Dr Claudine DeMunter
Potty Training - When and How?
Some toddlers are ready to come out of nappies during the day by 2 years of age, some may take a little longer and are ready by 3 ½ years of age. The process can take weeks or months with accidents along the way. Night-time potty training can take longer and most children are dry at night by 5 years of age. While a parent may want the toddler to be potty trained quickly, if the child is not ready, the training will fail and may even take longer. It is important as a parent to adapt to the child’s pace.
Biology: From the age of around 2 years old, a toddler can stay without passing urine for 2-3 hours. The nappy can sometimes be dry in the morning. The bladder grows and the sphincters develop. Equally, as time passes, the passing of stools becomes regular and predictable. The toddler also starts to understand the words used in the family to identify the passing of urine or stools and the feel of needing to. The toddler then shows signs that stools are about to be produced. Some toddlers end up not liking when their nappy is dirty.
Clothes: When you decide to start potty training, your child needs to be able to get undressed easily. So, choose clothes that are quick and easy to take off and preferably by your child alone. Pull-up nappies are quite useful as they allow the toddler to have control. It is often easier to train in the summer as you can also choose to leave your toddler bare-bottomed which will then make him/her more aware of bodily signals and easier to rush to the potty.
Potty or toilet: Choosing the right potty is important: the model must be stable and not tip over. Some toddlers will want to choose by themselves. Some children react against the "baby" potty and want to use the "grown-up" one instead. If this the case, buy a toddler toilet seat that is stable, with a footrest that offers something to push against during bowel movements. Ensure there is a step that allows your child to reach easily.
Drinks: It is not good to deny drinks but it may be good to give them at regular intervals. Later on, when you move to start night-time training, it is a good idea to give the last drink 2 hours before bedtime, to give your child a better chance at succeeding at being clean at night.
Making it fun and interesting: Youngsters learn by imitation. and the toilet is no different. So, it is useful to allow your toddler to come with you when you go to the toilet and see what you do when you pass urine and stools and enjoy the amazement of flushing.
Language: Use simple language that your toddler understands and even if you think it, do not refer to your child's nappy contents as "disgusting", “smelly” etc. Your child may be put off doing something that is felt as “disgusting” to you. Use words that will make your child feel this a normal and positive process.
Reminders: Keep it casual when reminding your child about using the potty. Nagging will only provoke resistance. Similarly, don't force your child to stay on the potty for prolonged periods as this may be felt like a punishment and will have the opposite effect desired.
Praise and patience: Letting your child know that you support him/her is very important. Give praise but do not demand too much as feeling excessive pressure to perform, may make your child yearn for the simpler babyhood and diminish self-confidence. When you have successes, say how proud you are. Treats, like stickers on a star chart for successful events, are often useful.
Do not: Do not scold, punish or shame if your toddler fails and has accidents, but explain that these things can happen and when possible, get your toddler to clean up with you. Do not compare him to peers who are already clean. Equally, calling your toddler’s behaviour babyish, can also provoke a negative reaction and resistance to growing up.
Frustrating: It can be frustrating, but be patient as your little one is learning. If your toddler is not ready, it’s best to avoid the struggle: simply go back to nappies for a while longer and revisit in a few weeks. Potty training doesn't usually come easily or without bumps, so don't underestimate the process. It's all about waiting for signs of readiness in your toddler. Potty training might seem endless, but sooner or later your little one will outgrow nappies.