Putting Potty Training into Perspective

Putting Potty Training into Perspective

Nicole Meehan

Potty training. Just the mention of it is enough to make the most seasoned mom shudder. My first experience with potty training was fraught with fear (mine) and germophobia (mine and my husband's). I was afraid that I wasn't approaching it properly and worried I might seriously mess up. Most of my first child's potty training occurred in the living room on the comfort of a toddler potty modeled to look like a traditional toilet you'd see in America. It had the added benefit of cheerful songs playing as soon as moisture was detected. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse or Doc McStuffins was often the focus of my daughter while her body learned to empty into the potty. Despite my fears, potty training my first was surprisingly easy. She was fully potty trained and slept through the night completely dry by age 2.5. She also learned the art of handwashing and had access to a toddler-level sink at her preschool. 


I have so many potty-training tools at my disposal and I have had to use more of them the second time around (potty training hasn't come as easy for #2). Toddler potty, potty seat that fits on the adult toilet, stools (pardon the pun), Disney shows, countless snacks, hand sanitizer, pull ups, character underwear, wet wipes (some that are even designed to flush down the toilet!), running water, antibacterial soap, diaper cream, and time. My husband and I have never had to run to the store at the last minute to grab diapers and we have had the ability to change poopy diapers almost immediately after the become soiled, thereby sparing our children many diaper rashes or other ailments that can come from poor sanitation. 

It wasn't until typing the words running water that I realized how much I have taken for granted while I am in the midst of teaching my second daughter how to use the potty. My two experiences with potty training have always involved clean diapers, underwear, flushing toilets, and regular handwashing. Who would do it any other way? Unfortunately, I know the answer to my question. Refugee populations across the world face tremendous hurdles of all kinds ... but ... potty training?

My potty training has always involved four staples:

  1. Education. One-on-one time with mom, videos depicting favorite characters using the bathroom, and books have all helped me begin the process.
  2. Rewards. My oldest was regularly rewarded with Swedish Fish upon a successful pee or poop in the potty. My youngest prefers chocolate.
  3. Stable and clean home environment.
  4. Sanitation and constant questioning "did you wash your hands?"

That list of four staples in my potty-training program also represents four commodities many of us take for granted. According to Amnesty International, over 173,000 refugees traveled, via the ocean, to asylum in Greece. The UNHCR estimates that over ten million refugees are under the age of 18. Therefore, it is fair to deduce that there are millions of infants and toddlers without access to basic sanitation during crucial developmental years. Without a doubt, there are culturally significant potty-training practices that may differ from mine, but no mom wants their toddler to sit in poopy pants while traversing ocean currents just to survive. As a mom in the throes of potty training #2 (had to use that pun - humor is one of my coping tools), I cannot imagine the difficulty of potty training in the midst of an absolute struggle for survival.

Blandine West