Life Game: Potty Training Edition

Dearest Gamers,

Sorry for the long silence, but I’ve been very busy navigating my way through all the complex quests in Level 2. I won’t go into all of the stuff I’ve been doing now (the coup I staged on the Brother’s pre-school deserves a post all of its own I think) because right now I want to talk you through the Potty Training quest.

At some point during Level 2 I was given a scroll, signed by the Mummy. It said:

“Congratulations! You are now a Big Girl. I have removed all nappies from your inventory and replaced them with Pants with Cartoon Characters and Anthropomorphised Fruit on. From now on, when you perform Wee or Poo actions on the Potty or Toilet, you will receive 1 Sweet.”onderbroeken

I have to say I was a bit dazzled by this news to begin with, for several reasons:

1. I’d always been a Little Girl. What was involved in being a Big Girl? Would I still get to wrap up in a massive towel and Play Baby? Would I still get hugs?

2. I checked my stats, but I hadn’t gained any height. How was I going to get up onto the toilet? I can’t even get onto the space hopper! Or the balance bike!

3. Sweets had always been a precious commodity, rarely available in the house, and if they were in stock, they were usually enchanted by the Fairy Godmother with a “Mine”-spell. Were they now really freely available? Just by weeing or pooing in the potty? It seemed like there must be a hidden trap somewhere.

So I gave it a go a few times. I weed on the floor – got wet. I weed on my chair – got wet. I weed in the potty – got a sweetie, as promised. I tried the toilet too, which was even better, as it comes not just with sweets but with a whole flushing routine. Finally I was actually allowed, nay, required to press the awesome Button of Rushing Water.

The only trouble is: how do you know when to sit on the potty in order to get a sweetie? I started off trying as often as possible for maximum sweetie-revenue, but sometimes I’d just sit there with no result, getting more and more frustrated. The Mummy would say “Never mind, just try again later. When you feel like you need to do a wee, go straight to the potty, okay?”

I wanted to say: “But I am not yet fully aware of the urge to urinate and my response is therefore often as not, too late.”

Sadly, that was not a conversation option at Level 2.

So, rather than working out this tricky “urge” and knowing just when to go, I have been working on an alternate, subversive strategy for sweet acquisition that I would like to share with you all here.

But shhhhh, this is super-secret.

What you do is: turn the tables on the Mummy and potty train her instead.

The trick is to turn up the pressure on the Mummy to such a degree that she gives up on waiting for you to learn to recognise when you need to go, and just works out when she needs to put you on the potty on time for you to do a wee.

Turning up the pressure is easy:

1. Choose your friends carefully: only associate with fully potty trained model toddlers. They will make the Mummy feel embarrassed that you are still not trained.

2. Puddles: make as many as you can, in as many different places as you can. And be sure to look adorably distressed at the result. This dials up both the Embarrassment and the Sympathy. I can recommend the pharmacy as an excellent place for a puddle, as well as a grown up friend’s new carpet. Puddles that destroy stuff are even better: try weeing on puzzles or library books.

3. Regularity: time your puddles. Make sure it is a pattern that is easy to recognise though, Mummies can be a bit dim. As soon as she notices the pattern she will find it impossible to resist the urge to beat you to it and put you on the potty just before it is puddle-time.

It’s brilliant. I’ve got my Mummy pretty well trained now and the sweets and congratulatory cuddles just keep on coming. I’m just hoping that she doesn’t cotton on it’s actually her that’s doing it, or she might start pocketing the winnings for herself.

Try it for yourself and let me know how you get on!

Love & kisses,

The Girl

girl in garden


Loud ‘n Proud: Independence is Messy

mummy's shoesTheoretically, this whole business of bringing up children is all about teaching them to be independent.

Is it bad that I kind of like them being dependent? Or rather, I would love them to be independent, but I severely dislike all the hassle of getting them there.

The other day I was at a friend’s house, and we fell silent when her nearly 3 year old wandered into where we were chatting, carrying a cup of milk.

“Did you get that yourself?” my friend asked him.

“Yeah,” he told her (to rhyme with “Duh”), sipping his milk.

When we had both finished having retrospective heart attacks, my friend told me that her sons do this more and more often now: they open the fridge, rummage around and pour themselves drinks.

Mine don’t, I thought. I squash that kind of initiative as soon as I see the thought developing in the Boy’s mind. I picture a lake of milk on the kitchen floor that I will need to clean up – and I hate cleaning. Carrying food or drinks around the house? No way, too much opportunity for spillage and breakage. Getting things out of cupboards? Nope. My cupboards are messy and precariously stacked – pulling the wrong item out in the wrong way will cause an avalanche. Let Mummy do it.

The more I thought about it, the more I realised that my children moving from stage to stage, gaining independence, doing things for themselves terrifies me. I get used to the status quo, fit my life around it, and then they go and change things up and mess up my systems. This goes for the Boy at pre-school age, and doubly so for my little girl, who is nearly two.

I like carrying the Girl up and down the stairs, strapping her into her booster seat at the table, putting her in a corner with her Mannies and letting her

Please. Just sit here and play.

Please. Just sit here and play.

play while I work. I like it when she drinks out of sippy cups and eats everything I put in front of her. I like dressing and undressing her, scooping her up and plonking her in the car so we can leave the house ten minutes before we need to collect the Boy from pre-school. I like her sleeping in her cot.

But the time for these things is fading.

Lopen! [walk]” she insists and wriggles out of my arms. She wants to walk herself.

“Stairs!” she shouts, and I am not even allowed to hold the doll or the big book she wants to carry down with her as she takes step by reckless step.

Klimmen! [climb]” she shrieks, and I have to put her down next to the car and tear my hair out as she first winds down her window, then painfully slowly, slipping and getting a better grip, she clambers into her car seat herself and we tear down country lanes and arrive breathlessly at pre-school, catching the teacher with the phone in her hand ready to call and find out where I am.

“Open! Juicy!” she commands, climbing onto the little stool that she has carried into the kitchen herself, plonking the sippy cup angrily onto the work surface. She keeps a close eye on me as I take the lid off, fill it with a dash of juice and plenty of water, and offer it to her, lid off, on one condition: “Sit down! Sit down to drink!” I tell her. She yanks the cup out of my hands again and drains it, standing up on the stool.

She can do it. She’s nearly two.

Tonight, it was like she offered me a choice.

She pooed in the bath.

“Oh! Poo!” she said, surprised.

“No! Poo! Quick, get out!” the Boy shrieked hysterically and climbed out of the bath.

While I cleared up the mess, I offered the Girl the potty to sit on. “Haha! Potty!” she exclaimed in glee. She stood up and sat back down several times. When I had contained the problem and cleaned the most urgent things I was ready to shoo her off the potty and get her back into a nappy.

“No! Potty!” she insisted and walked back and sat on it again. I let her and helped the Boy dry his hair. Then we heard a sound.

“She’s doing a wee!” The Boy exclaimed in delight.

We both hugged and praised the Girl for being so clever. She got to flush the wee down the toilet herself and as a special treat, got to wash her hands standing on the step by the wash basin.

I considered this little vignette she had presented me with: what do you want mother? Do you want to scoop poo out of the bath forever, or shall I grow up and learn to take care of myself, step by messy step?

Of course, like always in parenting, it wasn’t a real choice. She is going to become independent, whether I like it or not. So I will embrace it, and offer her the opportunities to learn and grow that she is so desperate for.

I put her nappy on, and tucked her up in her cot with Pop & her million other favourite cuddlies.

“Tomorrow,” I sighed. “Independence can begin tomorrow.”


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Potty Training Confessions: 9 months down the line

pottyI have not mentioned potty training on here for a long time.

This has a reason.

Like Mummy K, I find that I write the future. Or rather, the inverse of the future. Writing about anything on my blog, especially drawing beautifully tied-up-in-a-bow conclusions about anything, will almost guarantee that it changes the next day. For example, no sooner had I written about my son’s lack of interest in reasons and how he never asked “Why”, or he decided that maybe that was quite interesting after all and now I can’t blink without him wanting to know why I did that.

Potty training has been the same. Back in November of last year, I wrote that he had pretty much cracked it once he discovered you could make numbers and letters with poo. Almost as if he had been reading my blog and was determined not to let me be too smug, he instantly reverted to soiling his underpants and has not really stopped since. Also, having been pretty much dry in the daytime initially, the novelty of going to the toilet soon wore off and he found that these visits to the bathroom were just an annoying distraction from play or TV watching or Doing Numbers, and he started leaving it just a little bit too late. Every. Single. Time.

washing shortsFor months, we have been going through on average 4 pairs of pants a day. On a Shy Poo day (as I call it), when the Boy very slowly releases little bits of poo into his underpants, squeezing them between his bottom for maximum discomfort and mess, this might be more like 6. The washing seems endless. I am forever hanging upside down scooping poo from a little boy’s bottom with toilet paper, then needing to change to wipes to get the really stubborn bits off (sorry, hope you weren’t eating dinner or anything).

“Remember,” I say when he gets impatient, “If you go to the toilet and do your poo there, Mummy only needs to do one wipe. If you poo in your underpants , it will take twenty minutes and half a roll of toilet paper. Your choice.”

Two months ago we hit a crisis point. I was getting increasingly wound up by the situation. I started getting very angry every time he had an accident – or “incident”, as I preferred to think of it, as calling it an “accident” implies that no one is at fault (thanks Hot Fuzz). I started to feel that he was deliberately choosing not to go to the toilet, therefore doing it on purpose, therefore being defiant. And defiance is a bit of a red rag for me.

Toilet trips became more and more stressful for both of us. We would both get very angry. Things were not improving.

Then two things happened:

1) My husband said to me one day after another toilet related confrontation: “He needs to know you are on his side.” Those words stuck in my head: He needs to know I am on his side.

2) I was idly flicking through my old friend Penelope Leach again, and happened on her chapter on potty training. She suggests that for young children their poo is something they can control, and they will often use it to take some control in a situation where they feel powerless.

I put these two things together:

The Boy is most likely choosing not to go to the toilet, as I suspected. He is doing it to exercise control. Why? Because he feels powerless and he doesn’t feel like I am on his side.

This was a sobering thought.

The next day I sat down with the Boy and I told him: “I am really sorry that I keep getting angry with you about going to the toilet. I promise that I will do my very best not to get cross with you. You are a big boy and you can choose when to go to the toilet. I will leave it up to you. It is your choice.”

The Boy gave a very decided nod and said: “Yes,” in a tone that suggested this was what he had been thinking all along and he was pleased I had caught up.

So that is what we did. There weren’t any more or any less accidents, but we were happier.

cleaning productsYesterday I realised that things were actually very gradually improving. The Boy is taking the initiative to go to the toilet more often than he was. The other day, he even went up without making any fuss and did a poo without any prompting or help, and kept his underpants clean. As the Fairy Godmother remarked, his hit-to-miss-ratio seems to be improving. Maybe it’s 2-3 pairs of underpants a day now instead of 4.

Of course today, while I have been writing this post, he has been burning through freshly laundered pants and shorts like there is no tomorrow and even managed to smear poo on the IKEA step, the bathroom floor and the lovely cream carpet on the stairs.

But still I want to record that I am proud of him. That he is making progress, even if it is slow. He is making an effort. He is starting to care more about whether he is wet or dry.

“My pants are clean! Mummy is soooo proud of me!” he beams, sitting on the toilet.

And I really am.


Linking up to Loud ‘n Proud.

Literacy and Numeracy with Poo

How can something so innocuous be the source of so much pain and suffering?

How can something so innocuous be the source of so much pain and suffering?

Well, despite all my misgivings (see posts one and two on potty training), the Boy has had a breakthrough with the potty and seems to be as sorted as you can be when you’re three.

So, of course you will now want to know: what was the secret? What made him decide to abandon the easy life of weeing and pooing where you stand, to having to go and take your trousers off and sit on an uncomfortable receptacle, followed by wiping and hand washing and all sorts of things that take you away from doing what you want for absolutely AGES?

Two things: chocolate and numbers.

This should not have been a surprise, really. From when he was tiny, the Boy has always been easily pacified and distracted by food, and, well, you all know about his obsession with numbers. We have yet to find anything that isn’t made better by adding numbers into the mix.

This is what we did:


1. Bribery: All the left over chocolate coins in the Boy’s birthday treasure chest were pressed into service as a reward for doing wees in the potty – TWO for a poo, as this was proving to be more of a challenge, just as Pirate Pete had said it would. The Boy soon cottoned on, and would come running in from a trip to the potty shouting: “One gold coin, Mummy!” He did struggle, however, to understand that it wasn’t so much the presence of a deposit in the potty that earned the coin as where it had originally been deposited. All too often he would poo in his pants, tip the poo into the potty and come and demand double rewards. (My apologies if you are eating while reading this, but then it’s your own fault, the word ‘poo’ in the title should have tipped you off)

DSCF45862. Reward chart with numbers: When the gold coins ran out, I switched to a sticker chart. This proved surprisingly popular. I thought he’d like it less as it drastically reduced the treat-frequency, but as it turned out numbers were more exciting even than chocolate. I drew ten footsteps per row, numbered them and ended each row with a star. The first two stars were some kind of edible treat and the third star was a small present (eg. a little wind up ladybird from Mothercare @ £1). He again earned one sticker for a wee and two for a poo. “Number 3, Mummy!” he would shout elatedly while pressing a sticker onto the footstep, “seven footsteps to go!” He was doing subtraction without breaking a sweat. We went through three of these charts before I just quietly didn’t make another and he didn’t ask after it.

3. Poo numbers and letters: By this time, the number of floor puddles had reduced to zero and he had stopped soiling his underwear. Poos were still an issue, though, and every other day we would have almost non-stop potty trips trying to get shy faeces to come out, until in desperation I just left his trousers off. It worked. He came running up to me in triumph, mostly naked, saying: “Come and see Mummy! I made a J for Judith!” In trepidation, I went to have a look. Resting neatly inside the potty, was a massive long poo, with a curve at the bottom. It was, in fact, a J. He hadn’t touched it with his hands, it had just come out like that. This moment marked a turning point for the Boy. Poo was no longer scary. Poo was a new opportunity to spot numbers and letters in every day life. I am now regularly called in to admire a “number 1” or an “opposite 7” (backwards) or a “letter R: down, up, round and FLICK!” (thanks, Squigglet). A slightly unorthodox method of learning to read, I believe, or even to potty train, but it works for The Boy.

So there you have it. The Boy appears to be mostly potty trained. It took about 6 weeks from the Day of Constant Puddles to now. The lessons I have learned from this would be, firstly, that the key to successful potty training is owned by each child themselves and has something to do with their character and special interests (really not rocket science, I guess) and secondly, that the key to successful literacy and numeracy teaching is, of course, poo.

Wees and poos in

Potty training. We’re having another go.

The Boy recently turned three, and I had sort of in my head decided that I would have another attempt at getting him out of nappies soon after his birthday. If you are struggling with potty training, please read about my first attempt, no really, it will make you feel better.

I will write more about his birthday later, but for now the most important thing to note is that he got three cuddly Numberjacks. They go absolutely everywhere with him now and are even rivalling the much loved and abused Teddy. So one evening the Numberjacks were getting ready for bed, just like the Boy, and he presented them to have their nappy changed. I started pretending to change 3’s nappy when I suddenly stopped and said: “Hang on: 3, 4 and 5 don’t wear nappies! They’re big Numberjacks! They wear pants! And do you know what, you’re three now, and you’re big, so tomorrow, you can wear pants too.”

I put him to bed and gave myself a well-deserved pat on the back and a gold star for a) quick thinking and b) model parenting and c) exploiting the Numberjacks.

The next day, I spent all day mopping up floor puddles and changing his clothes.

The second day, I decided there was nothing wrong with bribery. He was awarded a chocolate coin for doing wees and poos in the potty.

The third day, he was good at doing wees in the potty, but I had to change SEVEN soiled pairs of pants, that just did not seem to bother him in the least. I had to ask him to show me the contents of the offending underpants, tipped off by the smell, otherwise he would have happily kept playing. He then took great glee in watching me tip the poo from his pants into the toilet and then he demanded chocolate coins. I had to explain that the deal was that he had to deposit straight from his body into the potty, with no intermediate stop offs in his pants. Not sure he’s got the message yet…

The days after that have been up and down: some accidents, some spontaneous potty/toilet visits, a lot of “Do you need the potty?” “No thank you please”, and a lot of requests for “treasure”.

I still have no wisdom to share, except that this time I am determined to see it through and wave goodbye to size 5 nappies (for now). What I do want to show you, however, is the most fantastic potty training book that we have been using. I can heartily recommend it – and I should add that nobody is paying me to say so. It is called Pirate Pete’s Potty.

DSCF4562It is aimed especially at boys and does an amazing job of taking both the adults and the child through potty training step by step: why it’s happening, what to expect and how to react to the things that might happen on the way. One of the best things about it (aside from the “cheer!” button) is that it starts by setting up Pirate Pete as the instigator of the potty training:

"It's alright for the baby to wear nappies," thinks Pirate Pete, "But I want to be more grown up than that."

“It’s alright for the baby to wear nappies,” thinks Pirate Pete, “But I want to be more grown up than that.”

This starts the whole thing off on the right foot: you’re not wearing underpants to please your parents, who seem to have some mysterious stake in the matter. You’re doing it for yourself, because you’d like to be more grown up.

Your potty is for doing wees and poos in, instead of in your nappy."

Your potty is for doing wees and poos in, instead of in your nappy.”

It also very clearly explains what the potty is for, and that it replaces the nappies. Finally, it suggests some lovely motivational peer teaching:

When the baby is ready, Pirate Pete can show him just what to do with his potty.

When the baby is ready, Pirate Pete can show him just what to do with his potty.

The Boy just loves the book. We’ve been reading it as a bedtime story for the past week, and I frequently get requests to read it throughout the day. He has added his own little details and has snuck in the Numberjacks as well (they each get to choose a potty after Pirate Pete has chosen his). When he presses the ‘Cheer!’ button, he also gives a little extra cheer for himself. All in all, it has been a brilliant tool, and it also helps keep him sitting on the potty for a bit longer in the hope that he might try doing a poo – so far no luck but I’ll keep you posted.

A final useful side effect of Pirate Pete has been that the book has provided the Boy with a subtle way of letting me know that he has had, or is about to have, an accident. While he is playing and narrating his play, suddenly I will hear: “Wees and poos in!” This is my cue to grab the spare underpants, trousers, kitchen towels and anti-bac.


I’m sure he will get there soon, but there is still a way to go before my days will be free of clearing up wee and poo…


The Key to Successful Potty Training

Disinfecting round the clock.

Disinfecting round the clock.

Did you think I was going to give you the secret of success in potty training? HAHAHAHAHAHA! (that was hysterical laughter) Yup, fooled you, this post is about my bungling, half-arsed attempt to potty train my nearly-3-year old over the past few weeks and the key to success is something I have yet to find. I’m kind of hoping you, dear reader, might have it about you – have you checked the pockets of your other jacket? How about on your bedside table? No?

I have been wondering and hesitating for many months: should I start potty training my son? Is he ready? For a while he seemed to recognise when he needed to go, but then that faded and he seemed to revert to being completely, happily oblivious. But as his third birthday approached and that magical season of summer finally arrived I started to feel the pressure. Other mothers around me were potty training their little boys and I was still having arguments with a rather tall, strong, kicking ex-toddler who refused to have his nappy changed. We had been stuck for a while in…


Incentive. Mickey Mouse pants. Some of them red.

Incentive. Mickey Mouse pants. Some of them red.

To introduce the idea of the toilet/potty, I did various things like putting the potty in view and encouraging him to sit on it for a bit (usually clothed as he’d refuse to take his trousers off). I’d announce that I needed the toilet, and he would eagerly follow me and watch intently what I was doing, sometimes even coming round and peering into the bowl to see what came out. Lovely.

I knew he usually needed to go at bath time, as he would often end up weeing in the bath, so I started suggesting he sit on the potty before getting in the bath. This was mostly met with a decided “No. Bath.”

We were stuck in this extremely low key phase for ages, with the Boy showing very little interest in taking things to the next stage. Then one day I tricked him into sitting on it at bath time and he did a wee and a little poo in the potty. He seemed very pleased that I was so impressed by his achievement, and this triggered a sudden leap in status for the poor old potty. He suddenly asked to go on it.

Finally, I thought. Time for…


I eyed the glorious sunshine in the garden with misgiving from behind my french windows. I knew it meant I should send the Boy out to play without any pants on, a potty placed nearby. I bit the bullet one morning and went for it. When he got up I took his nappy off and didn’t put a new one on.

“Come on, let’s go and have breakfast,” I said.

Over breakfast, the first accident happened. The next one followed soon after. I suggested he try sitting on the potty, and the success spurred him on. That first week, whenever he was mostly naked he weed on the potty or the big toilet, which he seemed to prefer. No more accidents.

However, for naps and if we went out anywhere I put him in pull-ups. As soon as they were on, he heaved a sigh of relief and forgot all about the potty. Was I just confusing him, I thought, by chopping and changing?

Rabbit. Doing a poo. His raison-d'être.

Rabbit. Doing a poo. His raison-d’être.

The other thing was that he would wait to do a poo until he had a nappy on. He just wasn’t staying on the toilet for long enough to sort that one out. In slight desperation, I introduced Rabbit. Rabbit sits on the potty while the Boy sits on the big toilet, and models how to do a poo. I think this may actually be the craziest parenting trick I have invented to date. Now, Rabbit even has a tiny, Rabbit-sized potty of his own, courtesy of Gran. Thanks to Rabbit the Boy did manage a tiny bit of success on this front, but not enough for him to stay clean.

Then two days ago, we entered…


I stumbled into this phase blind, unsure, second-guessing myself. One morning he woke up and did not want me to take his nappy off. He didn’t want to go on the toilet.

“Maybe he isn’t ready,” I thought. “Maybe I should just let him wear a nappy today if that is what he wants.”

“NO!” said Strict Judith. “You have been far too inconsistent already. Sometimes he wears nappies, sometimes he wears nothing, the poor boy doesn’t know where he’s at. Take the plunge. Commit. Put him in PANTS.”

The washing machine is on a tight schedule to make sure there are clean pants.

The washing machine is on a tight schedule to make sure there are clean pants.

I asked him, and he said yes, he would very much like to wear Thomas the Tank-engine pants today. Within 90 minutes he had soaked through the entire 5 pack and we were onto the Mickey Mouse pants.

Today, the same. Things hit an all-time low when I walked in the living room and stepped in something wet.

“What is this?” I asked, fearing the worst.

“Wee,” the Boy told me, quite matter of fact.

He didn’t seem at all bothered. This annoyed me so much that I broke my own cardinal rule (the only one I came up with for potty training, and it wasn’t even mine but Penelope Leach’s) and got cross. I have been trying very hard not to let him see that I care one way or another, but I think he knows.

Ironically, he had weed onto my page with notes about this very post.


I am at a bit of a loss now. Do I back off and try again in a few weeks? Or do I persevere and hope he will come to find the wet pants unpleasant enough to go back to the potty? If you have any wisdom, please feel free to pass it on.

In the meantime, I thought I would share a side effect of potty training that I hadn’t anticipated.

Being naked all the time means the Boy has discovered his willy. He was fiddling with it while watching TV and suddenly said: “Oh! Is a bigger! Is really big!” He seemed slightly worried at first. I assured him it would go back to normal if he stopped fiddling with it.

Then a few days later we were going out and I asked him to come over so I could put his pull ups on. “No,” was the response, “No nappy. Want-a fiddle willy. Make-a bigger.”