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My Son Was a Late Potty Trainer

Photograph by Twenty20

My son officially stopped wearing diapers a week and a half before his 4th birthday.

I started slowly easing him into the idea shortly after his 3rd birthday by letting him run around without a diaper on so that he could learn the sensation of having to go to the bathroom. He adapted to that pretty quickly, but that was only the beginning of our long potty-training journey.

It seemed like every time he started to make progress, he’d stop. I’d see friends with kids younger than him rejoicing about how their kids had successfully started using the potty and it would make me feel terrible. Like I was failing as a mom. My kid was older, why couldn’t he just get it together already? It started to feel like I’d be changing diapers forever.

It sucks when your kid doesn’t want to go on the potty. Not only is it overwhelming, but it can be prohibitive. Most preschools won’t take 4-year-olds who aren’t potty trained. So, you constantly beat yourself up about it. They can speak in complete sentences, they can count to 100, they may even be able to read, so why the heck can’t they go on the potty?

It’s easy to think that somehow you’ve failed as a mother. I remember talking to a very good friend about the fact that her son is 4 and still doesn’t show much interest in wanting to go on the potty. “I feel like a failure,” she confessed.

I was all too familiar with what she was feeling. It hadn’t been that long since I was in the same place as she was. It's so easy to fall into that frame of mind, but it's completely untrue.

In all my desperate online research, I discovered that there's actually very little scientific research done on potty training. That in and of itself should say something. As of 2001, the average age of successful potty training for boys is 39 months; for girls, it was 35 months. That puts them within a few months of turning 3. So the 2-year-old you just saw? That’s not normal.

I seriously thought trying to get my son to poop on the toilet was going to be the death of me.

And professionals would agree. Andrea McCoy, MD, an associate pediatrics professor at Temple University says “We’re learning that pressuring children to achieve potty training isn’t constructive. Two-year-olds are working to express their autonomy. Engaging in power struggles with them is frustrating and fruitless.”

Now the frustration, I can relate to. I seriously thought trying to get my son to poop on the toilet was going to be the death of me. My son is stubborn. So am I. So at the end of the day, I played dirty.

One day, I just flat out refused to put a diaper on him if he had to poop. I was DONE. He screamed bloody murder as I sat him on that potty seat. I shoved his tablet at him and told him we’d sit there as long as it took.

“If you poop on the potty, you can have M&Ms for breakfast,” I cooed.

That, and the addition of a stool under his feet, seemed to do the trick. After a week, he only needed diapers at night. Nighttime training was the easiest because he had been waking up dry for a long time. So, we stopped liquids after 7 p.m. and I made him pee at least twice before bed. It was a long summer, but as September rolled in, we had done it.

As I posted our triumphs, I saw friends with little ones the same age as mine still struggling. “How did you do it?” they asked me. I told them my tricks, but I also told them that my son was finally just ready to be done with it.

Potty training is already stressful for you and your kid, no matter their age. Even the most patient mom reaches a point where she's just done. No one likes constantly having to ask, “Do you have to go potty?" Making sure you have enough clean underpants. Making sure you have enough stuff to clean the floor when they have an accident for what seems like the millionth time.

Now that I'm finally on the other side, here's the truth: You don’t need to stress about if you and your kid are “succeeding” at potty training. Every kid just operates on their own schedule. Just because they’re getting there later than others doesn’t mean that they—or you—are a failure. The day you put those thoughts out of your mind is when it will finally start to get easier. When I stopped constantly worrying about whether or not we were staying on track, it seemed like one day everything fell into place.

It’s not easy to see the light at the end of the tunnel when you’re just starting to dig. Trust me, if my kid managed it, so will yours. Just remember this: It's not a contest and no one gets an Earliest Potty Trainer ribbon. Let's be real: In just a few short years, we'll come to see that none of it really mattered in the end, anyway.

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