Signs of Readiness
You’d think that toilet learning would be a simple step in childrearing; everyone finds success eventually (how many teenagers do you know still in diapers?). But for many parents, the very thought of toilet training can be daunting. A dear friend recently told me, “I love everything about being a mom—except potty training.” This is a common refrain voiced in the hundreds of resources available for anxious toilet training parents and reflected in the arsenal of potty-training paraphernalia on the market.
Philosophies and techniques vary dramatically; there are doctors who suggest not starting until the age of two, and those who sell instruction manuals designed to teach parents how to toilet train their infant. How do you find a technique that will work for your little one? And when—and how—do you get the process started?
Before searching for these answers, you’ll need to gather a good deal of patience and humor (an absolute necessity when you’re making that emergency run to the carpet cleaning aisle at your local grocery store or as you and your child proudly wave “goodbye” to her accomplishment as it’s flushed away). Understand that you are embarking on a journey that may end in one short day or take as long as a year. While reading through techniques and tips outlined in this article, keep in mind that the best thing for your family may end up being a combination of several different approaches. Don’t be afraid to mix and match those that feel right for you and your child.
It’s easy for parents to get caught up in the numbers game when it comes to toilet learning, and pressure from friends and in-laws to train a child doesn’t help.
The fact of the matter seems to be that age doesn’t matter. Although the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says there is no set age at which toilet training should begin, they do offer a convincing reason to wait until a child is at least two. “Children younger than 12 months have no control over bladder or bowel movements and little control for six months or so after that. Between 18 and 24 months, children often start to show signs of being ready.”
Before you begin to wonder why your two-year-old is not showing signs of interest in toilet learning, know that the AAP also adds that some children may not be ready to begin using the potty (for both physical and emotional reasons) until 30 months or older.
How can you tell if your child is ready? Keep a watchful eye out for the following signs:
- Your child stays dry at least two hours at a time during the day or is dry after naps.
- Bowel movements become regular and predictable.
- Facial expressions, posture, or words reveal that your child is about to urinate or have a bowel movement.
- Your child can follow simple instructions.
- Your child can walk to and from the bathroom and help undress.
- Your child seems uncomfortable with soiled diapers and wants to be changed.
- Your child asks to use the toilet or potty chair.
- Your child asks to wear underwear.
The AAP also points out that during this stage, your child’s stooling patterns may vary (some children move their bowels several times per day, others several times per week). However, anytime your child experiences a dramatic change in her bathroom habits, you should speak with your pediatrician (do not use laxatives, stool softeners, suppositories, or enemas unless recommended by your pediatrician).
Vocabulary will play a big part in your child’s toilet learning. Before you begin, decide what words to use. You and your parenting partner will both need to be comfortable with this language; use words that are accurate but easy for your child to understand.
You’ll also need to purchase a potty chair and training pants and/or underwear. You may wish to bring your child along to pick out her own potty chair and trainers. Make the day special and discuss with your child the significance of learning how to use the potty.
Before your child sits on the new potty, talk about what he/she can expect. Point out that Mommy and Daddy use the potty. Then try a couple “test runs” in the bathroom. Without taking off her clothes or diaper, show your child how to sit on the potty (most pediatricians recommend starting boys out sitting, too). Your child’s feet should be firmly planted on the floor or a step-stool. Also, demonstrate how to wipe (girls should always wipe from front to back to avoid bladder infections) and talk about flushing and where the contents of the toilet go. Be sure to enforce healthy hygiene: you and your child should always wash your hands when leaving the bathroom—even if you are just “touring” the facilities.
Many children also benefit from the many toilet-learning products available. There are self-wetting dolls for boys and girls (complete with their own potties), training books, and various DVDs and videos.
Toilet Teaching Techniques: Experts’ Approachs
Toilet training can be a daunting task for parents, but there are various techniques that experts recommend to make the process easier. Here are five different approaches:
- The Child-Oriented Approach: This method involves waiting for the child to show signs of readiness and then allowing the child to take the lead in the process. Parents should offer encouragement and support, but not pressure the child. This approach can take longer, but it may result in fewer power struggles and a more confident child.
- The Parent-Oriented Approach: This method involves setting a specific time frame for toilet training and adhering strictly to it, regardless of the child’s readiness or interest. Parents using this approach may use rewards or punishments to motivate the child. While this method can be effective for some families, it may lead to stress and resistance from the child.
- The Combination Approach: This method combines elements of both the child-oriented and parent-oriented approaches. Parents set a general time frame for toilet training, but also pay attention to the child’s readiness and offer support and encouragement. This approach allows for flexibility and can be tailored to fit the needs of individual families.
- The Communication Approach: This method involves teaching the child to communicate their need to use the bathroom through sign language, gestures, or verbal cues. Parents can use a chart or other visual aids to reinforce the child’s communication skills. This approach can be helpful for children with communication delays or disabilities.
- The Bare-Bottom Method: This method involves allowing the child to go without a diaper or underwear for a period of time, encouraging them to use the potty instead. Parents should closely supervise the child during this time to ensure accidents are minimized. This approach can be effective for some children, but may not be practical for all families.
Ultimately, the best approach to toilet training will depend on the individual child and family. Parents should be patient, flexible, and willing to try different techniques until they find what works best for them. With time, patience, and a good sense of humor, most children will successfully transition to using the toilet on their own.