Friday, May 26, 2000

Toilet-training time

It's the toilet-training time of year. Or so it seems, from the number of e-mails from anxious moms turning up on the parenting e-mail lists I belong to. They're usually worried because snookums is 2 and showing no interest in the potty. And this makes me grouchy because my own personal snookums was 5 before he showed an interest in the potty. No one whose child is under 5 is allowed to obsess about this, in my book. It ain't exactly the end of the world.

Getting in a fight with your child over toileting is pointless anyway because the child holds all the cards, and anything else he feels like holding. You can scream, you can cry, you can threaten, you can cajole, but in this one area of life, your child has ultimate control. How empowering for the little one! Mama may be able to force food down her throat, but Mama can't force it down the other end. I did have an occupational therapist suggest at one point that I give my son suppositories to make him sit and deliver, but that seemed somewhat insane. On the other end of the laid back scale were plenty of people who assured me that he probably wouldn't go to college in diapers. Isn't that reassuring--you mean by the end of high school, he'll get with the program? Only 13 more years of diapers to go!

Most often, I suppose, toilet-training panic sets in when an artificial social deadline imposes: the preschool that won't change diapers. Thanks to special-ed preschool, that deadline took a long time to loom for my boy. The special-ed teacher wasn't thrilled about the diapers, but those nasty IDEA laws meant that developmentally delayed diaper wearers could not be turned away. This is what classroom aides are for, at any rate. But the time did come when I wanted my guy to be in an after-school program, and the after-school program, being private, could do whatever it pleased. Their no-five-year-olds-in-diapers policy necessitated a get-tough policy on our part.

What finally worked--better than yelling, better than reading Mister Rogers' Going to the Potty or the gender-specific Once upon a Potty, better than begging him to do it for Mama, better than leaving him on the toilet for hours, better than bribes and better than threats--was the guerilla tactic of just taking away his pants. No diapers, no pants, no nothing but a bare bottom for as many days as it took. To guard against mess, I followed him around with a crib liner and a porta-potty and made him sit on one or the other at all times. We cleared the schedule for a week so he could just stay home and be butt naked, but it turned out not to be necessary: He started using the toilet on day 1, and never looked back. I'd like to think it was my parenting brilliance that did the trick, but I know deep down that he was just ready. Thank goodness, because I can't even imagine how much icky cleaning up I'd have had to do if he wasn't.

I'm glad it's over. If I adopt again, I'm sorely tempted to do it past the age of diapers, 'cause doing this once was enough. I sympathize with moms who still have it to do. Unless their kiddos are under 5. Then, I don't want to hear about it.

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