Potty training isn't quite the third rail that vaccines or circumcision are, but it's definitely one of those parenting issues that people tend to feel strongly about and other choices get interpreted as criticism. And it's another parenting issue on which I don't have a strong opinion affiliated with any particular school of parenting, and on which, therefore, I tend to think it pays to be flexible and open to various ideas because what works for one kid may not work for another, etc.
A big part of our potty training technique was informed by laziness and a deep ambivalence about starting the whole process, which I was pretty sure was going to be awful. I mean, if it was going to feature, in any way, poop ending up where poop was not intended to be, my feeling was that this was worse than diapers and (not should, clearly, but) would be put off as long as possible. The thing is, I got pregnant, and while the notion of two kids in diapers at once was unpleasant, it wasn't the gun at my temple that the looming prospect of pre-school was, and the the notion of having to train Ben while wrangling a newborn.
Luckily, it wasn't like we'd done absolutely nothing up to that point (that point being a couple of weeks ago). We started putting him on the potty at diaper changes when he was around 16 or 18 months. This was the result of what I thought was smart advice: that even if you have no expectations whatsoever of moving past the occasional potty-sitting, it's a good idea to get the baby used to the potty long before they reach the more oppositional phase around two and a half. And I'd tried a few times since he turned two to take it a step further. I put him in underpants and covered the sofa with towels, and he was enthusiastic about the M&M bribes and game for the Lightning McQueen underpants, but the experiment was always a FAIL, and we went cheerfully back into diapers. The last thing in the world I wanted was to stress either one of us out by forcing the issue before he was ready to be successful.
I think we'd tried maybe three times, each "time" consisting of a few mornings in a row, by the time his third birthday rolled around and I started getting freaked out about pre-school. And it had been a while since the last attempt, because lately, in the last six months, he'd become quite opposed to the very notion of underpants, and I didn't want to force a confrontation.
But the weather had turned warm, and if he refused underpants, he would at least agree to a couple of hours in the morning with no pants on at all. Which was the key in the end, I think, because the feeling of underpants was too close to the feeling of a diaper, but total bottom-half nudity made him pay attention much more closely to his body's signals, and he didn't have a single accident over the couple of weeks we tried this out for an hour or more every day.
But still he refused underpants. And then I realized I had one powerful tool yet unused, just lying there! Bribery. M&Ms worked great for the short-attention-span toddler years, but they weren't compelling enough for my three-year-old. But the promise of a toy was.
I told him if he could go one whole day in underpants, no diaper, from the time he woke up until bedtime, he could pick out any toy he liked (within reason, void where prohibited, no live monkeys). This was a Sunday, and I figured amid the failures, we'd go to the toy store sometime during the next week and choose the desired object, which would then be dangled in front of him in some cruel but motivating way for as long as it took to get through a whole day. What happened was that he barely left me alone about the toy -- which he decided early on would be an excavator, which I hoped existed -- to the extent that it was clear the toy did not have to be in the house for effective dangling. And miraculously, he stayed dry in underpants that entire next day. And we went to the toy store on the Tuesday, and lo and behold, they had a Playmobil Excavator, worth every penny of the sixty bucks it cost.
And that was that. Potty trained.
But of course that's not how it works, is it? Potty training is a continuum, and we had achieved only the first stage. Which is a big deal, don't get me wrong, but it's definitely one of those things with which parenthood is rife: the thing that looks like one simple step from one side and turns out to be a whole staircase from the other.
Because it's not like you move right from diapers to the kid climbing cheerfully up onto public toilets and wiping his own tuchus. I drive around now with a Frog Potty in the way-back of my Outback, a technique I heartily recommend to anyone at this stage of training. (Empty pee into shrubbery or anywhere you wouldn't feel rotten about a dog peeing, which is pretty much anywhere, at least if you're me; wipe out potty with wipes. Poop goes in trash bag and right into any trash receptacle you wouldn't feel rotten about dumping dog poop under similar circumstances -- which may mean you drive around with it in the car for a while, so have plenty of extra bags.) The kid can pull down his own underpants, but he balks at doing the same thing for pants, and he simply isn't coordinated enough to put any of his clothes back on. He's in diapers at night, largely because we still have a big box of them, but he wakes up dry more often than not. And he'll sit on a proper toilet without too much fuss, but still prefers the frog potty.
But he's trained enough that I don't have to hoist him up onto the changing table or get down on the floor to change his diaper, which is a mercy at nine months pregnant. And he's trained enough for pre-school, where I'm relying on a little old-fashioned peer pressure to carry him the rest of the way.