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Ditch the Diapers!

Toilet training can be rough. Some days it's hard to believe your toddler won't still be in diapers by the time she hits puberty. To add to the challenge, what works for one child may not work for another -- even in the same family. So what's a mom to do? Try these real-life success strategies.

 

Special Underwear

 

Who it worked for:
Matthew, 3, son of Laurie Rosenthal, of Pacific Palisades, California

With Matthew about to start preschool, Rosenthal was getting nervous. "One day he screamed at me, 'I'm never going to do it!' and I realized how stressed he was," she says.

For a month she backed off. But she used the time to have a local shop embroider pink tractors on the briefs she'd bought him -- Matthew's favorite color and toy at the time.

Rosenthal invited an older playmate over, and told her son she had a present for him. If he didn't like it, that was fine; she'd give it to his friend (who was in on the surprise). She pulled out the new underwear, and Matthew was skeptical, but when his buddy clamored for them he yelled, "No! They're mine!"

Matthew had a couple of accidents -- he tried hard not to wet his beloved tractors -- and in a year graduated to regular underpants after deciding that pink was for girls.

Why it worked:
Rosenthal wanted to motivate Matthew in a way that let him believe he still had some control. So while she knew he'd go for the tractor underwear, she also gave him the choice not to use them.

Toddlers don't usually respond well when told what to do, says Alan Greene, M.D., a pediatrician at the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford University and author of From First Kicks to First Steps. "Special underwear can provide real motivation," he says. "And it's a positive way to get your child's mind going in the direction you want."

How to make it work for you:
You don't have to embroider underpants. Take your toddler shopping, just the two of you, to pick out the pairs he likes best. Getting him involved in the process, combined with a special outing, can produce magic results.

Lauren Barack has written for USA Today, Men's Fitness, and Newsweek.

Sweet Rewards

Who it worked for:
Bianca, 2, daughter of Cora Hamm, of Orange Park, Florida

Secret weapon: Skittles. Hamm introduced Bianca to the candy when she began training. "They were a huge hit," says Hamm. "But Bianca knew, 'No potty seat, no treat.' And I stuck to it."

Bianca earned one or two pieces of candy depending on what she did. Despite accidents, she was trained in weeks. Hamm's second child, Isabella, 20 months, trained even faster because she wanted to imitate Bianca. (A relief: With her husband in Iraq and a newborn, Hamm had her hands full.)

Why it works:
Who doesn't like a reward for a job well done? Little kids especially react well to any external motivator -- whether it's the reward itself or the feeling of pleasing you.

How to make it work for you:
Tailor the treat to your child. If he loves trains even more than candy, maybe several productive trips to the potty earn him a new caboose. (Train stickers might motivate him on the way.) Your reward needn't involve a shopping trip, either. Jean Burke of St. Petersburg, Florida, gave her 2-year-old a ride on mommy's bike for every two times she made it to the potty. "Then little by little I'd increase the number of times it took to get her bike ride," she says.

 

The Go-for-Broke Naked Week

 

Who it worked for:
Danielle, 2, daughter of Janet Freund, of Edison, New Jersey

Freund, a mom of two, and her husband took off the same week the summer her eldest, Danielle, was 2½. Freund had prepped Danielle by having a potty out several months before, and had also seen readiness signs when Danielle would actually pee in the toilet before bathtime. "Still, it was kind of do-or-die," she says.

Every hour on the hour Freund put Danielle on the potty, and after a few days of this routine she began to tell her parents when she needed to go.

Whenever there was an accident, Danielle's mom or dad would just clean her up and reassure her that accidents were normal. But Freund refused to use diapers as a daytime backup. "I think putting your child in a diaper after an accident sends a wrong message," she says.

Recently, Freund tried the same technique with Danielle's younger sister, Rachel. The verdict: It worked, but there were more accidents, partly because Freund was less on top of it the second time around.

Why it works:
A controlled time period is a good method for goal-oriented kids who are emotionally ready to toilet train. How to tell? Your child should show interest in her potty, perhaps even "practicing" on it, or at least some understanding of the mechanics of pooping or peeing.

How to make it work for you:
It's best to get your child used to the potty before you ban diapers forever. So put one in a high-traffic room and have her sit on it once in a while so it's familiar. Get books and DVDs, and read or watch them as often as your child wants.

Try to be as matter-of-fact about the process as possible. That goes for your reminders, too. "Most parents ask their child if she needs to go when they see her dancing around," says Dr. Greene. "A better approach is to say, 'It looks like you need to go.' Otherwise your kid will say no."

Training Diapers

Who it worked for:
Justin, 2, son of Sharda Kooblall, of Ozone Park, New York

Justin ignored his mom when she mentioned the potty, and instead turned it into an art project covered with stickers and marker scribbles. "It was like a new toy," says Kooblall. "He never really used it, just dragged it from room to room."

She put her faith in Pull-Ups -- she liked that they sopped up the inevitable training accidents and still taught the process of stepping in and out of what looked like underwear. And she stopped the diaper-changing routine; instead, she had Justin stand while she wiped and changed him -- as if he'd used the potty. Finally one day she heard the toilet flush: Justin had marched in and taken off the training pants himself. "He had some accidents, but I ended up throwing out the potty," she says.

Why it works:
Training diapers can ease children into toilet training without a lot of pressure or mess. "Kids have a sense that learning to use the toilet is a big step forward, and that can make some of them become fearful or overly sensitive," says Dr. Greene. But be forewarned: Some parents feel that training diapers can prolong the process -- many are so padded that your child won't feel wet when she pees.

How to make it work for you:
If you have a child who needs to train on her own timetable, this is a great option. But be honest: Are you really relaxed enough to let your child set the pace?

 

Peer Pressure

 

Who it worked for:
My daughter Harper, 3, and me

After three successful tries on the potty when she was 2, Harper went on strike. For a while it seemed we'd achieved nothing more than her stubbornness, our mutual hatred of the plastic toilet, and the birth of her favorite saying: "Poo-poo is normal. You don't want to eat it."When Harper started preschool nine months later, only one other child was wearing diapers. She didn't like this -- she cried every time her teachers approached with her changing pad, yet she refused to join her classmates on their twice-daily trips to the bathroom.

Two weeks after school started, Harper told me "no diaper" after she woke up in the morning. As I raced through the house, making her lunch and dislodging her hairbrush from under her bed, she cornered me and asked, "Want to see my pee-pee?" She took my hand and led me to her potty, and there it was -- success.

It took her a while to use the "big" toilets at school -- she's still ever-vigilant in case she "falls in" -- but at home we were finally diaper-free, at least during the day.

Why it works:
Around age 3, your child will probably start to pay attention to other kids and be influenced by what they do.

How to make it work for you:
If your child tries to emulate other kids, peers can act as role models to provide a gentle push in the right direction. The role model can be anyone -- an older sib or cousin, a neighbor or playmate.

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