I am SO HAPPY to write this blog post: the kids appear to finally – FINALLY – be toilet trained!
As long-time readers may have gathered, there have been several childhood developmental stages that I’ve dreaded, and that haven’t turned out to be anything near as formidable as I’d expected. But I knew my luck couldn’t last forever: the task that caused our biggest stumbles was getting Hattie and Joe out of nappies. Joe did have a brief flirtation with being a very early toilet trainer when he was around 20 months old, but his interest was short-lived for three reasons: 1. Stupidly, I listened to loads of people who swore that he was too young, and that boys always took longer to train than girls; 2. Stupidly, I listened to loads of people who swore that summer was the best time to toilet train; and 3. Joe reached what can be diplomatically described as ‘an oppositional stage’, where the answer to every question, ranging from “Would you like a cuddle” to “Would you like to sit on the potty”, and even including “Is your name Joe”, was met with a firm “NO!” So Joe’s premature toilet training stint ended after a couple of weeks.
Undeterred, I waited until the summer that they turned two, and tried the standard approach that, to be fair, seems to work for most parents: lollies and stickers as incentives for using the potty. Both kids liked the lollies and stickers, but neither kid was sufficiently motivated (or, I realise now, sufficiently capable) to actually get stuck in properly. A couple of additional attempts during 2015 were similarly unsuccessful. Hattie, in particular, just couldn’t stomach mistiming a potty visit and wetting her pants: she’d immediately become discouraged and want to give up. And Joe just couldn’t be bothered.
So all of the kids’ friends gradually made the move into knickers, and we just tried to chill with it and assume that they’d both get on board when they were ready – and really, that was fine, although the days of not changing disgusting nappies (and also not paying for nappies) were something about which I would occasionally fantasise. Grandmothers visited and tried to gee the kids up on the toilet training front, but to no avail. Joe was even promised his very own Elsa dress if he made the shift into knickers, and despite this being a cherished dream of his – which was fed by a weekly habit that he and Nanna developed of visiting the local Sunday morning and perusing all of the available Elsa dresses to choose the one that he’d eventually buy – he still couldn’t get moving. At best we were managing one loo or potty visit before the nightly bath, and half the time Hattie wouldn’t want to get involved.
I did have a psychological breakthrough with regarded to Hattiekins, which was helpful in understanding her situation, even if it didn’t really seem to assist us in moving things forward: she has a massive, in-bred fear of failure. I didn’t realise for quite a long time, but she just does not want to try things unless she is very confident that she can achieve it. She’s hugely adventurous at the playground, for example, but she pretty much never falls, because she susses out the situation first and doesn’t attempt anything that she can’t handle. This trait manifested itself when she refused to learn how to dress herself – as in “No, Mummy, I won’t even undo a velcro shoe strap – I can’t do it” – and then decided one day that yes, she could do it… and completely dressed herself with no trouble at all. This was obviously a hindrance when it came to toilet training, where accidents on the way are pretty much guaranteed.
I’d resigned myself to having kids who would wake up one morning and decide that they were ready for knickers, and that no chivvying on my part would help them to reach that point sooner. However, Joe forced our hand: he started flatly refusing to tell us when he had a dirty nappy, even to the point of lying about it. And, unfortunately for him, his is the kind of skin upon which nappy rash appears after 20 minutes in a dirty nappy. His skin was regularly blistered to the point of nearly bleeding, and although he totally understood that he alone was the one who could prevent that situation developing, the problem continued.
Now stop me if you’ve heard me tell this one before: but when the parental going gets tough, this particular parent looks for the best expert available to offer guidance. And a year ago I went to a talk organised by our magnificent local multiple birth club that addressed this very issue and was run by Laura Morley, an ex-teacher who has developed a career based on toddler-related issues and, especially, toilet training. So I looked her up, paid for an online consultation, and put together a plan.
Laura’s approach was different to the standard ‘make a big fuss and reward action on the potty’ technique which had already failed to sufficiently motivate Hattie and Joe. Instead, she recommended switching the focus to celebrating keeping knickers clean and dry, so that going to the potty was just a side effect of achieving that. At her recommendation we made it a big game, with a game board each on the fridge and a counter to move around. We used a timer for each session and, when it ran, we’d get all excited to see who had clean and dry knickers, and that person would be able to move to another game square. Every few game squares we had a sticker and those signified a special surprise. These ranged from a Frozen chocolate coin to a new pair of gumboots (also Frozen). We definitely went overboard on the surprises – Laura suggests much more humble things, for the most part, but I was extremely keen to get both kids on board, and I actually had a few things that I’d bought for them – the new gumboots, some sandals for our upcoming trip to France, etc – that were quickly wrapped and presented as huge treats. And I set aside at least three days to devote to the exercise.
I thought that life would have been much easier if I could have just focussed on Joe, leaving Hattie to get involved when it suited her, but it really wasn’t possible: Joe couldn’t have surprises and excitement without her also being involved. We also hoped that some contagious excitement would spur them both on.
We started the game first thing on Saturday morning, and didn’t give the kids any warning at all. I actually hid all of the nappies, so there was no option but to participate. This was primarily for Hattie’s benefit: I was fairly sure that I could get Joe on board, but she was likely to prove to be a tougher customer. We got them into knickers, explained the game, rapidly reached the first sticker (with very short intervals in the game initially, so it would be easy to win), and set sail. We tried very hard not to constantly badger them about remembering to try on the potty (although we did slip up on this front occasionally). And when they did manage some potty action we still celebrated with a smartie and a Frozen sticker. Although it’s a bit gross, we made it as easy for them as possible to win by having the two potties in the living room, limiting the risk of them not getting there on time.
Joe got the hang of it really quickly, which was unsurprising. Hattie had a couple of big knicker-wetting incidences on Saturday and was extremely discouraged, wanting a nappy immediately, so we had to both remind her about the exciting game that she’d forfeit if she was in a nappy, and that there weren’t any nappies available anyway. We made sure that we only talked about ‘accidents’, not ‘mistakes’, and we talked a lot about how everybody has accidents when they’re learning how to wear knickers. By the end of Saturday both kids were doing pretty well.
Sunday was a bit more scratchy, and we had to work harder to keep up their enthusiasm. Joe had a couple of accidents, but nothing major, and Hattie had a couple of bigger accidents (no Code Brown knicker events, thank God). However, Hattie also successfully timed a big potty visit towards the end of the afternoon and was very pleased with herself, so we felt vaguely optimistic. We figured that we had to just see it through for the full three days and have faith that Laura’s advice was sound. We also suspected that things might actually click into place on the third day.
And sure enough: today was the third day, and it was awesome. Hattie made it through the entire day in the same pair of knickers, and earned herself many, many smarties and stickers on the way. Joe had a couple of tiny accidents, which are mainly down to timing than anything else. The only nappy-wearing for either child was during their nap and when they went to bed this evening, and both times they asked for their nappies to be removed for a last-minute potty visit before actually going to sleep.
So, the next challenge (which we haven’t yet tackled) will be successfully navigating using the loo somewhere other than at home: specifically, at their twin playgroup tomorrow. I’ll be at uni, so Pauline the Amazing Au Pair will handle it. We’ll also move the potties back to the bathroom, which will be lovely for all concerned. Both kids have successfully used the loo in the past, so we’re not worried about that particular transition, and when they’re still so new to it and not as well versed in timing their visits using two potties has definitely made life a lot easier.
While it’s great news for us that Hattie and Joe have finally had this breakthrough, the absolute best thing about it is the utter delight that they both showed when we told them how proud we are of them. And Hattie’s beaming face whenever she got off the potty today was a sight to behold.
I think Laura’s approach worked really well for us because it successfully gave both children exactly what they needed. Joe just needed more excitement and motivation, and never knowing what the next surprise would be really did the trick. And Hattie just needed to do well and break through that learning stage without giving up. Now that she’s managed it, I don’t think she’ll go backwards.
Yet again, my take-away message is this: never hesitate to ask for help with child-related issues!