You're Nobody 'Till Some Potty Loves You

A friend of mine recently posted in my guestbook about potty tips. As I wrote him back, it surprised me how little I actually remembered about the whole experience. Even though Marcus has the basics down, my dad life still very much revolves around potty-related practices. So, before these are forever lost, I wanted to get them on paper. These are in no particular order – just random spatters, if you will. Disclaimer: the following methodologies have not been endorsed by the American Pediatric Association, and once you read them, that fact will be fairly obvious.

Rocket Pee:

Due to positioning constraints, this one applies to boys only. Getting a child to potty in a toilet is an uphill battle from the get-go. Hmm… get your butt off the couch, walk down the hall, do your business, flush, put the toilet seat down (I accept this convention under duress), wash your hands, make your way back and get comfortable again, vs. shift/let loose/grab another Cheeto. Also factor this into the equation: with the level of moisture absorbing technology available in today’s diapers, a “wet diaper” is no longer a deterrent. At worst, it becomes a heavy diaper, which is irrelevant anyway if you’re seated.

So, the challenge we face as parents is to enhance the potty experience with something that levels the playing field until the toilet ceases to become a cost/benefit decision. Applause and “what a big boy” only go so far, and, really, by the time they get to potty age, there are so many activities and cutesy things they could do to earn these accolades that their devaluation rate rivals that of the Turkish Lira. No, to win you must up the intrinsic fun factor in the act of pee projection itself. I call this the Rocket Pee.

Suspend your son low over the toilet, perpendicular to the bowl, business-end down. To minimize stress on your lower back, use an over/under cradle hold. Best way I can describe it is as if you were holding a rolled-up carpet. Now begin the countdown. To do this right you need to really commit to that countdown. No half-assing it. You are mission control – become it, static transmission and all (This is mission control to Space Voyager Fury chhhhchh… Are we ready to commence countdown?). Begin the countdown, and when blast off occurs, your son will make the correct assumption as to what’s supposed to happen. Reinforce this by lifting him progressively higher as the jets let loose. The ancillary benefit of this method is that you also train bladder control by incorporating the countdown.

A variation that also works well is “Flamethrower.” You can play this with co-pilot (the over-under cradle) or solo (standing). Rip two or three small pieces of toilet paper and designate them as cities, islands or ships. Now that you have targets, send in the big gun to ravage said targets. I suppose you could give this game a less destructive name like “Fire Hose,” but since we often use live targets (spiders, ants and other critters that I happen to be exterminating), this moniker makes more sense (I’ve never heard of anyone rescuing a flaming spider).

Because potty training is more about control than the toilet per se, another tactic I used to utilize was a simple change of environment. Sometimes when I needed Marcus to pee on demand (true bladder control involves both sides of the coin: holding and releasing at will), I would take him outside on a search & destroy mission. We’d locate a column of ants making their way into the house and unleash the fury. I’d hum the March of the Valkyries to enhance the experience. Beats peeing in your diaper, doesn’t it?

Poo-Poo Pointers:

My intuition and actual experience had me believing that this was a lot easier to train than peeing, but now I have heard otherwise. So, in the hopes that it may help some of you, here’s what I can remember about the subject:

  • My son always had a “tell” when pooping was imminent. In his case, the tell was pretty obvious: his eyebrows would turn crimson (like someone holding their breath too long). He’d also cease all activity and don a stoic expression, as if he suddenly decided to ponder the condition of man. At that point, it was simply a matter of being within a 20 second scoop n’ run to the nearest toilet. When he had to pee, the tell was non-existent. I have 2 soiled computer chairs in my home office because I could not discern the warning signs, and whatever was happening on was just too compelling for him to pause at the moment.
  • Here’s a two-bird killer. Whenever Marcus succeeded in doing his duty in the toilet, we’d play CSI: Toilet. This game requires you to peer into the depths and decipher what foods contributed to this latest crop. If it had a stony composition, I’d say “that one probably hurt coming out, eh? Next time, let’s eat more fruit -- maybe it’ll even float!” Corn was the most amusing, along with lettuce. These two food items pretty much stay intact, making them a great visual aide for illustrating the entire digestive process. Trying to comprehend how the pizza you ate yesterday became that brown mass requires too much of a leap of faith; seeing that corn come out the other side intact reinforces this biology lesson better than anything. Bird 1: Pooping in the potty. Bird 2: Encouraging fruits and vegetables. Bonus Bird: Learning about the human digestive system.

Teach This Phrase:

Along with “Due Diligence,” the term “Pre-Emptive” is one of the most useful big words that I have taught Marcus. As every parent knows, a day trip is only as good as the number of conveniently located bathrooms along the way. Nothing conjures up scenes of disaster more than a child in potty training, with no safety net, needing to find a place to relieve himself NOW (it’s akin to the helpless anxiety felt when playing Perfection as a kid… 9 seconds left, 6 pieces to fit in before it all explodes in your face). And we all know the answer, yet we still ask “can you hold it?” – the Hail Mary pass of potty training. Just once I’d like to see my son pause, reflect and state, “why yes father, now that I think about it, I can hold it. Carry on.” To avoid these moments, the Pre-Emptive Pee is your best friend.

The Pre-Emptive Pee isn’t something that’s deliberately taught. It must start out as an incidental label. This is where the games outlined above come in. By making your child pee as part of a fun activity like dispersing ants, you are essentially setting the pee timer back to zero. The bladder is empty, and as long as you track his liquid consumption from that point on, you can more or less predict the onset of subsequent urges. To create a linguistic association, you now simply say to your child “now that’s what I call a Pre-Emptive Pee!” In that context, he’ll assume the term pre-emptive means something along the lines of awesome, great or heroic. Over time, and several ants, spiders, moths and toilet paper islands later, the Pre-Emptive Pee will be something that he’ll be able (and willing) to perform on cue.

To reap the full benefit of the Pre-Emptive Pee, you eventually do need to explain to your child what pre-emptive means. And there’s no trick to this. You simply break it to him that pre-emptive means to do something now so you don’t have to do it later. Why do this at all? Because you can now simply say something like “OK son, we have a long drive ahead of us, let’s all do a Pre-Emptive Pee.” Then, when he objects with “But I don’t have to pee!” you say “eeeexactly! That’s why I said pre-emptive.” The funniest thing about this is that you’ll experience that priceless sitcom moment: “oh yeah dad!” followed by a shared laugh between the two of you, as he complies. This really happens. Every time!