What did you do during the Potty Wars, Daddy?

My God, but this toilet training is dragging on.

J-Bone turned three almost a month ago, but still his loins are girded with nappy. This, in itself, is no cause for panic; I know, I know. His cousin was well-past three before he came to terms with his bladder and bowel.

Buuutttt… He started voluntarily to use the potty in June; now it’s November. I had an informal target of Christmas, so that J would be all sorted in time for his 15 hours of nursery in January. I thought we had the summer to get him trained up: good drying weather, not too cold for some free bum time.

So many pieces have been in place for so long. He’s been reading books about using the loo for half his life. He picked out two potties (upstairs and downstairs) that we could be whipped out at a moment’s notice – and a little toilet seat adapter for the lav itself. (I was very pleased that he picked pink each time; I’m clinging to his rosaphilia before he comes home one day from nursery and says he hates pink things.) We’ve talked about the loo, let him see us go to the loo. We’re a toilet-friendly house. We’ve at least a dozen pairs of pants (exciting pants with trucks and Peppa Pig on them), a dozen sets of loose-fitting trousers.

Over a year ago, his bum on a potty…
And he has gone through many of the motions (crap pun intended – ha! I kill me). If he has no nappy on and the breeze is blowing in the right direction, he will diligently pee every now and then for a good couple of hours. But if the sun isn’t passing over some yard arm inside him that I cannot fathom, he wees anywhere and everywhere, like a territorial puppy.

For a few months, we’ve tried him in pants. He has happily wet them – with or without trousers on top. The first (probably ill-advised) attempt involved him wetting his undercrackers nine times in 50 minutes. If I was one for understatement, I’d say he probably wasn’t ready.

He seems to have a grasp, an understanding of all the principles involved, but nothing conceptual in the middle to hold it all together. In the bath, he’s announced he needs a poo and climbed onto the toilet; he hasn’t made the same connection sitting at his little blue table in the kitchen. I’m not really sure why that would be, but it is the knot at the centre of it all.

Don’t worry, it’s water.
Advice has been the reverse: all the big picture, not so much practical detail. Patience is the main theme, but the hardest to scrape together for me at the best of times. I find it practically impossible to prevent a little frustration to creep into my voice when J-Bone liberally showers his bean bags while his potty sits neglected a few inches away. At the same time, I realise it is the most important – not least because it’s the first skill he’ll be deliberately learning, and nothing disrupts learning like an exasperated tutor.

It’s important to be consistent, the sages proclaim, with good reason. This is tricky indeed for someone as disorganised as me. I feel that a balance is needed between sticking to the plan and letting go of the plan if things are getting heated or too complicated. Sometimes it doesn’t seem very long before things get complicated, although it was maybe more the case that my plan wasn’t too clear in the first place.

Treats/rewards was another theme. This took a little while for us to get around to. I’ve always been a bit wary of bribery and have naive notions (still!) that explaining and showing by example is the way to help J understand why something is important. By taking his hand, by telling him to take my hand, by explaining that cars might not see him and could hurt him badly, I think I’ve got J to understand I need to hold his hand when we cross the road and some reasons why. But his bladder control seems immune to logic. In the end, we settled on something symbolic that could build up to rewards: marbles. Enough marbles in a jar and J-Burg could have a little treat: it’s currently ten marbles for an ice lolly from the freezer.

To the urinator, the spoils
The problem here is that J-Burg isn’t quite as easily bought as we expected. If he gets a marble, great; if he doesn’t, that’s great too. It’s an admirable trait, but it doesn’t help with trying to tighten his focus on fulfilling his dirty duties. If I suggest he needs a wee or a poo, he says No; if I remind him he could earn a marble, he says he doesn’t want one. Sometimes playing with his Duplo or watching Go Jetters is much more important. He gets absorbed in his play, his wee gets absorbed in the carpet.

But what of the consequences of wet pants? Pretty uncomfortable, yeah? To you or I, yes. But J-Bone will quite happily allow his dampth to grow cold and clingy without complaint. It simply doesn’t bother him. My hair continues to fall out and my eyelid keeps twitching. The game plays on.

So Christmas is bearing down hard and the festive prospect of puddles under the tree remains. And yet…

One more throw of the dice: sitting him on the potty without discussion every so often – maybe after 30 minutes, maybe when I just have a psychic twinge that the hour is at hand. More often than not, he wees. This should get him into the habits of using the potty from a standing start on a regular basis, of picking up enough marbles for things to take on a momentum, and to get him used to wearing dry pants. That was the plan. And it may be beginning to work…

Ice lolly consumption has risen exponentially. Whole afternoons have passed with dry drawers, albeit involving a lot of prompting from Daddy. And J-Dilla has begun to announce voluntarily that he needs ‘a wee, FAST’. So there is light at the end of the urethra.

 

Keeping himself ‘occupied’
 
If this strategy does work, then mingled together with relief and pride in him ticking off another box of human tricks will be an urge to kick myself in the rump. It seems so obvious now, just taking him through it mechanically, moving his arse so that his mind will follow. Maybe if I’d taken a look at all the toilet training manuals out there rather than assuming that I’d be able to improvise a plan tailored to J-Bone’s individual foibles, then I would’ve gone with this plan months ago. When the little fella finally gets the knack, the posts will pour down like yellow rain.

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