The big mistake I made with potty training


WARNING: much talk of bodily waste.

I would rather fall into a pile of cow manure than potty train a toddler.

I don’t know why I have such strong feelings about it. I daily do unspeakable things with sick and snot and exploding nappies, but none of it perturbs me like the potty. It’s just one of those overwhelming feelings that well up from deep within, and I must be true to myself. After a couple of abortive attempts, I took the late-as-possible approach with Henry, which chimed nicely with my own laziness. Potty train a child early, my friends assured me, and you’ll be in for weeks of wet-carpet horror. Train one late, and they’ll do it themselves within a couple of days.

No contest. In a beautiful world of unicorns and rainbows, I would like our potty training experiences to be:

1. over and done with quickly and in one go. No farting about between pants and nappies for months, disinfecting puddles of wee at inconvenient moments;

2. as little effort as possible, given that, for Henry, it’s a lot to ask to go from peeing happily in pants without recrimination, to peeing in a box on purpose.

This is perhaps too optimistic. But I was hopeful (and happy to keep putting it off till I thought he was ready).

Then two things happened. The first was that the boys caught back-to-back cases of hand, foot and mouth – not too awful in itself, but requiring two full weeks indoors. The second was that we ordered new carpets for our stairs and bedroom, which arrive next week – meaning that now it didn’t matter much what happened to the floor, but in a week it definitely would. Give it another few months and we might be in a different house, where it would matter even more (and he’d be so unsettled it wouldn’t be right to try).

It seemed like all the stars aligned, and then spelled out the phrase LET HIM LEARN TO WEE. I capitulated.

Oh, it is holy hell. On day one I sat him on the potty every twenty minutes, and he still timed his four pees in the spaces between. One was on the bathroom floor. One straight into his sheepskin rug. Another on the piano, when he paused in the middle of a climbing expedition, lifted his leg and relaxed in all senses (what). Day two he seemed to spend mostly on the potty, but still sprayed his liquid waste hither and yon like a gleeful elephant in a water hole. By the time he consented to bring his A-game for Daddy on day three, I was thinking longingly of the cow manure. We’re now on day six, and while most of his pees are in the right place, I’ve discovered the truth known by mothers long past: a little boy stuck into playing would rather marinate his own legs than stop what he’s doing.

He has, incidentally, perfected the art of doing the solid stuff once a day during his nap, when he’s wearing Lightning McQueen pull-up nappies. I should be regretting this missed opportunity for learning, but I’m not.

After two days I wanted to pack it in entirely, but he’s old enough that stopping would be more confusing than helpful. And there’s my mistake, you see – there was the fatal flaw. I charged in for both of us, and now I can’t get out. You should never listen to carpet deliveries, or quarantine, or the nagging feeling that you’re putting it off unnecessarily, or even the helpful ‘oh, he’s not potty trained yet?’ comments swirling in the air around you, but only to your own instincts. You know your child the best. My instincts said ‘not till he’s almost three, you fool’. They’re saying it even more now, but it’s too late.

I am not potty training Teddy till he graduates.


As a final thought: I have a very distinct memory of peeing my pants in my Reception class, and my horrid teacher giving me a whack on the head and sitting me in a corner. Days later we were singing in the hall and our little voices one by one became shrieks of surprise, as we were all doused by a creeping puddle from a poor sap called Richard. We ended up stood around the puddle in a circle of judgement, staring down at it in silence, while the teacher berated poor Richard in front of everyone (she really wasn’t very nice). But we were FOUR.

How long will this go on?!

11 thoughts on “The big mistake I made with potty training

  1. I have been toying around with the idea of early potty training but always come up with some excuse not to start. Thanks for the reminder to trust my instincts. Best of luck to you!

  2. I started potty training my daughter about 2 years ago. We still have accidents, although they are now few and far between, but potty training has truly not seen me at my best as a parent!

  3. Oh dear, you are kind of stuck now! My daughter was 2 yrs, 9 months, and I knew she was ready. She had been for a few months, I suspect, but as I was in the middle of a difficult pregnancy, I kept having to put it back. Because she was ready, it took a couple of weeks. Reward charts and treats helped. But, oh, the phrase ‘do you need to sit on the potty now?’ must have been uttered hundreds of times a day! Best of luck with it x

    • Thank you – I feel like I need it! Yes, we are using bribes heavily – a sweetie jar, etc. I’m just gritting my teeth and thinking about how much money we’ll save on nappies 🙂 x

  4. Oh I’m so sorry it’s been a rough roller coaster ride! You are a trooper though, and so is Henry! The best advice someone gave me, and which I followed, was to wait until Tess was three. Sure enough it was a breeze and only took a week.

  5. You are not alone…, i also have this problem with my little girl.

    What I’m still doing is using some pampers (Those that you can pull down easily )to avoid mayor problems in the house and always ask her to let me know when she is ready to her stuff.

    • Thanks for sharing! Yes, he has pull-ups for naptime and at night. I found that he would just treat the pull-ups like nappies during the day, though, so we went with pants almost immediately. Here’s hoping our toddlers catch on soon!

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