While potty training her third child, Wendy Sweeney teamed up with a neighbor who was embarking on the same milestone with her own toddler.
That unconventional play date 12 years ago at Sweeney's West Chicago home was successful, with both children training in just a day. Word soon spread throughout the neighborhood that Sweeney's house was the place to go when little ones were ready to ditch their diapers.
"I teach kids it's their responsibility to listen to their bodies," said Sweeney, a registered nurse and mom of six. "I teach parents how to support kids throughout the process."
Combining her own mom wisdom, treats and positive reinforcement with hands-on guidance, Sweeney founded "Booty Camp" in 2003. Partly based on techniques in "Toilet Training in Less Than a Day" by Nathan H. Azrin and Richard M. Foxx, Booty Camp offers group or private classes for children ages 2 ½ and up, as well as phone consultations, parental coaching and a DVD for families unable to attend the one-day program in person. Children arrive with parents or caregivers equipped with potties, 15 pairs of underwear and one towel for the drive home when diapers officially will be history. Oftentimes parents will see progress in other areas once their youngsters are potty trained, Sweeney said.
"At first it's just getting the kids to follow directions," said Sweeney, whose business has evolved in recent years to cater more to children with special needs. "I go into homes where the kids don't like following directions and the parents are asking for help. I can't teach them to use the potty if I can't teach them to undress themselves."
Introducing herself as "Miss Wendy" Sweeney starts her program by instructing each child to set up his or her "potty station" in the kitchen. The station consists of a potty, wipes and a box of tissues.
"I recommend the busiest place in your house [for potty training]," Sweeney said. "You might still have other kids to take care of, meals to prepare and laundry to fold while you're going through the process."
Once their stations are set up, Sweeney has the children undress and put on underpants. Children are allowed to indulge in a variety of salty snacks, which draw water into the bowel and soften the stool, Sweeney said. They also consume plenty of juice and other sweetened drinks, which never quench their thirst, prompting them to drink more, thereby expediting the process. Sweeney reminds parents this diet is just a temporary measure to give little ones more opportunities to practice using the potty.
"Pants checks" take place every 5 to 15 minutes, with Sweeney and parents heaping praise when a child stays dry.
"We'll say, 'Feel that. You're dry. Great job. You're doing what you're supposed to do,'" Sweeney said.
When accidents occur, Sweeney has tots to clean up after themselves with paper towels as a way to promote self-confidence and responsibility. She disinfects the area afterward.
"It's just teaching them what they need to know," Sweeney said. "It's not belittling them or yelling at them."
Melinda Graham of Chicago brought her daughter Elizabeth to Sweeney when she found out the youngster's preschool required children to be fully potty-trained.
"I thought there was just no way," Graham said. "We didn't have a long timeline."
After attending Booty Camp, Graham realized her past approaches to potty training had been wrong.
"I would ask her if she had to use the bathroom," Graham said. "I learned from Booty Camp it's more about having her listen to her own body. It's about her taking responsibility for what she wants, not what I want."
Sweeney, who's worked with thousands of families from across the U.S., said parents should avoid making potty training about them. Phrases such as "I'm sorry" put the focus on the parent rather than the child. After completing Booty Camp, Sweeney recommends pulling back on toys, TV and other distractions for about three days to help children focus on their new skill. For children with special needs, Sweeney has parents eliminate distractions for two weeks.
Although Naperville mom Jeannie Coe didn't potty train her now 6-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter in one day, she and her husband took a week off from work for the task when each child was about 2.
"We literally bought and borrowed every potty and put them all over the house," Coe said. "You couldn't go into a room where there wasn't a potty. Anytime anyone came over to our house we apologized because our kids would just walk over and sit on the potty. But it worked great."
Coe said her children both potty trained in about three days.
One-day potty training programs work for some youngsters, but parents have to keep in mind that every child is different, said Anita Chandra-Puri, spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics and a pediatrician for Northwestern Medical Group in Chicago. Toddlers might show interest in the potty at around 18 months, but their bodies don't have control until around 2 ½, Chandra-Puri said.
"It's all about positive reinforcement," she said. "You never want it to be a negative situation. As children associate that positive feeling with going to the bathroom, then they'll go on their own."
For Sweeney, the key is giving kids the right information for success--a concept that works beyond the bathroom.
"Kids want to do it themselves," Sweeney said. "You can show them how to do it, but don't do it for them. They really want it to be their idea."
Dos and Don'ts of "Potty Talk"
DO say "Great job for keeping your pants dry."
DON'T ask the child if he or she has to go potty
DO say "You may have that when there is pee or poop in the potty."
DO say "Do not pee or poop in your pants or you'll have to clean it up."
DON'T say "I'm sorry" or "It's OK" when accidents occur.
DON'T ask questions you don't want the answers to.
DO say "You may have a toy or watch 15 minutes of TV when there is pee or poop in the potty."
DO say "I know you're listening to your body because your pants are dry."
Source: Wendy Sweeney, owner of Booty Camp in West Chicago. Call (630) 762-9612 or visit www.bootycampmom.com.