Does the thought of potty training your toddler fill you with dread? Apply some common sense and it will be simple……
Sometimes it can seem as through being a parent-especially the first time pond – consists of lurching from one set of challenges to the next. You felt that you had just got breastfeeding under control when colic struck. You dealt with the colic months, had a bit of a breather and introduced solids. You blinked your eyes and your baby was starting to crawl-cruise-walk-run-climb-talk in almost-sentences…. And no here you are in a baby shop somewhere, staring at a potty or toilet training seat and thinking: “Am I really ready for this?”
Childcare expert says that potty training readiness begins with the appropriate physical maturity: a child must have developed enough control over the muscles that control the bladder or bowels. This enables him to hold onto waste matter until the bladder or colon is full, and then release at will. Like all developmental milestones in a child’s life, this requires time.
Much of the information about potty training really just boils down to common sense and experts cautions about fads that advocates quick potty training: “It takes patience, sensible teaching and time.”
In general, there is consensus that a child starts to show readiness some time around the second birthday, but often some children aren’t fully potty trained until well past 3. Watch for the right signs, such as imitating others’ bathroom habits, and don’t pressure your child to start before he’s ready.
An emotional elements also forms part of the process, on the child’s part as well as the parent’s. Most 2-year-olds are flexing their developmental muscles and engaging with their parents in the traditional battles of will. Potty training, for some children, presents a marvellous opportunity to try to exercise a small measure of autonomy over an anxious parent and assert themselves by saying, “No!”
Try not to get anxious or involved in a battle of wills. Wait until he is ready and then be as relaxed as possible – acknowledging that this is, of course, sometimes easier said than done. Some children do get it within a few days, but many more take several months. The following practical guidelines should help.
Practical potty training tips
- Assess your child’s readiness
Your child may be ready to start potty training if he:
- Has regular, soft, formed bowel movements
- Can pull his pants up and down
- Imitates the bathroom habits of others (for example, he likes to watch you go to the bathroom; he wants to wear underwear)
- Makes a physical demonstration when he’s having a bowel movements (such as grunting, squatting, telling you or even running away to a corner to be on his own)
- Has words for stool and urine
- Can follow simple instructions
- Understands the physical signals that mean he has to go and can tell you before it happens
- Doesn’t want to be in a dirty nappy
- Has dry periods of at least three or four hours.
- But the right equipment
Buy a child-sized potty or a special seat to attach to your regular toilet. Whichever you choose, make sure your child can stabilise himself with his feet so he can push when he’s having a bowel movement.
- Start a routine
Sit your child fully clothed on the potty seat once a day, whenever he might be likely to have a bowel movement. This allows him to get used to the potty and accept it as part of his routine. If he doesn’t want to sit on it, don’t restrain him. If he seems scared, put the potty away, or at least aside for a few weeks or a month, and then try again.
- Goodbye nappies
Sit your child on the potty seat without a nappy. Let him get used to what it feels like and explains that this is what mom and dad (and any older siblings) do. If he gets the idea and produces something, that’s fine. But don’t push him to perform.
The next time he goes in his nappy, take him to his potty, sit down and empty the nappy beneath him into the bowl. This will help him make the connection between sitting and producing. After you’ve emptied his potty into the big toilet, let him flush it if he wants to (but don’t make him do it if he’s scared) so he can see where it goes. Teach him to dress himself and wash his hands when he’s done.
- Encourage independence
Encourage your child to use his potty whenever he feels the urge to go. Let him know that he can also tell you if he wants to go and that you’ll take him to be bathroom whenever he wants you to.
If you can, let him run around at times without a nappy on, or any clothing below the waist, with the potty nearby. Tell him he can use it whenever he wants to and remind him occasionally that it’s there if he needs it. Many people wait for summer to start potty training so they can let their child be semi-naked and in his way facilitate the process. Sometimes a child needs to experience doing a wee or bowel movement without the nappy on to make the physical and mental; connection.
- Training nappies – or not?
The jury is out on this one. Some children like them and they seem to help; others just think of them as a slightly different type of nappy and that defeats the object of the exercise. Some children are encouraged by having real underwear on instead.
- Be calm
Virtually every child will have several accidents before being completely trained during the day and at night. If your child has an accident, be calm, clean it up and kindly suggests that nest time he try using his potty instead.
- Night times
Experts comments that the simplest way to sort out night-time control is not to try to achieve it too soon. She explains that, from a purely physiological perspective, the body needs to secrete an anti-diuretic hormone that slows down the production of urine at night, and this happens later in some children than in others.
Even when your child is consistently clean and dry all day, it may take him several more months or even a year to master night training, so let him sleep in nappies until he starts consistently waking up dry. When he’s dry every morning for a month, you can probably take the nappies off.
Don’t let your toddler drink too much before bedtime. Tell him that if he does wake up in the middle of the night he can call you for help, and try leaving his potty near the bed in case he wants to use it.
Points to ponder
- The most painless way of all….
Some parents have their potty training taken care of by their child’s daycare centre. Sarah Le Roux, mother of Michael (4) and jenny (almost 3) comments: “One advantage of having my children at that particular daycare centre was that, whenever a child reaches the age of about 2, the staff take all the children to sit on the potty every 15 minutes. The children go because all the other children go, so I never had to fight to get my child to sit on the potty. Obviously I had to carry on with this at home, but it did get the routine going nicely and it really helped me.”
- Differences between boys and girls
There is a belief that girls are often easier to toilet train than boys and that they usually seem to show readiness sooner. Sarah adds from her own experience, “I had Jenny second, so I don’t know if it’s been easier because she knows what the deal is – she’s seen her brother do it – but it has gone a bit more smoothly than with Michael. Maybe it’s also because I’m less stressed the second time round as well.
“With Michael, it took a while to get him to sit on the toilet and it also took a while to get him to poo on the potty – he’d ask for a nappy at those moments. I’m still wiping him though… I just can’t bear thinking of the logistics of him doing himself.”
- When change lies around the corner
Something else to consider is what to do if you know that you have a big change pending in your family life. Are you about to move house, perhaps, or go on holiday (with or without your child)? Are you going to encourage your toddler to make the transition cot to bed, or move him into his own bedroom? Is there another baby on the way?
Most experts, be they doctors, midwives or playschool teachers, would advise you to think carefully before you embark on potty training if you have a sizeable life change on the horizon..
You can almost certainly expect a toddler to be a little anxious for a while in a new bed, bedroom or house, while the presences of a new baby is very likely to cause a temporary regression. Your toddler will now have to share you, and when he sees you spending time with your newborn, who is wearing nappies, he will, if he is only recently potty trained or still in the process of being potty trained, most likely regress for a short while and want to be in nappies himself in a bid to get more attention from you.
The best advice is to be patient and tolerant with your older baby, wait for the change to occur and start potty training when the dust has settled. In cases of severe regression in a formerly potty trained child, look for reasons for stress and then try to treat the cause.
- Physical reason for problems
Sometimes a constipated child finds making a poo painful, and will withhold faeces. The longer the stool remains in the bowel, the bulkier and harder it gets, and the nerve endings in the anal sphincter get deadened, making the problem worse as the child does not feel the urge to go. Sometimes constipation, oddly enough, can result in soiling, when soft, watery matter passes around the hard faecal matter into the nappy or pants, making it seem like the child has diarrhoea. Worms can also cause bowel blockage and constipation.
If you suspect a physical problem, take your child to the doctor.