Toileting (or using the potty) is one of the most basic physical needs of young children. It is also one of the most difficult topics of communication among parents, child care providers, and health care professionals when asked to determine the “right” age a child should be able to successfully and consistently use the toilet.
It is one of the steps from being a baby to fitting in with what other people want.
- Do switch from nappies to training pants – a combination of traditional cotton underpants and disposables works well. But never insist your toddler wear the pants – merely suggest. Knowing that the nappy is still an option will make him or her feel more in control of (and less threatened by) the potty process.
- Do bare your toddler’s bottom, once in a while. If the temperature permits and there’s an area of your home that’s completely washable (or if you have a private garden), letting your toddler go bare-bottomed is an ideal way to help him or her get in touch with body signals (without the security of the nappy the products of excretion are hard to miss). Keep the potty close by (even outdoors, if possible) so that your toddler will be able to act on those signals at a second’s notice. To prevent shoes from getting showered, feet should be bare (except outdoors), or at least clad in washable shoes.
- Do make the bottom easily accessible when it’s not bare. Until your toddler develops the control necessary to ‘hold it in,’ there won’t be a moment to lose. To make sure one isn’t lost to a stubborn snap or a cumbersome clasp, dress your toddler in easy-off, elastic-waist pants that can be pulled down in a flash, avoiding the extra step involved in dealing with zips, overalls, buttons and braces. Training pants will be infinitely easier for a toddler to remove than nappies (but make sure they’re not so tight that they make for tough tugging).
- Do watch your toddler closely. At first, you may be more adept at picking up your child’s body signals than your child is. So keep an eye out for the telltale signs that say, ‘I gotta go!’ Whenever you notice, one of them, ask your toddler, ‘Do you have to go the potty? If your toddler seems willing, lead the way to the bathroom, or if you’re using a portable, bring the potty to your toddler. Follow through even if it’s too late; just reinforcing the connection between the function and the potty is important step. Of course, if you find that asking your toddler if he or she has to go always elicits an automatic ‘No’, change the wording of the invitations. Try, ‘Your potty is waiting for you. Let’s hurry up and go.’ And again, head for the potty.
- Do watch the clock closely. Most children – like most adults – have regular pattern of elimination: they urinate on waking (from a night’s sleep or nap), for after breakfast. Determine if your toddler has a pattern and try to take advantage of it. Encourage, but never force, your toddler to sit on the potty at the times of day when success is a good bet.
- Do have your toddler take turns on the toilet with a drink-and-wet doll. At this age, going to the potty is more fun when you have a partner.
- Do try a tickle to start the follow. Turn on the bathroom or kitchen tap while your toddler sits on the potty; it’s an old trick but a good one.
- Do appreciate your child’s reporting after the fact as a step in the right direction. Even recognition of body signals that comes belatedly should be considered a success worth crowing about. It takes plenty of practice before young children are able to recognize impending bladder or bowel activity while there’s still time to get to a potty. Don’t make the mistake of attributing such accidents to spitefulness or insurgence; it’s simply inexperience.
- Do be an enthusiastic audience. Success at the potty should be cheered and widely admired. But don’t get so carried away with your accolades that your toddler start to question the sincerity of your praise. Overdoing the applause for your toddler’s successes can also prompt feelings of failure hen he or she has an accident.
- Do spark motivation. Learning is always more successful when the student is motivated. How you choose to motivate will depend on your toddler, as well as on your own philosophies of child-rearing. For some toddlers, being reminded that using the potty is ‘grown-up’ and will make them ‘just like’ their parents, siblings and older friends is motivation enough. Some eager-to-please toddlers will be motivated simply by parental praise; some eager-to-control toddlers will be motivate by discovering that they wield the power over their bodily functions when they use the potty. For still other toddlers, a tangible incentive works best. Most experts agree that rewards can work for one-time developmental achievements such as toilet learning (the child will ultimately continue using the toilet even when the incentives shop). But keep the rewards small – stickers on a calendar (the toddler gets to apply one for each success on the potty), a penny in the piggy bank, a call to Gran and Grandad to brag, a pair of fancy or favourite-character underwear – and plan to phase them out as toileting starts coming naturally to your toddler.
- Do have your toddler check for dryness. Teaching your toddler how to check his or her pants or nappy for dryness will give an added measure of control over the process. Praise dry pants, but don’t criticize wet ones.
- Do bridge the gap between potty and toilet. Illustrate the connection between the potty chair (if that’s what you’re using) and toilet your toddler will eventually graduate to by emptying potty contents into the toilet with your toddler’s help. Adding some water to the potty bowel movement slide out more easily. (Don’t however; leave water in the potty itself.) If your toddler enjoys flushing the potty’s contempt’s away, assign him or her that honour. If not, flush after your child’s left the room.
- Do be patient with relapses. Remember that learning to use the toilet is a big job for little toddlers, but it’s not their only job – its natural for them to ‘forget’ occasionally, even after they’ve caught on.
- Do teach about hygiene.
- Do explain your approach to toilet learning to any other adults who care for your child and ask them to stick to the same strategies. Consistency is especially important.
- Do be sensitive to your child’s feelings and needs. Self-confidence and self-esteem are at issue here, too – not just a clean, dry bottom.