My daughter only knows one song on the radio: Stressed Out by Twenty One Pilots. I sing it in the car (don’t judge me) and now that she recognizes the lyrics, she randomly requests it. Her timing can be odd. So it was when she asked me to sing while she learned to poop in the toilet. Still, it felt like an appropriate choice. My wife and I had opted for the three-day, no pants, potty training method. Stressed out? Yup.
The idea, initially at least, was to minimize stress. The pantsless potty training method requires locking the family in the house for a long weekend. The idea was that my daughter would run around commando, and we’d direct her towards the toilet quickly when she had to potty. At the end of it all, we’d say goodbye to diapers forever. Every parent friend who had tried the technique raved about their success. Sure, they’d say, there were a few accidents here and there, but it was practically foolproof.
My kid is smart. She speaks well. She had already pooped in a toilet once or twice. I went into the three-day experiment with some fecal hubris: If anybody could pick up potty training in three days, it’d be her. I set my expectations absurdly high. Like, new-Star-Wars-after-20-years high. My daughter would enter the weekend a 27-month-old toddler in diapers and walk out of the house on Monday morning with the bladder and bowel control of a sober 25 year old. Then she would fix the wifi router.
My wife, on the other hand, had done some proper reading ⏤ we were using Oh Crap! Potty Training as a guide ⏤ and entered the weekend with more realistic expectations. She understood that learning the fine art of not crapping yourself after two years of doing nothing but crapping yourself wouldn’t exactly be an easy lesson to learn. Especially with a brain under construction and no clear consequences for not taking a dump on the rug.
We bought a portable potty, a step stool, and a kid seat attachment for our normal toilet. Our daughter practiced for weeks in anticipation, climbing on and off the toilets while we sang the Daniel Tiger classic hit, “If you have to go potty, stop and go right away.” We had Paw Patrol stickers and chocolate chips for rewards (trading chocolate for poop seemed like the obvious choice). The rug was rolled up and the doors to our carpeted rooms closed.
The weekend kicked off—haltingly. Neither of us could take a full day off from work so my wife cut out early on a Friday and got the potty party started in the afternoon. Two-and-a-half days should be fine, right? Again, nope. Still, by the time I walked in from work that evening, my daughter had both pooped and peed in the toilet and we were off to what looked like the easiest potty training ever recorded in human history.
Then came a rocky Saturday morning. Three-day potty training is just like any other long weekend, except you can’t leave the house, get anything done, and your kid is not wearing pants. So we did normal Saturday morning stuff ⏤ read books, strung beads, rolled Play-Doh, did puzzles, watched television, ate pancakes. But it was way more exhausting than normal because we were focused on her potty signals in a desperate attempt to keep her from peeing on the couch.
By mid morning I lost focus, and, while my wife was out running errands, I took our daughter outside. Maybe it was a warm breeze or the grass on her feet, but it didn’t take five minutes for the flood gates to open. No bouncing around, no “Dad I have to go,” no signals at all ⏤ just a frozen kid with a forceful stream of pee shooting down her leg. Later that afternoon she dropped a nugget on the floor en route to the potty. That said, it was one of the few times in my life where I could say having a person shit on my floor was a relative success. She was starting to get it. She just hadn’t totally caught on.
I did notice how her demeanor changed throughout the course of the day with regard to going to the bathroom. What had once been an exciting new adventure slowly morphed into a chore. She’d squirm and fight to get off the toilet. We had maybe put too much pressure on the whole deal, her defiance grew and was acting out. “I don’t want to go poop on the potty,” she told us. And that’s how we learned to stop badgering our kid. Honestly, I knew that going in ⏤ don’t keep asking if she has to go, don’t keep reminding her to tell us ⏤ but, man, it’s hard not to do. You’re naturally compelled to ask and, in the end, they get tired of hearing it. It’s better to use your eyes more and your words less.
In retrospect, we should have slowed down and mellowed out. One friend had recommended putting our phones in a box. We did not do that. We were in the wrong head space and that contributed to her being in the wrong butt space.
Despite falling into bed exhausted and mildly concerned Saturday night, we were still pretty pleased with her showing. In fact, by Sunday afternoon we were so confident, we put her in shorts in an attempt to get her ready for daycare the next day. It felt too early. It was too early. She peed into those short in 10 minutes flat without bothering to say a word.
The optimism we’d felt the night before drained away. It felt like we’re back to square one. Only now, we had less than a quarter left in the game. But in my zeal for seeing her complete the process I forget that the whole weekend was the start of something bigger; something that our day care provider would thankfully help us with in the weeks to come. As the clock struck bedtime on Sunday, she had registered a couple of poops in the toilet and only four real accidents over the course of the two-and-a-half days. Not bad all things considered. We still wished we had another day, but life isn’t always like that.
In the end, the three-day pantless method was a great start to potty training. It was also an exhausting way to spend some quality time with my kid. If I learned one thing, it’s this: Everyone wants to pretend that these processes can be tidy and they can’t. There’s no magic poop bullet. It doesn’t end on that Sunday or Monday night. In fact, over a week later I have just scrubbed two pairs of underwear out in the toilet. (Hers, not mine.) The process goes on. But I know my girl is learning a difficult skill. And now that I’ve set my expectations accordingly, I’m decidedly less Stressed Out. About potty training, at least.