Photo by: Verónica Moscoso

Potty Training: What Finally Worked

Photo by: Verónica Moscoso

When I picked up my three-year-old daughter from daycare, her blue eyes sparkled when she saw me. With a big grin on her face she announced, “I pooped my panties.” My heart sank. What was she so happy about?

At some point in the potty training process, my girl refused to sit on the potty for number two and started going in her underwear. Most of my friends’ kids were fully potty trained by the age of three. When they saw my frustration, her teachers at daycare repeated ancient knowledge, “Every kid is ready in their own time. She’s still little.”

The voices of reason didn’t convince me. Impatient, I tried all the traditional methods and the less traditional ones too. I put raisins in the potty and told her that the potty likes to eat the poop. I made up a poop song and we sang it out loud, laughing together. I created a potty training book especially for her, featuring princesses and magical horses.

A more relaxed mom would have put her back in diapers and forgot about trying, but the clock was ticking for us. My daughter was going to preschool soon. Many preschools only accept three-year-olds that are fully potty trained.

I found a great preschool. It was bilingual like my child. It was full time and I needed to work. They provided meals so I didn’t have to worry about preparing food. It was close to my house. The best part was that I could afford it. It was half of the price of what most private preschools cost. In the San Francisco Bay Area, where we live, the price for a full time preschool is at least $1,600 a month.

The only problem with this preschool, that I thought perfect for my girl, was that it required kids to be fully potty trained.

There are many reasons why a child has potty training challenges, and, I figured that in my girl’s case, it was a power struggle with me. Pooping whenever and wherever she wanted was the one thing about her life that I couldn’t control. It was HER thing.

My daughter is fully potty trained now at the age of four, and she’s happy in her second year at the “perfect” preschool that I can afford. What did I do?

Well, I did everything that could help, including hypnotherapy for her. Most importantly, I changed my approach. The goal was to convince her that pooping in the potty was not about pleasing or upsetting mom. It was about her learning a new skill. With this new approach I potty trained her again. For four days in a row, she got no underwear unless she pooped in the potty. When she did it, I gave her a nice reward: a lollipop. It worked.

The days of feeling pressured and pressuring my girl with potty training are gone. (Although I still give her a sweet when she does it in the potty.) I constantly have to remind myself about power struggles. I try to balance discipline and rules with making her feel powerful. I’m not saying it’s easy. She’s four-years-old for God’s sake and I’m the mother. I need to call the shots. Sometimes I say, “no,” and then realize that it was unnecessary. Sometimes I think her demands are just whims, and I forget to negotiate.

I’m learning as I go, and I’m getting better at understanding who my child is. She needs to feel power and control and, to be honest, I get it because… in that way she’s just like me.

Verónica Moscoso is an award-winning filmmaker, author and journalist. In 2011, she earned a masters degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She’s the author of two books and various published articles, photographs, multimedia, documentaries and radio pieces, both in English and Spanish. She’s also the creator of the Perfect Mom Web Series.

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