitely had ups and downs throughout the process (and it doesn't feel like we're close to being done with it!). We tried Elimination Communication on and off for a long time. In retrospect, I found the process to be mostly a waste of time (for us). Although we were able to catch several poops and pees, Henry went through a lengthy phase when he refused to sit on the toilet at all. It didn't seem like the process of sitting him on the toilet as an infant made him more comfortable with the concept as a toddler.

I am 99% certain that if we resorted to some kind of extrinsic reward system (mainly candy) to bribe Henry to use the toilet, this process would have been complete a long time ago. As tempting as it's been, we've resisted it so far because extrinsic rewards are not incorporated into the Montessori approach. We want him to learn to use the toilet because that's what humans do, not because he's going to get a treat.

We just started letting Henry sleep in his underwear (for naps and at night). He's been begging us, and we've been resisting because of laziness. So, every night as he's falling asleep, Henry takes off his pajama pants, takes off his diaper, puts his pajama pants back on, and gets back underneath his comforter. We finally decided to listen to what he's trying to tell us (both with his words and actions!). 

The first time we let him sleep in underwear, he pooped the bed within the first 15 minutes! Luckily, Matt had double-layered the bed (waterproof pad + fitted sheet + waterproof pad + fitted sheet). It was very easy to strip the bed, get him cleaned up, and put him back to bed.

The night toileting seems to be hit or miss. Some mornings he wakes up dry; other nights he pees a couple times (and wakes up). Some nights, he pees once but sleeps through it (and we change him when we're checking on him). We'll just keep at it with patience!

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Rachel said...

I'm with you 100% on not using candy as a reward system for learning to use the toilet.

Also, some warning in advance: it's completely normal for a kid to backslide a bit in toilet learning when a younger sibling is born.

fuzzy said...

My first, I swore I would never ever bribe the kid into using the toilet. The second, out came the m&m's because, realistically, there is no intrinsic reward in using the toilet over a diaper.

Carrie said...

Have you read up on "toilet learning" from a developmental perspective? Do you realize that many kids wet at night until age 4, 5, 6 and up? It has nothing to do with wanting to use the potty because it's what humans do. It has to do with brain development. While I respect your approach, I absolutely so not see the point of putting Henry in thick cotton underwear when he is essentially using them just like he would a diaper. I would not find it lazy whatsoever if you said, "gee, he doesn't really seem ready for this yet (which is not uncommon for a 2 year 3 month old boy), so let's put him back in his cloth diapers and try again in a few months." Ms. Montessori never knew YOUR child.

I think it is great that you addressed your experience with EC. I have never seen that as anything but a Pavlovian response to being dangled over a toilet, which is far from being potty trained, which involves a multi-faceted skill set. All it did for my husband's cousin's baby was to cause the sweet thing to hold her bowels and become horribly constipated.

Our Little Beehive said...

Wow, this sounds really stressful. My little guy is 17m and we put him on the potty before bath, but we don't force the issue. He's peed a few times, but usually doesn't until his feet hit the bath water. Ugh. It sounds like you're using the heavy undies as diapers, why not just use diapers for a little bit longer until he's showing more signs of being ready to use the potty full time? (I mean cloth diapers when I say "diapers" since I think you have the cotton elementals, which allow him to feel wet.)

In re: candy, I just want to share my experience. I had to patch my son's eyes for months. It was a horrible experience for both of us to get the patch on because he knew it was painful to get them off a few hours later (I tried so many brands and it was always painful for his sensitive skin.) After Easter one day on a total whim I said, "if you keep the patch on until we walk the dog you can have two candies" and my 16m old boy understood. I was shocked. He was like night and day and a huge stressor was removed from our life. We patched successfully and he was "mmmm'ing" away eating a reeses pieces candy while I peeled the patch off every day. We went from being unsuccessful patchers to super successful patchers overnight.

I know it's not part of what I've noticed over the past several years appears to be a stringent plan you're following, but sometimes you just have to step back and look at your child and your situation and do what works. If you asked me before I had a baby whether I'd bribe my kid with candy, I'd say no way and would probably judge you behind your back if you did. When I had my son I learned to do what works, as long as it's not doing real harm. It just seems like doing what works and being your own kind of mother while still respecting the overall basis of one theory is a so much more effective way of raising a particular child than following rules to a "T" that were developed for the grand universe of "children."

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Carrie! Keeping Henry in thick cotton underwear as opposed to diapers is part of the learning process. It helps him better connect the sensation of needing the use the restroom with the feeling of wetness. It also facilitates his independence and responsibility. He can easily pull his underwear up and down when he needs to use the toilet.

As I mentioned in the post, he is mostly accident-free during the day. At night, we put him in underwear because he asks for it. While we don't give him everything he asks for in general, we felt like asking to wear underwear (and taking his diaper off every night) was a sign that he was eager to start toilet learning at night, too. If it seems like he's not making any progress with the night toilet learning, we can always switch back to diapers at night.

Pure Montessori schools routinely start toilet learning by 18 months-old. It's not because we're in a rush to make our children advanced; it's because they are typically developmentally ready to handle the challenge. Even the handout from the pediatrician said, "Many children are ready for potty training by 2 years old."

We're following the guidance that makes sense to us, but we're definitely adapting it to fit our family.

Carrie said...

I do not know Henry or the intricacies of his toilet learning, obviously, but he is "accident free" during the day because you're having him go on the toilet every 1.5 to 2 hours, which you mention, and he's all over the place at night, which means his little body is not waking him to go at night (normal!). He isn't initiating the visits himself, right? So is he learning from the wetness in the underwear? He certainly has the knowledge that his pee and poop to in a toilet, which is one part of it, so that's good.

Out of curiosity, what is the typical time period between the Montessori toilet learning start date of 18 months (which is super young from every real life experience I have with young children) to being fully trained? I realize it's not a speed thing in your eyes, but I am truly trying to grasp why potty training has to be such an intricate part of the whole independence thing at such a young age. My kid could pull his underwear up and down at 2 1/2 and does seemingly everything under the sun by himself at 4. Why is doing it at 2 a big deal? It just seems like Henry is on track to be trained at exactly the same time or later than my son, for example, but with a whole lot of stress, anxiety and laundry on the adults' part in your situation. I think you work so hard at stuff like this, and I wish you'd cut yourself a break sometimes.

Finally, could you provide a few examples of where you have "followed the guidance that makes sense" (which i presume is Montessori) to you but then "adapt[ed] it to fit [your] family"? I would LOVE to hear an example of you and Matt thinking and talking about some Montessori tenet and saying, "hey, this doesn't resonate with us" and doing something different. I dont mean like buying something from Ikea instead of something locally made of wood. I mean something truly substantive. You two are both teachers. Teachers have excellent critical thinking skills. What critical thinking have you applied to Montessori?

Colleen said...

Potty training is no fun.

Extrinsic rewards work for kids just like they do for adults. We go to work to get a paycheck. You study for a test in college to get an A. Kids learn to pee in a pot to get a reward.

Both my kids were trained at 24 months. At 2.5. & 3.5 yo, neither require a reward and both use the toilet completely independently. Previous poster is right, he's only accident free because you make him sit down so often and the underwear are basically serving as diapers.

But more power to you. However you choose to do it he'll get it eventually. Good luck.

Kylie D'Alton said...

I'm not sure if it's something you would be interested in but have you considered allowing Henry to go pant free while he is at home. I know toddlers who this worked well for. Even if it's while you are playing outside, I think your weather would be ok for this. It's much easier to guide the child to the potty because it's easier to read their signs, it's especially easier for number 2s because their signs are (usually) obvious and it could allow Henry to have more 'successes'. I personally don't feel rewarding with food is a good idea but you need to have more successes to keep Henry motivated. Also pants are really hard, I just bought a size up for Otis so he can pull them up and get them off himself (but they won't catch anything - if that's what you are looking for).

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Kylie! That's a really good point. Last week, Henry was playing naked at the neighbor's house (going in their little pond), and he was able to alert us that poop was coming. I'll try that strategy more often.

Question for you: How did you make the transition from offering Otis the toilet to Otis using it on his own? Henry seems to be close to letting us know.

Hi, Carrie: To answer your question about a time when Matt and I have decided that a Montessori tenet wasn't right for our family--the first one that comes to mind is the pacifier. We decided that we wanted Henry to use a pacifier, despite what the Montessori literature said.

As far as toilet-learning goes, Henry's teacher says the length of time it takes varies from child to child.

Matt and I definitely reflect all the time about our choices and when they feel like they are purposeful or when they feel unnecessarily hard. For example, even though Henry was wearing underwear at school at 18 months, there was a while when we decided to put him back in diapers at home because he didn't want to use the toilet at all. It didn't feel right engaging in a struggle, so we stopped.

Now, it's totally different. Henry wants to wear underwear all the time, which we feel is a sign that he's ready to make more progress.

I actually feel really misunderstood when people insinuate that I've "drunk the kool-aid" or just blindly follow Montessori. You all know that I over-analyze everything! I constantly collect data and make revisions as necessary. I always question authority and think critically about decisions--especially related to the things that matter most, like parenting.

Carrie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carrie said...

Thanks again for your reply, Sara. Sounds to me like you and Matt are quite reflective, and I'm so glad you decide when things are unnecessarily hard and choose a different course. You discuss Montessori a lot on your blog(which is great!), so I suppose some people might see that as just following a very strict Montessori plan with little other input (which as you say here, is not the case). I appreciate your concrete example about use of the pacifier (which I now recall--has been awhile!) as something that didn't fit with what you and Matt wanted for Henry.

As total aside, the only extrinsic rewards our older son received for potty training were getting to flush the toilet himself and using bathroom spray for the #2s. You'd have thought he won the lottery when he got to do the latter! LOL!

Blawg commenter said...

I don't know if you've done any research besides Montessori, but for the many toddler parents I know, toilet learning only took a few days to a week (for daytime specifically, peeing and pooping on the potty without prompting) because they waited until their kids showed several signs of readiness. It's fine if you pick the most difficult route (as you seem to like to do) because kids will learn regardless. Tons of praise and the privilege of flushing the toilet were the only rewards my son got, but they were effective. By the time they're in kindergarten, it's not going to matter if they started sitting on the potty at 18 months or 28 months so I preferred the quick and easy way, less potential for shame for the kid and less frustration for the parents.

Beth said...

I really agree with the above commenter. I waited until both of my sons told me they no longer needed a diaper. It took two days of wet pants, and then all was done. Both were 2 years and 10 months. I am perplexed by how hard parents make the toilet training process. I have no idea what the "right" age is (don't think there is one), but with my friends, the kids who chose when, and I mean were really ready, were successful quickly. The parents who chose (a child being interested in a potty is not choosing) a date, were frustrated and the training took much longer (probably because the kid wasn't ready).
Cleaning up a poopy diaper is WAY easier than cleaning up poopy underpants.

Jen said...

We have been potty training our 2.5-year-old over the course of the last 6 weeks or so, and have been using Super Undies nighttime training pants at night. While I am not in any rush to night train, she can pull them up and down herself and treats them as underwear that she tries to keep dry. I would say she succeeds in having a dry night at least 75-80% of the time, but I am relieved to not have to worry about a wet bed and an upset toddler if she doesn't wake up.

Potty training seems like one of the big 3 loaded issues of early parenting (the others being sleep and feeding!) If your strategy is working for you, for Matt, and for Henry, then great. I can also see how other people might wait longer to start, too. We waited until what we felt was the most ideal time for us and our daughter, and I am sure there would still be people who think we started too early or too late.

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