Q: We began toilet training our daughter when she was 21 months old. Within 10 days, she was consistently using the toilet for Number One. She now wears underwear 24/7 because she doesn’t even wet her bed. The problem is that she’s now 23 months old and has had only 4 successful BMs on the toilet. She has a BM when she's still in bed in the morning or sometime during her nap. Regardless, her BMs are impossible to anticipate. When I discover her accident, I simply remind her she needs to go on the toilet. I haven't done anything more assertive because I haven't wanted to create a power struggle. I read your toilet training book and know about the use of a gate. Do you think I should go in that direction?
A: I should explain to the reader that the “gate” refers to a child-proof gate that is used to confine a child in the bathroom or whatever room the parents have put the potty. I recommend that a gate be used in conjunction with a “potty bell”—a simple kitchen timer that’s set to go off at regular intervals in anticipation of the child’s need to use the potty. When the bell goes off, the parents simply remind the child that it’s time to use the potty. If the child is resistant, then I sometimes but not always recommend that the parents use a gate.
An important caveat: If the child in question perceives that the gate is being used punitively, then the child’s resistance is likely to increase, along with tantrums. For that reason, if a gate is used, then the potty should be located in a non-threatening room, like the child’s play room. If the child gets used to being confined to one fairly interesting room from the time he begins moving around on his own, and that’s the room in which the potty is placed (there’s no requirement, after all, that a toddler has to “go” in the bathroom), the child should cooperate readily in training and it shouldn’t take more than a few weeks.
Parental anxiety over toilet training — ubiquitous these days — is another killer. If a child senses that his parents are overly eager for him to use the toilet, he’s likely to put up a fight. The overly eager parent quickly turns into a micromanager, and micromanagement in any context, with any age human, provokes push-back.
So the keys to relatively quick toilet training are a relaxed but authoritative approach, planning, and structure. You obviously did a good job from the outset. If you hadn’t, your daughter wouldn’t have had such quick success. She’s not afraid of sitting on the potty — again, obviously — so my best guess is that the “poop” thing is just going to take her a little more time. I don’t get the impression that she’s resistant; she’s just not fully awake when she has to have a BM. In effect, she’s still on her infant BM schedule. Within a month or so she will probably transition rather naturally to having her BM at the same time every day, during her waking hours. At that point, you’ll be able to use the bell as a reminder. As for the gate, in this case I don’t think it’s going to be necessary.
In the meantime, just keep up your patient, positive approach. It’s served both of you well so far.