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Potty Training

via Ashia

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Quick Things You Need To Know:

  • This is an unpolished book list for patreon supporters where I’m keeping my notes on books before I curate & polish a public list.
  • I’m temporarily making these unpolished lists freely available for the public to help with educators & families affected during pandemic school shutdowns.
  • We did elimination communication (EC) (potty use from birth) but didn’t fully let go of diapers until the Earthquakes were toddlers. Between the EC and the books, both Earthquakes went diaper-free between 24-26 months.

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Quick & Messy Book List:

SURPRISE. There are, to the best of my searches – zero potty training books that normalize trans, nonbinary, or intersex kids. GRAGH. PLEASE comment below if you do happen upon any.

Why are potty training books so FREAKING GENDERED? Even IF (IF!!) a reader insisted that assigned sex at birth has to be correlated with gender, it’s not like we’re looking at images of kids genitals in a board book. There is zero reason we need separate books about potty training based on our gender or genitals. Transphobes make things so weird.

With that, we must grudge on. These are the books that work for my particular Earthquakes but we potty trained such a long time ago (2012-2016) that I bet there are better books out there now. So just to clear them out of my archives, I’m gonna throw these into an unpolished list.

Getting Started

  • Good-bye Diaper (coco & tula) – very simple board book that eased R2 into the concept at 22 months. I actually liked this book quite a bit, it was simple enough to be universal, not too overwhelmingly complex, and was a great starter book that made it easier for him to sit through the longer ones a few weeks later. board book format.
  • big boys use the potty – if you don’t mind the binary gendering, this was our favorite, the layout is much cleaner than most. It’s a touch too wordy, but the real photos were super effective and both kids related with the kids. This is a tiny nag, BUT – most of the images are blurry with an unnecessary shallow depth of field – which I found distracting and it made my brain hurt. Given the copious light available in a studio lit setting, this is inexcusable! I really wish the photos didn’t give me a headache – the rest of the book is nicely done. I wish it had simpler text like Leslie Patricelli’s “should I go in my diaper?  … I don’t want to!” rather than than the bloated, rhyming text that obfuscates the point. Like dude, Charlie Thomas – I know this is an intimate setting but let’s keep this on a first-name basis. I don’t need your freaking social security number to join the potty party.
  • Potty – I can’t even remember this ubiquitous book (it’s probably the first book that comes up in  google search about potty training) except in reference notes for big boys use the potty. It was fine, underwhelming – although was there a scene where the kid has a potty on their head? I feel like there was something like that in there (it feels like that tracks with Patricelli’s style) that gave me pause because my kids are big on emulation and NO EW GROSS NO.
  • boys potty time – More with the uneessary gendering and intersex erasure UGH WHATEVER. This one has a toilet seat with trucks on the front cover, so that’s the first one the kids pick up. kind of like big boys use the potty except the images are in focus and there is no one main character – a few random other kids are thrown in at the end too.  big boys use the potty has a more cohesive, simple dialogue that is easier to follow, and in this one the layout is a busy mess – changing font, weight, and size randomly, also placed randomly throughout the pages, which makes it an aggravating read aloud. “They sit down on their potties when they have to pee or poo. Paper ready. Elephant can do it! Wipes ready.” just random word-salad plastered all over the place. Comes with stickers though, so between the cover and complicity in sticker-based property destruction, they do know their audience.  Q really likes at 18m, lots of stars (he loves stars) and the teddy bear. Pages are a little busy but the messages are positive.

Normalizing Potty Use

  • My Good Morning – (crockett corson) This is more of a ‘getting ready for preschool’ story, but they casually show how she uses the potty without prompting as a part of her morning routine.

Method: Getting Excited About Underpants

So think of it this way – diapers aren’t bad – they are just not nearly as hip as underpants. When the kids were old enough to go on their own, they still held on to the last vestiges of diapers because they appreciated the 1-on-1 attention of a diaper change. Getting them excited about underpants helped them let go of that.

  • Vegetables in Underwear – really cute. R2 loved it throughout potty training (22-28 months) before we had to bring it back to the library (probably would enjoy it throughout 2 years at least. Silly pro-veggie, pro-undies message. some shaming of babies for wearing diapers, (Only babies wear diapers.) So it’s intended for potty training toddlers and we had to be careful to keep a lighter tone and not read it around his diaper-wearing brother

Convincing Kids To Go Potty Before Bed

Going potty before bed makes life easier during the night, obviously. Books that reinforce the importance of this part of our routine help normalize it and overcome resistance. Because the authority on this is this is what we do rather than this is what mommy is making me do. So they don’t fight me they just huff and are like “UGH ALRIGHT.”

  • Shhh! This book is sleeping (ramadier) – Encourages toddlers to hug and kiss and check with the book to make sure it went potty. board book. too simple for 4, best for ages 1-3.

Convincing Kids To Go To The Bathroom Alone

  • All by myself – (emile jadoul) Leon keeps his parents up all night asking them to take him to the potty. after discussing it with his mom, he tries and succeeds in doing it himself (but then wakes them up to tell them, which makes for a funny twist),  independence, tired parents, sleeping through the night. age range: 12m-4y. Worked wonders for Q at age 2, but basically worthless for R2 at the same age. Got Q to go poty at night and in the mornings on his own.
  • kyle goes alone – more of an independence book than a potty training book. It’s a bit tedious and repetitive it is (he goes down the tree and meets like 3 animals and it takes him forever) but he does go down to the bottom to poop, and he goes alone! Both Q at 4 and R2 at 2 enjoyed this, although R2 had some trouble sitting through it a couple times. I found it surprisingly painful and tedious to read, but enjoyed the opportunity to make the mom’s voice light and confident “you’re doing great. keep moving! you’re almost halfway there” – kind of stuff. and it gave me a chance to remember that my tone of voice makes a huge difference in how my kids move forward alone. independence, single moms, letting go (not really separation anxiety, more about autonomy).
  • all by myself! -(aliki) Q Loved this at 27 months (carried it around the house).  after kids are diaper-free and potty trained, but when they still keep asking for help with details like pulling up undies. Reading together, we reflected what he is working on right now for potty training, and might even be working on now (pottied before waking us at least once after reading). probably too young at 4, although it’s worth cutting up a reprint to use as a routine poster for a routine chart. Likely had an effect on his willingness to start dressing himself. R2 loved reading this at 3.
  • potty time! – Not a great book at all, mostly just pictures of a baby smiling enthusiastically in proximity of a potty. but it was in the top 3 because it had a button with a flushing sound. Honestly – any book with a button that makes a sound works to keep a kid on the potty for a reasonable time. So I only let them use this type of ‘noisy’ book as something to make potty time exciting. If you get this from the library, the battery will likely be worn out, so have a spare LR41 on hand to replace it.

Problematic / Caveats

  • even firefighters go to the potty –  problematic. Q likes this book but most of it goes over his head at 20 months. Intensely sexist & racist. The single token Black guy is a waiter, with all of the impressive/hero jobs reserved for white folks. Only 1 woman despite little girls all over the book, which implies that the story isn’t only for boys (and if so, WHY.)
  • you can go to the potty – pretty complex, seems aimed at the 3.5+ crowd (even my 4yo probably wouldn’t sit through all of the text), so is this for late bloomers? Also shows older brother peeing standing up, and I don’t want my kiddos to learn about that yet for the sake of our floors. Ew.
  • once upon a potty- There is one for people AMAB (labeled ‘boy’) & another for folks AFAB (labeled ‘girl’) but of course, none for intersex kids. I don’t mind the anatomical images, although I do wish they didn’t insist on labelling the gender based on genitals. Beyond that, it meanders, so it’s not great for the target age range – mostly consisting of toddlers who can’t sit through a full story. Beyond that, again with the emulation – tries to use the potty as a hat, thinks its a flowerpot, etc. Which I know my kids would just run with and there just isn’t enough shampoo in the world to recover from that. The ‘boy version is from POV of his mom, which is odd to narrate a book for kids, about kids, by a grown up. You’d think someone willing to draw a tiny penis in a book would be able to use the actual word for it – but nope. The cowardly language “pee-pee for making wee-wee” UGH. And “a little hole for making poo poo” suggests to kids that the words ‘penis’ and ‘anus’ are dirty or uncouth. Fuck that body shaming bullshit.
  • PJ & puppy– more about puppies than potty training – puppy goes on the paper, he goes in the toilet, they both have misses, they both play, etc. not sure what good this book would be for, unless you happen to also be toilet training a puppy at the same time as your child. Weird.
  • big boy undies – katz. Again with the gendering, as there’s one for kids AFAB, and none for intersex kiddos. Would have been great to get excited about undies, except last two pages show the big boy holding his baby brother’s hand while the baby brother puts undies on his head and wears diapers. Since our youngest IS a baby brother, this is confusing for him! Has limited use for cisgender older brothers with younger brothers only.
  • where’s the poop – just a flap book with animals pooping and you have to find the poop. not particularly interesting or helpful unless you have a kid who likes to poop outside the potty.
  • how to potty train your monster – not sure who this is for – Q loved it at 4 (two years after potty training), but it was waaaay too advanced for R2 turning 2, right when we need potty training books. it was very silly.
  • on your potty little rabbit – boring. a little girl teachers her stuffy to go potty – but she tells her to use “not a little toilet paper, but a lot” and gets her mom to wipe her ass for her. Dude never in my life have I ever said ‘no, use MORE toilet paper’ to any child because toddlers give no fucks about the environment or clogged toilets. Also this whole toilet trailing deal for me as Mom is that I AM TRYING TO GET AWAY FROM WIPING SOMEONE’S ASS. 2-year-olds can’t read so we COULD change the text on that, but the rest of the book isn’t worth it. Also someone explain this to me – are Amat and Patricelli the exact same person, or is one blatantly ripping the other’s style? Because it’s hard to believe these are coincidentally the exact same style, topic, composition, and target audience.

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3 observations

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Alyssa Messman July 29, 2020 - 11:27 AM

(tw: discussion of ableism and suicide)

Something that troubles me about most potty-training books is the way the equate toilet use with maturity. On the one hand yes, I get it — it’s a difficult transition for most kids, so you want to play up the positives as much as possible, and most toddlers want to be considered “big kids”. The problem is, the idea that “independent toilet use”=”big kid” is soul-crushing for kids who don’t master that skill “on-time”, or who are never able to do it. It’s something kids as young as six can feel suicidal over.

And I think giving this message to typically-devleloping kids causes a great deal of harm too. It causes them to look down on their peers who still wear diapers. And not just during childhood, but throughout their lives. There is intense, violent stigma against older children and adults who can’t use the bathroom independently, especially if they need diapers. Many people (including people in positions of power such as lawmakers, doctors, and institution staff) hate this group even more than they hate other people with disabilities. And as previously nondisabled adults age and acquire disabilities themselves, all of that prejudice and dehumanization turns into sellf-hatred. In places where assisted suicide is legal, incontinence is one of the most commonly given reasons for wanting to end one’s life.

Because of this, I don’t know if there are any currently-existing books about toilet learning I can share with my eventual children. When I worked as a preschool teacher, I gave children a lot of encouragement and praise as they learned to use the toilet by themselves, but I was careful to avoid using phrases like “big kid” and “growing up”. And when they asked why some kids in the class still wore diapers, I would say that some people need diapers. And if they said “You mean like babies?”, I would acknowledge that babies wear diapers, and also that other people do too, and it’s fine. I don’t know if I handled it the best possible way, but it’s not like this is something they teach you in ECE classes.

So, I ask you, have you ever found any books on this topic that aren’t ableist? Not even necessarily ones that acknowledge disabled people, I mean are there even ones that just don’t use phrases like “big kid” and don’t say it’s a rite of passage that everyone goes through?

(The only picture book I have ever found that talks about people who can’t use the toilet independently is Not So Different by Shane Burcaw [which I know you’ve recommended on another list]. Shane mentions on one page that he needs help going through the bathroom, and then on another page there’s a photo of his family holding things they use to support Shane in his everyday needs, and his brother is holding a portable urinal.)

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Ashia August 2, 2020 - 1:42 PM

I love your comment so much I want to make it a stand-alone post. You’re right – it’s not just ageism, it’s ableist to equate diapers with babies, to equate diapers as a phase that we ‘grow out of’ as if we’re improving as humans for changing our bathroom habits. So good!!!

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Alyssa Messman August 14, 2020 - 8:16 AM

Oh good, I’m glad you liked it. It’s so frustrating that there’s so much ignorance about this in the field of child development/ECE. I recently read Fading Scars: My Queer Disability History by Corbett O’Toole (a long-time disability rights activist; she was featured in the documentary Crip Camp). In one chapter she talks about the first-ever Disability Studies course (which she was part of) in 1975 and how many ridiculous, unjust restrictions the university administration placed on them, including not letting the disabled professors (Hal and Megan Kirshbaum) who had started the class continue to teach it. Then, at the end of the chapter:

“Although we were all sorely disappointed with the new disability-ignorant teachers, we were trying to make this work because none of us wanted to go to San Francisco for classes, since those of us with mobility disabilities knew that we would never get reliable enough public transportation to be successful in the program.
For me, the tipping point came in a class on child psychology. The teacher was covering the well-known theories of early childhood development. This was familiar territory to me, as I had a degree in Early Childhood Education. A critical component in all of the theories at the time was that bladder continence is required for emotional maturation. (We now know this to be nonsense.)
The students looked around the room. We knew there were a number of adults in our class who were disabled as children and had never achieved bladder continence. So we teased out he question to the teacher by asking, “Are there any studies that separate bladder continence from emotional maturation?” The teacher’s response was “Gee, I never thought about that.”
After we posed the question, we fully expected that the teacher would have thought about the question, possibly done some research, possibly talked to her colleagues, but at a minimum that she would take our question seriously. When we asked her again the following week, however, she answered that she had not thought about it because it didn’t seem very important.
That was the moment I knew that, as the program was structured, it could never succeed, and I could not succeed in it. I had no interest in being an outsider and alone in an academic program about disability. ”

I screamed in frustration while reading that, because I’ve had conversations exactly like that with ECE professors, and it’s more than four decades later. So it’s not at all surprising that the children’s publishing industry is still so ableist about this.

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