This article originally appeared in “Chicago Tribune”
Potty training is one of those mandatory tasks of parenthood that we all wish we could outsource.
It’s the one thing you can complain about to older relatives without them responding by telling you to savor the moment or reminding you that your children are only little once. It’s the moment when you declare your dog or cat to be brilliant and realize that he or she will always be more obedient than your children.
Some of us escape unscathed with merely a few pairs of stained underwear. Others credit the potty training experience for their husband’s vasectomy. And yet, we all survive. Like many other forms of adversity, potty training is one of those character-building “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” opportunities. And once you reach the potty of gold at the end of the rainbow, you may actually find you’ve learned a thing or two. (You also have my permission to think potty training was absolute hell with no silver lining or life lessons whatsoever.)
As I write this, we are nearing the end of potty training our 2-year-old son, which was admittedly easier than training his older brother, but exhausting nonetheless. Being that I can’t help but relate everything to working out (and that it is sort of the theme of this column), I’ve decided to share some of my favorite fitness takeaways. Of course, everyone’s child is different and responds differently to potty training. This is just my personal experience and not meant to tell you the right or wrong way to train your kid.
Take “ready” with a grain of salt. How many of us have said about potty training, “I’m waiting for when he’s ready?” And then we just kept putting it off, because he was never really as “ready” as we’d anticipated. Have you ever declared, “I will start working out when I’m ready?” Guess what? You may never feel ready. Don’t wait for some magic sign to get started. Your body is capable of more than realize, but you have to start somewhere.
Put on your big-girl pants. And not your Pull-Ups: “I don’t want him to have an accident in public, so I’m waiting for him to figure out how it works before we switch to undies.” Sound familiar? How about: “I’m waiting until I know what I’m doing before I go to the gym. I don’t want to embarrass myself.”
Sometimes the only way to learn is to fail first. Don’t be afraid to try a new class, start strength training, or finally learn how to swim. You might have a few setbacks, but the more you practice, the more you’ll get the hang of it.
Have a plan, but don’t be controlled by it. Let’s say you start out saying you are going to stay near the potty, sit your kid down every 20 minutes and give him an M&M every time he successfully eliminates in the potty. Then one day your kid doesn’t like M&Ms anymore. You’ve gotta try something different, right? If you start training for a 5K and realize you actually hate running, don’t force yourself to continue. Try something different until you find what best works for you. Also, I don’t recommend rewarding yourself with M&Ms.
Do not punish! Stick to natural consequences. Punishing kids for not going in the potty is one of the biggest ways to set them back, make them resent you and make your life hell. Guess what? It’s not an effective strategy for you, either. When my older son kept going in his pants, yet we knew what he was capable of, we had to act like we didn’t care. Oh, you pooped yourself again? No big deal: Natural consequences. We’ll just spray you off with a hose and put some new underwear on you. Oh, you missed going to the gym four days in a row? Natural consequences: The next time you do get in there for a workout, it’s going to feel tough and you’ll wish you hadn’t waited so long.
Know when to fold ’em. While my older son was potty training, an automatic flusher in a public bathroom freaked him out so much that he shut down and refused to use any toilet. We literally had to stop potty training completely and restart after a month-long break. Have a life incident that totally zaps your interest in working out? Injury? Emotional setback? It’s OK to step back and take a break.
Remember that progress is not linear. I recorded potty training stats for my little guy this time around:
Day 1: Potty, 2, Undies, 5
Day 2: Potty, 5, Undies, 1
Day 3: 4:3, Day 4: 5:3, Day 5: 6:1, and so on.
Sometimes we forget progress includes lots of ups and downs along the way. We all get there someday – and even when we do, we’ll still have some setbacks. And that’s OK!
Nicole Radziszewski is a freelance columnist. She lives in River Forest and is a certified personal trainer and mother of two. Check Nicole out on Facebook at Facebook.com/mamasgottamove.