Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Potty Training Update

Sammy has supposedly been potty trained for over 9 weeks now, but we're still in the state where I'm cleaning poop off of the floor, underwear, pants, coats, shoes, and skin (including my own) every single day.  This is much worse than diapers.

About a week or two after she stared school, she got the hang of using the potty all the time.  That lasted for a week or so, and then she decided that she could poop in her pants.  This was bad enough, but Sammy has always been a frequent pooper, so it often meant 3 accidents per day.  At one point, I had found poop in her underwear when I picked her up from school every day for at least 2 weeks.  We made a big deal about not having accidents at school and she's been doing better lately, but it just means that the accidents happen at home now.

More recently, she has reduced her poops to once per day, usually.  That is something of a relief, but the whole problem is starting to wear on me.  I haven't done much about it because everything I've read and been told implies that there is nothing that I can do, and I should expect accidents.  But this is insane.  Here are some definitions of "accident:"

  • An unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance (Nope - I know it's going to happen every day)

  • Lack of intention or necessity (Nope - I know she can poop in the potty; at some level, she is choosing not to)

  • Used euphemistically to refer to an involuntary act or instance of urination or defecation (This is supposed to be the definition I'm looking for but, nope - it's not involuntary; I know she can control it if she puts the effort into it)

  • An unfortunate event resulting especially from carelessness or ignorance (OK, this might be an accurate description)

I guess my point is that these are not really accidents.  She has just chosen to stop using the potty.  Last week, in a moment of extreme frustration, I decided to try something.  Since she can not be trusted to use the potty on her own, I am going to have to force her to sit on it at regular intervals every day.  (I've never made her "try" to go to the potty.  I found that she would never, ever go when told, but if she did it at the time of her choosing, she'd be fine.  I might ask, "Do you need to use the potty?" before leaving the house, but if she says "No" then I let it go.  This has never caused pee accidents.  I totally trust her with that.  Adam makes her try, but I think he's wasting his time.)

So now, every morning and a few times each afternoon, I tell her she must sit on the potty for one minute.  I also force her to sit on it if I hear grunting noises.  I know that she will never poop during that minute.  But I'm trying to impose a consequence for her pooping in her pants.  She obviously does not care about being dirty, despite the conventional wisdom that kids don't like to have accidents or to be dirty.  I've explained to her that the reason we are doing this is that I can't trust her to go on her own.  I've already explained to her what it costs me when she poops in her pants.  I wish I could make her clean it up, but obviously she isn't ready for that.  I've explained about germs and wasted time and wasted money (we've thrown out so many pairs of underwear that I can't keep track anymore).  None of that seems to matter to her.  But I know that she hates to be told what to do, so that's what is going to happen now.  If she doesn't sit on the potty, I will hold her down.  Luckily, we haven't had to resort to that yet.

This technique worked with another problem we had a few weeks ago.  Sammy had stopped following me when we were walking together.  It could take a half hour to walk the 20 paces from the playground to the car and get her strapped in.  I've never been one to hold her hand and drag her around, but after putting up with these delays for a while, I told her that she had lost the privilege of walking by herself and that we had to hold hands whenever we were walking somewhere.  I told her we would do it for one week, and that's all it took.  After a week, she got her privilege back and she's been much better about sticking with me since.  She still needs constant reminders, but she listens.  I'm hoping that forcing the potty issue will work the same way.  I told her we'd start with a week, but that if she was still having accidents, that we'd keep doing it until she had learned to poop in the potty every single time.

So far, we've only had minor success.  She's put a couple of tiny nuggets in the potty, but it is obvious that she is holding it as long as possible and then losing control when she can't hold it anymore.  But I'm sticking with it until and unless I have a better idea.  Now, I'm off to do more laundry...


  1. My oldest wasn't fully potty trained until 3 3/4. Though with her it was almost entirely pee accidents and we did make her clean up after herself. She had to use papertowels to absorb the pee on the floor (or furniture) and place them into a plastic bag, use a Lysol wipe to clean the surface, put all of her dirty clothes into a plastic bag and take it to the laundry room. And every time she would beam with pride because she was so proud of being able to clean up after herself. It was infuriating. We tried using a timer set for every two hours which was only marginally successful.

    From what I remember, a lot of the not going was related to not interrupting whatever it was she was doing at the time. I know we want our kids to be intrinsically rewarded, but have you tried a little trinket/prize box for each poop in the potty? Perhaps filled with little things from the dollar store or those sticker ideas where a sticker for each success and then five successes means an ice cream cone or book of her choice from the store? That always sounded like a good idea though I think I felt it was generally too expensive or too inconvenient for me with the two kids.

    Desperate times call for desperate measures!

  2. Kim - I agree that rewards are fine in situations like this where there is no natural or logical reward or consequence that seems to work. We did try giving her an M&M as a reward each time she was successful, but that was a long time ago - before she was using the potty regularly. We got in trouble with it though because one time she wanted an M&M so badly that she sat on the potty and tried really hard to poop but there was nothing there to come out and she became quite distraught. I mean, she was REALLY upset, and we didn't want to give her a poop complex so we stopped that. :)

    But maybe it is worth revisiting the idea. I hate to use candy right now with Halloween candy still floating about, but I'll think about what might be appropriate. Carrot and stick together might work. And in this case, all I care about is what works for me. If she learns one bad lesson, well, that's just too bad. (But really, I don't think it would be such a bad lesson, as long as this is not the way we handle most things.) Thanks for the suggestion.

  3. As I remember from dog training, once the dog is doing what you want fairly regularly, they recommend to not give a treat every time. Go with every other time and then every third time and then randomly. Not that kids are dogs, but perhaps that's a way of doing the reward without it being expected every time? Or a way to help reduce the dependence on a reward. I seem to remember saying something along the lines of "well, no that your a big girl and can go on your own, we don't need the rewards as often" or something. Of course, it depends on the kid. My kids were stubborn! Didn't care about the toy rewards at all if it meant interrupting what they were already doing. I still remind the almost 8 year-old to go!

    In a situation like the straining to poop for a reward, it would have worked with my kids if I explained that they will poop when the time is right. If I explained that they're body makes poop every day and that even if they didn't have to poop right then that they were absolutely going to poop and likely it would be that day. They have always been into biological explanations (of course, that could be because I've always given them biological explanations). They liked being reassured that they were going to get the reward eventually if we were patient and if they were upset about an accident I think I probably said "good thing you have to poop again soon so you can try next time!" At least that's what I hope I said or will say.

    It's been a long time and it's good for me to think these things through before I try to potty train my littlest. Thanks for posting these updates because they jog my memory and help me remember what a long road I have ahead of me!

  4. Have you tried role playing? Sammy could teach a stuffed animal to be potty trained; during which, she may verbalize the answers to some of your questions about why this problem continues.

  5. One of the reward techniques that has worked very well for Jackson is the Chart and the Treasure. Each time he does a thing (or avoids something, depending on the issue) he gets a star on his chart. When he get a certain number of marks in a row, he gets to select a gift from a treasure box full of small, dollar store-ish toys. His classroom at school is organized along these lines and we use it at home for TV time. One of the big thrills is allowing him to put on the stars or mark off his own progress on the chart -- he loves it.

    It's very flexible and the threshold for the rewards can be increased as they get better at making it. We've never had much trouble becoming dependent on it, as he's always been willing to move on when it's clear the thing is not a problem any longer.

    Might be worth a try with Sammy. She has such a good memory and is so perceptive and self-motivating that this sort of longer range program seems to me like it might work.


  6. Hey everyone! She was clean after school and I decided, what better use for the Halloween candy, if I'm going to offer a reward. While we ate lunch, I told her that she could have one piece of candy each time she pooped on the potty, and a half hour later - success!

    I have no idea if it will continue to work, but it's something.

    Jim - Sammy has done role-playing with dolls on the potty on her own, but we've never done it with her. From what I've heard, the dolls use the potty and she tells them "good job." I don't think she would do it if I were there with her. That's just her way.

    Jon - I might have to update Sammy's cooperation chart with your ideas. Right now, her stars don't add up to anything, and get erased at the end of the week. The current version of the cooperation chart seems to be at the end of its usefulness anyway. She's still acting out more than she used to, but she isn't defying me at every moment like she was before I put up the chart. I might reduce the "tasks" to 2-3, one being proper potty use, and let her accumulate stars. That would also be a good way to transition out of a reward for each occurence, as Kim was discussing.

    Thanks, everyone!

  7. We've been struggling with this, too (with Finn who is I think just about Sam's age). He figured out peeing on the potty maybe 6 months ago, but there was a long and not too pleasant period when he just stubbornly refused to poop anywhere but in his underwear. That finally resolved itself (details below), but in the last month or so, he's almost completely "forgotten" how to pee. So, no poop "accidents" for a long time, but it's been 3-10 pee "accidents" per day for a while now. It's like some kind of ridiculous whack-a-mole game or something.

    Anyway, I'm not 100% proud of it, but a kind of bribery seems to have been what finally solved at least the poop problem for us. Finn gets to watch a little TV some/most days during the week, so at some point we just explained to him that he was old enough now to be doing all his poop on the potty, so he would need to "earn his TV" by pooping on the toilet. So, more or less in line with Kim's dog training analogy, for a while we let him watch TV immediately after successfully pooping on the toilet, and then as that became normal, we gradually cut the direct tie so that, roughly, he can watch his usual bit of TV each day, whenever it turns out to be convenient, on the grounds that he's pooped on the potty lately.

    (Aside: I'm upstairs taking a break before my wife leaves for an evening meeting and as I was typing that last sentence Finn came out of his room to tell mommy that he had just peed in his pants! Sigh!!)

    Anyway, with the pooping thing, that seemed to work well. The immediacy of the reward seemed to help, but it's been quite easy to wean him off of that into the more generalized "TV is a big-boy privilege you get to do if you do big-boy things like pooping on the potty."

    Maybe it's time to implement the same approach now with peeing? Of course, then he'll probably start puking in his shoes or something... Whack-a-mole.

  8. Sorry to hear your struggles. Pooping was the issue for us, too. Karina took about a half year after she was consistently dry to poop on the potty. We tried bribes - which worked like a charm for peeing - and role playing - but no luck. We knew she could control it - she would always poop in her diaper in the early morning and during her afternoon nap - but she would just get MAD MAD MAD if we 'caught' her and asked/carried her to the toilet.

    What finally succeeded was analogous to Ryan's story: She really was looking forward to going to preschool. Every day we drove past the school, we talked about how only big kids go, and that big kids poop on the potty. She finally decided that she'd poop on the potty during our summer vacation - and, lo and behold, on the first day there she did it, and by the end of the summer she was indeed ready to to go school.

    Not sure if there is a similar 'natural event' for Sammy that you could link to in a similar way, but it might be worth thinking about.

  9. Trevor had no issues with poop, but has been very slow in consistenetly peeing in the toilet. He would just pee in his pants and demand to be changed. We used stickers as rewards, but they did not lead to anything, we just bought stickers that he thought were really neet and he looked forward to the chance to pick one and put it on his chart. It actually did help him focus on peeing in the toilet but provided no incentive to avoid accidents.

    One thing that really helped us over the last hurdle--though accidents still happen--was new underwear. He had plain white training pants that he wore at school, but largely because of unpredictable traffc he came home in diapers. Then Yuen found underwear with firetrucks and police cars on them and, needless to say, Trevor just had to wear them every chance he could. We told him that he coud wear his new underwear, but if he peed in them he would go back to diapers for the rest of the day. He started doing much better almost immediately. He would get one pair of underwear a day, once he wet it, back to diapers. As he got better and accidents became fewer, we just dropped the rule.

    Last weekend he had a bad relapse in which he had several accidents and one even seemed purposeful. After the last one Yuen took his dirty pants off and told him he had peed in enough pants for the day, we did not want to wash any more, and that he would go without pants or underwear until bath time It was dinnertime, so it was not an eterninty, but Trevor hates to be without pants, and even walking from the bathroom to his room to fetch a pair of pants seems like an eternity. He had a traumatic half hour or so before consenting to eat dinner. Then he was off to bath time and--if memory serves--has not had another accident since.

    So get Sammy some dinasour underwear (though you might have to get Adam a pair too so he does not get jealous).