When my daughter Violet was 18 months old, I had one of those days that briefly made me feel like a world-champion mother. She and I were rummaging around in the basement, and we came across her older siblings' blue plastic potty. She immediately recognized it for the toilet substitute it was and hauled it up the stairs to our kitchen. And there commenced, for several hours, the most amazing display of self-education I've ever seen.
Off came her diaper, down she sat, and -- presto! -- out came a stream of pee. I stood there open-mouthed. My older kids had taken years, and endless cajoling, to get to this point. Here was Violet, girl genius, conquering the potty in a matter of minutes! And still practically a baby!
Yes, well. For a good four hours, she used that potty beautifully when she had to go. She peed, I applauded, we admired it, we flushed it, then she peed again, I clapped, she grinned, and so on. I couldn't believe my good fortune.
Alas, it didn't last. Suddenly, Violet began to dance about in agitation. "Sit on the potty!" I said. "No, no, Mommy!" she replied. "Yes! Sit, sit!" I repeated. Too late, the poop arrived and half landed in the potty. "Aargh!" cried Violet, bursting into tears.
So alarming was this episode that Violet didn't venture near the potty for another year and a half. Which is how she and I joined the ragged band of veterans of potty-training-that-doesn't-quite-go-according-to-plan. The bump we hit -- sudden lavatorial success followed just as suddenly by back-to-diapers -- is just one of several that sow dismay in households. True, many kids motor smoothly through toilet training: They make the occasional foray to the potty at 2½ or so, and six months later they're swaggering confidently into any bathroom. But many others hit a snag in the process. The most common roadblocks, and how to handle them:
Meghan Cox Gurdon is a mother of four and a columnist for National Review Online.