I am a mum of two young children. I have my daughter, who turns five next month and my son, who is 19 months old. There are exactly three years, three months and twenty-three days between my two children and, when my husband and I announced we were expecting a second child, we were met with a chorus of: “Oh, that’s such a good gap to have between the two children”; “Three years is perfect; they’re not too close in age, but not too far apart either”; “They’re going to love it!” and we thanked people for their best wishes whilst smugly congratulating ourselves on being exceptionally insightful, intelligent and all-round brilliant parents.
However, as charming as that age gap may be, it’s a pain in the ass – literally – when you have to potty train a small person, alongside caring for a new-born, as I did...
I was already expecting the 23rd March 2020 to feel like a pretty cruddy day, it was the anniversary of my mum’s death and, now expecting my second baby (and battling again the same fun-fest I’d endured in my first pregnancy: Hyperemesis Gravidarum) I had expected to spend most of the day either feeling teary, or with my head down the loo. I wasn’t expecting Boris Johnson to announce that the UK was entering national lockdown due to the rapidly spreading Covid-19 virus and ensuing global pandemic.
So, from then onwards, my husband and our (then) two-year-old daughter were stuck at home with Vomiting Veronica and, collectively, we had nothing better to do than to tackle potty training.
But, “the best laid plans”...
Try as we might, Little Miss just didn’t ‘get’ it and I didn’t have enough spew-free minutes in the day, or the energy, to be consistent enough with it or to see it through. I spoke to my mummy friends with older children about it, I spoke to my mum’s best friend; to be honest, I pestered anyone I knew that had successfully potty-trained a child and they all came back to me with the same response: “she’ll get it when she’s ready.”
So, frustrated with myself more than anything, and aware that enough had changed and rocked Little Miss’ world without me introducing anything else, I let it slide; I didn’t push it and I promised myself we’d revisit it.
Little Miss’ third birthday went past (a lockdown birthday party with Mummy, Daddy and a 3ft Olaf stuffed toy) and eventually, I stopped hurling my guts up every second of every day. Now feeling sore, tetchy and pretty massive – I decided to tackle potty training Little Miss again...
Little people and their bladders, it turns out, can actually contain a huge amount of pee, and oh my goodness, during those months, I think I saw more pee than I have ever seen, before or since. We ploughed on with potty training – well, I did: Little Miss just happily peed over anyone and everything; always announcing after the fact: “I need a wee”.
Whilst the country came out of, and went back into, lockdown in response to Coronavirus, we pushed on fighting our potty-training battle, and we welcomed into our potty-mad world, our new-born son.
Beginning to doubt that Little Miss would ever get the hang of it, and having googled ‘potty training tips’, I panic-purchased branded sticker charts and potty books on Amazon Prime and every night we read “Bing’s Bedtime” (spoiler - I know, sorry guys: it’s all about going to the potty). Try as I might, whatever I did didn’t help Little Miss and I began to feel exasperated, genuinely depressed and utterly fed up with the whole thing.
I remember, holding my new baby in my arms and tearfully turning to my husband, and saying: “I’m so fed up of this. I think we should just put her back in nappies. She’s going through, in the space of one day, every pair of pants she has! I’m so, so fed up of cleaning up pee and poo. She’s never going to get this. What the flip do we do?”
And, as he’s very good at doing, my husband put the kettle on, told me it would be okay and that Little Miss would get the hang of it.
The next day, I sat down with Little Miss, and we talked about how her baby brother needed nappies because he was too little to know when he needed to use the loo, and how she was a grown-up girl, who didn’t need nappies, because she was grown-up enough to tell us when she needed a wee or a poo; because her amazingly clever body would let her know when she was ready to use the loo.
Lockdown restrictions eased and I took Little Miss shopping for pants. I let her pick whatever knickers she wanted, in the hope that if she was wearing pants of her choosing, she’d be more inclined not to soil them.
Because she’d begun to respond well to a sticker chart I’d created for her bedtime routine, I tried the same tactic with using the toilet. I ditched the panic-purchased reward charts I’d bought online and I made one specific to her: she was, and is, Frozen-mad, so I made her a Frozen Toilet Challenge Chart, that was more board game-inspired than anything, and she was so excited by it; and ergo: by using the loo; if she could get a sticker on each step of the chart, she’d end up at the Royal Ball with Anna and Elsa, AND she’d get a special prize.
Finally, the penny began to drop. Little Miss’ nursery were really supportive of everything we were doing, and I sent her in with stickers so that she could ‘earn’ for her chart wherever she was and, as her fourth birthday came and went, we were finally beginning to get somewhere with potty training her. We used the chart, we read books about using the loo and (much to my cringing and chagrin) we modelled the behaviour we wanted her to use by letting her watch us using the loo, and wiping, and flushing, and washing hands.
Buying the pants that she wanted seemed to be working too: she wasn’t having as many accidents because “Snow White [didn’t] like it” when she got weed on and because Little Miss adopted the mantra: “I don’t poo in my Peppa pants!”.
So, by the time it came to starting school in September, Little Miss was potty-trained and was using the loo happily and, clinking our G and Ts, my husband and I gave a sigh of relief: we’d done it.
But of course, parenting is never that simple, and we found that now that Little Miss was at school, she was having accidents.
Taking a deep breath, despite feeling like we were back to square one, I went in to school to talk to Little Miss’ teacher; I felt like an awful parent and I was embarrassed by my child wetting themselves in class. I felt sure that Little Miss was the only kid doing it and I didn’t want the teacher to think badly of her.
I needn’t have worried, Little Miss’ teacher was unbelievably lovely about it, and reassured me that it was very common for children to come into Year R and have a few toileting wobbles. Apparently, the new setting (and literally, a new loo) can throw children off-course, but she told me that in Little Miss’ case, it was that she was just too busy chatting away, playing with her friends, teaching dance routines and ‘helping’ the teachers, that she just wasn’t allowing enough time to get to the loo.
So, at home we reinforced with Little Miss going to the loo before she felt the urgent need to, and we brought the sticker chart back. I made her a little lettered bead bracelet that wasn’t visible to anyone else under the sleeve of her school uniform, that said: “Have a wee” and every time she saw the bracelet peeking out, she’d go and try for a wee.
And, eventually, and not before Little Miss had tried on every single last pair of pants and tights from the class ‘spares’ box, she did it. She was toilet-trained and confident using the loo whenever and wherever she needed to. She was proud of herself, and her father and I were proud of her too. It felt like a hard-won, long-time-in-the-making, milestone and boy were we glad to have finally gotten past it.
Now, we’ve just got to gear ourselves up to do it all over again with Littlest!!
So, if you’re currently struggling with potty/toilet-training: don’t despair: they will get the hang of it, you just have to keep ploughing on. Here are a few of the things I found that helped Little Miss to really 'get’ it.
· A home-made, personalised sticker chart, using your little one’s favourite characters/book/film, with an ‘end goal’ in sight and along-the-way rewards.
· Letting your child choose their ‘big girl/boy pants’.
· Let your child (I know, the loo is the only place you can actually have two minutes peace and quiet, but it’s worth sacrificing it in order to potty train...) watch and see how you use the loo.
· Get some children’s books, about using the loo, for your child to read on, and off, the loo. That way if they’re sat there ‘trying’ for “aaaaaaages”, they can focus on the book and not wind themselves up about whether or not “a wee is coming!” Be warned, most of these books are mind-numbingly dull, but too small people, it’s very exciting to learn about poo!
· Ditch your adult sensibilities about toilet habits. If you’re trying to teach your little one that using the loo is an acceptable and normal part of life then you need to hide any squeamish or prudish instincts; you need to become comfortable talking about “wees and poos” and be prepared that your child will, as mine did, bellow “DO YOU NEED A BIG POO TOO, MUMMY?!” in the middle of IKEA. It’s all part of the rich journey of parenting (!)
· For now: ditch the dungarees, tights and anything that buttons up in favour of pull up/pull down trousers/leggings/shorts. It’s SO much easier when it comes to your little people being able to get to the loo.
· Try not to make a big deal out of the accidents, and praise the successful trips to the loo. There will be mess, now is not the time to roll out that antique Turkish carpet; you’re going to watch to have wipeable, washable floors and a potty/loo easily accessible all the time. (For child-proof rugs, I’ve found IKEA’s lowest pile can take and recover from even the biggest of poos!)
· Keep a potty in the boot of the car – if you are out and about and little one is caught short, pop the boot and they can pee in the back. I can remember multiple times we had to pull over for Little Miss to have a sit on the potty in the boot. You get some weird looks from passers-by but – again – welcome to the world of parenting!
Do you have any top tips for potty-training? If so, let me know! I’ll bear them in mind for my second go on the potty-training ferris wheel of joy!