Most parents of toddlers dream wistfully of the day when they don’t have to step over puddles on the floor and actually sleep on fresh and clean beds. Child psychologists and grandmothers call it Toilet Training, but for parents, it is nothing short of Nirvana.
For the toddler, getting toilet trained is a very big milestone. Not only does it mean that she becomes more aware of her body and its functioning, it is also a first step towards independence. However, toilet training is not as simple as that. Different children become physiologically ready for toilet training at different ages – some might display signs of readiness at eighteen months, while others (often observed to be first born boys) may not be ready for it even at thirty six months.
Toddlers get adversely affected if toilet control is enforced upon them too soon. One way they have to react to stressful situations, is by `letting go’ of their new found control. So the birth of another sibling, a new play school or just over-strict parenting could actually cause a relapse.
Toilet training is best attempted in unhurried stages. It may three to six months to achieve, and even then, parents must expect the odd accident before their toddler becomes completely toilet trained. Which is why, it is important that parents too are ready to face the challenge of toilet training their child. They need to ensure they have the time, energy and patience to encourage their toddler (and clean up behind her) on a basis for at least three months.
How Early is Too Early?
When to start toilet training is an issue of endless debate. In the West, toilet training is started any time after 18 months of age, when motor milestones, psychological attitudes, and sphincter control are achieved. Recent American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) toilet training guidelines recommend to start toilet training at 18 months of age as well. In many other cultures, toilet training is initiated even earlier, but experts feel that until a child is physically capable of using the toilet, there is little point in trying to drum toilet training into her head.
Parents in as many as 75 countries as diverse as India, Kenya and Greenland, disagree. More than 50 percent of the world's children are toilet trained by the time they are one year old, according to Contemporary Pediatrics magazine. For example, Chinese babies are made to wear pants with split bottoms for easy squatting (they are available for $1 in Chinatown, according to savvy mothers in New York). A growing minority of parents is now coming to believe that infants are aware of the functioning of their rear ends from the time they are born. While their muscle control comes later, babies can be trained to go on cue. They believe that by relying on disposable diapers, modern parents make toilet training more difficult, as their children learn to ignore the signs that they have to go.
The upside of this reasoning is obvious: you save the cost of diapers; reduce the number of virtually non-degradable diapers that end up in landfills; baby does not get such frequent nappy rash and your home doesn’t reek of the diaper pail. The downside, which noted US authority on child rearing Dr Benjamin Spock pointed out, is that children who have been potty trained too early, often tend to lapse into their old ways a little later in life.
At the end of the day, toilet training theories are not really important. Follow a simple rule of the thumb and you will not go wrong – just look out for signs your toddler displays, that show she might be ready to become toilet trained, whether she is eight months or twenty four months at the time.
Signs That a Toddler is Ready for Toilet Training
Children are most likely ready to begin toilet learning when they --
- Show a preference for clean diapers. You can encourage this by changing diapers more frequently and praising your child when she comes to you asking to be changed.
- Understand when they have eliminated and know the meaning of terms for body functions. Children who have not achieved sphincter or bladder control often do not realize they need to go –until they do. So when your toddler wets or soils herself, and knows what has actually happened, you can assume she is ready for toilet training.
- Indicate that they need to use the potty by squatting, pacing, holding their private parts. This is the first major step in toilet training.
- Show that they have some ability to hold it for a short period of time by going off by themselves for privacy when filling the diaper or staying dry during naps.
When NOT to Start Toilet Training
Do not start toilet training your child during a stressful time or period of change in the family. Moving house, starting a new school, a new baby on the way or any disruption in your child’s schedule could be disastrous times to commence potty training. Psychologists believe that toilet training is the first real stress that most children go through, and parents should choose an easy, peaceful time to start it.
Preparing the Child for Toilet Training
Many child psychologists advise parents to allow children to be present when they use the bathroom and to let them operate the flush. In the pychoanalyst view, children tend to view their bowel movement as a part of themselves, so watching it being flushed away may be distressing. When the child observes other people using the bathroom, she becomes desensitized to it.
Get your toddler familiar with the potty long before you begin toilet training. It may be a good idea to get her used to the potty by placing potty chairs in her living and play area. Allow your child to observe, touch and become familiar with the potty chair.
Tell your child that the potty chair is his or her own chair, and encourage her to just sit on it. This will help her get comfortable with it.
The next step, once the toddler is comfortable with the potty chair, is to get her to sit on it with the diaper off. At this point, it is important to remember not to hurry, do not expect her to instantly use it.
Instead, show her how the potty chair is used. Place the contents of a dirty diaper into the potty chair, and let her watch while you flush it. Let her operate the flush and watch the bowel movement disappear down the toilet.
Many experts note that switching from diapers (in which the toddler does not really understand the negative consequences of not using the potty – wet clothes, mess etc) to cotton underpants, helps. Studies have shown that diaper-wearing toddlers take longer to develop desirable toilet habits.
Once you have reached this stage, you can only wait for your toddler to tell you when she wants to use the potty chair. Other than encouraging her when she has accidents and cleaning up after her – there is little else a caregiver can do!
How to deal with `accidents’
Be very neutral in your response, even if it means practicing in front of the mirror every morning. At best, you could off handedly suggest while cleaning up, that adults use the potty (and not the living room carpet) so that there is no mess to clean up afterwards.
Never scold her for her lack of toilet control. If the toddler is made to feel she has done a really bad thing, she might get put off toilet training for a while. Also, it could seriously damage her self esteem if she got scolded or punished for it.
When your Toddler is Potty Training Resistant
Potty training resistance usually occurs because the child has had a bad experience at some point during potty training, especially if she was started before she was intellectually or psychologically ready. For example, if she falls off the chair when she is first introduced to it, she may be scared of sitting on it for a while.
Sometimes, especially with strong willed or stubborn children, it is nothing but a battle for control. Psychologists say that quite ironically, some toddlers view toilet training not as a step towards independence, but as the parents imposing too much control upon them.
Here are some of the reasons for developing a resistance to potty training –
- Fear of the potty chair
- fear of the sound of the flush, or a fear of seeing the BM (which the child might view as part of her) disappearing down the toilet.
- being pushed too early or fast before she was ready
- having been severely reprimanded or punished for accidents
- having inconsistent training, especially if the caregivers change.
- Stubbornness, or if she thinks that this is a power struggle with parents. Toddlers are smart enough to use their bowel movements to exert control over parents, especially when parents are being over-anxious about toilet training.
- She may just be enjoying the negative attention she gets from not using the potty or from having accidents
- Doctors point out that sometimes, when the child is resistant to toilet training, it is because she may have had a painful bowel movement due to constipation. If this is so, ensure proper treatment and wait for her to begin having regular, soft bowel movements before you begin training again.
- There may be some rare medical conditions that can make it difficult for children to hold in or delay urinating or having a bowel movement. So if nothing else seems to be working, it may be a good idea to visit the pediatrician to rule out such problems, especially if your toddler has also delayed attaining other developmental milestones.
Choosing the Right Potty
Parents have two basic potty options:
- A stand-alone, toddler-size potty chair with a bowl that can be emptied into the toilet
- A toddler-size seat that can be placed on top of your toilet seat that allows baby to feel more secure and not feel like he or she is falling in.
Both work well, for different types of children. If your toddler tries to emulate you in different ways, she might be happier using the pot that you use. Just remember to keep a small, stable stepping stool for her to reach the pot on her own. However, if you have a boy, he might not be physically comfortable with standing on a stool to pee in the toilet. So a potty chair may be a better option for him.
It is best to have both types in the house. Do not forget to keep one training potty in the boot of the family car for emergencies.
- The Effects of Undergarment Type on the Urinary Continence of Toddlers
- To read about one parent’s actual experiences with early toilet training of four children, go to Toilet Training Begins at Birth
- For books on toilet training, go to Toilet Training in Less Than A Day