Toilet training is always a big subject for parents; when, how, what’s ‘normal’? It can feel like a daunting task. For our family I faced this having worked for a decade in nurseries, and the same again as a nanny to several families. I’d seen all kinds of methods, and learned a lot, as much about what not to do as about what to do. Here are some tips from my experiences.
The right time is when the child is ready
When you are sat there with your 4 year old still refusing to try I know it seems like you will never get there – you are not the only ones, and when you have a small 2 year old who wants to use a potty and you feel overwhelmed like its too soon, you are also not the only ones. I have seen all sorts of ages potty train, it is a wide age range of ‘normal’.
There’s never going to be one definitive list for recognising readiness, but these are some clues;
• Physically they need to have gained some bladder and bowel control. You will start to notice this is happening when you are sometimes checking their nappy and finding it dry or noticing they’ve filled it to bursting.
• They may indicate – verbally or non verbally they are wet. Or you may notice your child stops what they are doing, or disappears to a hidden spot.
• Its important to also recognise when a child is emotionally ready too. Physical ability alone is not enough, so the time is right when the child is willing. If you show them the potty and its a firm no then its not the time, but subtly pop it out at relevant times, before the bath etc. make it available so the child can communicate when they are ready.
You do not need to go cold turkey
Monday morning in nursery and a child would turn up in pants with not a nappy in sight, in a different environment, with different people and within 5 minutes they’d have an accident. Within half a day they’d run out of clothes! There seemed to be this belief that when you decided the time was right that was it, one day your child is in nappies and the next they are gone, and you are not going back.
Certain events such as a change in environment/care giver/level of tiredness, may all affect a child during toilet training. If they are struggling one day, or if you’ve got a trip to the supermarket, don’t overthink whether it is right or wrong to use this nappy for now. If popping a nappy on is something the child is happy with, and will ensure they are comfortable, then go for it – the key is not to become complacent with it. If you pop that nappy on and are then stood in the checkout queue when your child requests the toilet, you should then support them to find a toilet, even if it means abandoning the trolley, this way the nappy is not confusing at all, it is simply supporting both of you to avoid unnecessary upset and discomfort for the child.
This can become confusing if there’s no consistency at all, but it is more about realistic expectations. If you spend some time just at home then you may find it easier, but it shouldn’t need to be only one way – for many children the process of toileting takes more than a few days, or weeks, so some flexibility is needed.
The aim isn’t for them to not have accidents, the aim is for them to enhance their own awareness.
At nursery we had toilet time. Every hour someone would take all the toddlers in pants to the toilet and they’d all sit there for a few minutes then be sent off to play. This process would repeat during the whole day. This prevents accidents, but it does not help the child’s sense of autonomy. Resisting the urge to constantly take them to the toilet, or even ask repeatedly is important. The problem when we constantly request a child go on cue is that we don’t give them the opportunity to recognise their bodies signals, what they learn is to wee on demand, they learn they can control that muscle and use it when they please, but they fail to recognise the signs that their bladder is full. When the reminding stops, accidents begin. Gentle encouragement through observation of your child’s habits, and focusing on creating the right environment for your child so it is easy for them when they start to notice those signs, and being the loving support if there is accidents is a better approach than preventing them.
Using the toilet is normal, we don’t need distractions, but we do need comfort
Toileting should feel like a natural flow in their bodies maturing. Like everything, if a task becomes about the reward at the end then the task itself loses its value. A flashy potty is the same as sticker charts and other forms of reward. Much like the statement above, they learn to go on demand rather than being supported in their bodily awareness. The focus should be on making sure they are comfortable so that they can use the potty when ready. A basic low potty is one of the best all rounders. It’s the right size, and low enough for small children. it also puts the knees up in a nice position for opening the bowels. However, my daughter could not get down low very easily with her hyper-mobile joints, she found it too much of a struggle to stand back up, the higher Baby Bjorn potty worked a treat, still not fancy, but she could sit on and stand up as many times as she needed easily, so find something that will meet your child’s individual needs without adding distraction from toileting.
Don’t forget emotional comfort. One child may prefer being alone, another may want a parent there holding a hand. Some children may be particularly tense about using the toilet, and need greater support. The temptation is to distract, but what we should aim to do is help them relax. In some ways this may seem like distraction but by listening to the child and making the distraction a connection with you, such as a story, song, or foot rub can be comforting. My daughter didn’t like to be talked to even though going to the toilet was painful and she would cry. She needed our presence and to feel our touch but she didn’t need distraction, just loving support. The feeling of wanting to distract comes from the place of our own discomfort. I know I wanted to distract her but to do so would have belittled her pain
Being dry is not the end
Many things can throw a spanner in the works regarding toileting. Children may have seemed completely fine and ‘toilet trained’, then out of the blue something will cause them to have accidents, and I know that you will have this internal fight or panic asking why?
I cannot speak for every situation but I know from years of observing, that many children go through this. For our family this was a big part of our toileting journey. Our daughter suffered some pretty awful bowel issues that has left her on medications today at nearly 6. At their peak there was a complete regression back to nappies. I knew I could have been frustrated, washing nappies, after a year of being out of them. But I also knew for sure that this event did not undo what she had learned, the situation had simply changed and we had to accept it and trust our daughter. Whilst ours turned out to be physical issues this happens to many children completely inexplicably. Sometimes you have to stop, draw back and see the whole picture. You may notice something that has happened and sometimes not, maybe you take a break for a short while and then try again. Don’t be caught up in rushing to the end goal, rest in that moment and let it unfold, just pause. For some reason our culture has crammed toilet training into a set window where we say 2-5 years is when its all done and dusted. Truth is it really isn’t, realising this before you start will ease your frustration. really the end is way beyond being dry in pants. Learning to use the toilet is a journey that lasts many years, it becomes a lot easier to understand when you aren’t trying to race to the finish line.