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Video: Meet the ‘Potty Whisperer’

By
TODAY contributor
updated 6/9/2008 10:58:06 AM ET 2008-06-09T14:58:06

An operator of a so-called “Booty Camp” in suburban Chicago has a claim that will astonish parents of droopy-diapered toddlers everywhere. Give her five hours, she says, and she’ll give you a potty-trained toddler.

Impossible? Not according to TODAY’s Al Roker, who offered an unsolicited testimonial. “I actually took my son to this, and it works,” he said. “One day.”

Sweeney, a registered nurse and the mother of six, told TODAY’s Ann Curry that her system actually works about 98 percent of the time. Based on Nathan H. Azrin’s book “Toilet Training in Less Than a Day,” the woman who is called the “Potty Whisperer” trains parents as much as she teaches the toddlers.

Her No. 1 rule for one-day potty training? “Never ask if they have to go,” she said. “If you ask them if they have to go potty, then you are the one who is in charge of their body. We’re trying to transfer that responsibility over to them. So we just tell them if you have to go potty, go in the potty.”

In a prerecorded piece reported from Sweeney’s home by TODAY’s Natalie Morales, Sweeney said that the responsibility extends to cleaning up messes. “If you guys go pee and poo in your pants, you’re going to have to clean it up,” Sweeney tells her class of small fry.

Age requirement
Toddlers have to be at least 2½ years old to take the training, because that is when they are able to understand simple commands and to control their own bodies. Some get it in 15 minutes, others take the entire session. Sweeney asks parents or caregivers to set three days after the session aside to reinforce the lessons.

Sweeney also trains special-needs children, but says some of them may take up to two weeks to learn to use the potty. Sweeney remains available as a consultant for the two weeks as part of her $250 fee — money that’s quickly recouped in the savings from not having to buy disposable diapers.

Each child arrives with a parent or primary caregiver, but the grown-ups are sent to the sideline to act as a cheering section while Sweeney does the hard work. She’s tough, and when one little girl throws a tantrum when she’s asked to bring her potty chair into the room, Sweeney works through it calmly but firmly.

“In order to set them up to succeed, just make sure that you’re setting aside that time and  make sure you remember that it’s not about you,” Sweeney said. “The child needs to be confident themselves, so once they begin to take responsibility for their body, they’ll be proud of themselves and then continue that behavior. So give them all the tools they need to succeed. Tell them exactly what they need to know.”

Sugar and salt
Sweeney loads the kids up on salty snacks and sugary drinks, but lest parents be appalled at that, she explains that there is a method to the apparent dietary madness.

“It is only for a short duration. It is not a diet that I recommend,” Sweeney told Curry. “The salty snacks make the kids more thirsty, so they drink more. It also draws water into the bowel and that softens the stool, and it helps prevent the constipation when the kids get nervous and want to start holding. The sugary drinks never quench their thirst, so they end up drinking more, and that gives them more opportunities to go to the bathroom in that short period of time.”

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Then it’s a matter of waiting for nature to issue its call and for the children to understand how they are supposed to answer it.

“Tell them if you have to go to the bathroom, walk over to the potty, pull your pants down and go potty in the potty,” Sweeney said. “Tell them that they need to listen to their body and when they need to go, it’s their job to go over there.”

To those who would suggest that her firm insistence and enthusiastic high-fives and praise for success might damage a toddler’s delicate psyche, Sweeney says, “It’s a very caring environment. I’m teaching the kids to be responsible for themselves. I’m certainly setting an expectation up for them so that they can rise to it. I don’t expect anything of any child that they can’t accomplish. We give them all the tools that they need so that they can succeed.”

And succeed they do. Sweeney says she’s graduated nearly 500 kids, including the little girl who had thrown a tantrum in the piece reported by Morales. By the end of the session, she was bragging to everyone present, “I went pee in the potty!”

The words were music more beautiful than Mozart to every parent’s ears.

For more info, visit Wendy Sweeney's Web site at bootycampmom.com.

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