We had a fairly smooth transition into the world of potty training with my oldest. He showed interest in using the potty around 18 months. For the 6 months leading up to 2 years old, it was mainly a casual check out the potty and sit on there for a bit, just a "getting to know it" kind of a thing. Then from 2 to 3 years old, the transition went pretty quickly from not being potty trained to being fully potty trained with "big boy" underwear and only a pull up for overnights.
What we weren't prepared for were all the hurdles in between. Basically, these hurdles were the exploratory phases where a child is experiencing natural mental growth through potty training. They are learning about what comes out of their bodies, along with the self-control and regulation of body movements.
These are my personally named potty training phases and hurdles we eventually conquered:
Poop Painting: This phase began when our son was learning to use the potty for bowel movements. Poop Painting usually occurred before nap times, or in the morning when my son would wake up. He would take his pull up off, poop on the floor, and then use toys and other random objects to smear it around on the carpet. Then, we'd go into panic mode and try to clean everything up with baby wipes! Needless to say, this was not an "artistic (exploratory) phase" we would like to re-enter.
Poop Protesting: Poop Protesting happened closer to 3 years old. Now I'm not talking protesting to make a bowel movement, I'm describing using pooping to protest having to go to bed or take a nap. He would simply remove his pull up, poop off the side of his bed, in the corner by his rocking chair, or in the middle of the floor. He would then come to get us and let us know that he simply couldn't go to sleep because there was poop in his room! So, we would have to go through the long process of sanitizing and cleaning the carpet, until either it was too late to take a nap or he got extra time awake at bedtime (resulting in him being extra exhausted and cranky!)
Bedroom Peeing: Bedroom peeing was happening somewhere after the poop painting phase and a little past poop protesting. To explain this phase, my guess is he was learning to control having to go pee and not recognizing the sensation in time to reach the potty. My son was waking up quickly from his nap or bedtime and instead of rushing to the bathroom, he would simply pee on the floor as he didn't want to wet his pants.
Bedroom peeing seemed reasonable to understand developmentally. But we were caught off guard when he started peeing off the side of his bed, seemingly for enjoyment, and then into a pile of stuffed animals. Since I didn't always catch him in the act, the stuffed animals took me a while to figure out. Once, after I carpet cleaned every square inch of his room, I suddenly realized the pee smell was coming from the stuffed animals.
As parents, these were some of the hardest phases we had to get through. The toughest part was coming to terms with the development of our toddler. I had to not let shaming and anger take place, even when my whole body wanted to be furious when I walked into a room covered in poop. It took a lot of time, patience, and under-reacting to get through these phases and encourage his proper development through it all. The more we reacted in each stage the harder things got, plus our ability to help our son seemed to suffer.
At my wits' end, after carpet cleaning a room covered in poop for the 3rd or 4th time that week, I was convinced by the internet that giving our son a cold shower was the way to solve our problem. 10 seconds into that plan, I was quickly mortified, ashamed, and so angry with myself for pushing my instincts and respectful parenting knowledge to the wayside. My heart ached for my little guy. I committed to myself that I would not ever make a similar mistake again. My son was growing and developing. He needed me to guide him and nurture him respectfully through this, not punish him.
So, here is how we got through it all. We became more diligent about potty training again. After all, our work was clearly not over just because our son was wearing "big boy underwear"!
We began consistently encouraging potty use before nap and bedtimes, as well as encouraging bowel movements at these times. We also made sure to celebrate his successes with extreme praise and boastfulness of how proud we were. We used mini chocolate chips to help get us through the initial hump and discomfort he was feeling toward these certain potty times. Then, as he got more comfortable and confident, we would just offer our praise and leave out the mention of the chocolate chips. Once using the potty became a habit again, we would use praises like: "Don't you feel so good you did that? Doesn't it feel so good to have a nice clean room and no accidents?"
And when the occasional pee accident happened on the floor, we would empathize with him. We'd say, "I'm so sorry that happened. I feel sad for you that you couldn't make it in time. Next time, you will make it." Or: "Next time, let's try to get all the pee pee out before we lay down so we don't wake up with a surprise."
There were maybe 1 or 2 more poop accidents after we committed to changing our approach. I would simply tell my son how I felt, rather than punishing or shaming. For instance: "Mommy is really sad she has to spend time cleaning this all up now. She would rather spend this time playing with you." I would also reaffirm that bedtime and naptime were still happening.
My son soon realized he wasn't getting away with not napping or sleeping, plus he didn't like that he was making me feel sad. Because we had been empathizing with him and trying to see eye-to-eye with his emotions, he returned the same respect and he shared his apologies—and the accidents stopped!
I am hoping this article reaches a desperate Momma in a similar situation. Remind yourself to breathe, evaluate, and assess your next moves. Let your little ones be little, be their safe space for growth and development, and remind yourself that our kids aren't intentionally trying to be defiant or make our lives harder.
I am so thankful we are passed these hurdles, and I feel better about handling the future of potty training with his younger brothers. I hope you are feeling more hopeful too.
There is nothing we can't conquer with the love in our hearts Momma. We were made for the tough stuff.