Not toilet ‘training’.
‘Training’ suggests a proactive process that can be speeded up with energy and effort.
Children have to be ready, first. They have to be ready physically (they must have bladder and bowel capacity and muscle control), cognitively (they must be aware of what they are supposed to do), and emotionally (they must be willing to let go of their current arrangements).
So, it’s a mistake to try to start too early.
It’s also a mistake to try to speed up the process. Toilet readiness is best led by the child. Start to think about having a potty on hand when your child:
- starts to let you know before (or immediately after) they wet or soil, or
- is dry for an hour or two at a stretch, or
- wakes with dry nappies occasionally.
Create the atmosphere of acceptance and encouragement the child needs. Too much hurry, or trying to start too soon can lead to regression, bedwetting or even psychological issues later. It’s safest to relax, remain patient and allow the child to set the agenda. The process can take weeks, or even months, and disruptions in the child’s life (like a new sibling or travelling) can cause them to backtrack - even after they are fully ‘trained’.
Once a child begins to explore toileting they will want to see how the experts (that’s you!) do it. Let them watch while you explain that this is what they will be learning now that they are a ‘big’ child. Talk about toileting and give encouragement (not sweets!). Begin looking for the classic signs your child needs to go, like holding their private parts or jiggling from foot to foot.
Of course accidents will happen; accidents are part of the process. Waiting until your child is ready for toileting will reduce the number of accidents, but will not eliminate them completely. Remain calm, free from criticism and anger, and stay relentlessly encouraging! If you become discouraged, so will they.
(Pull-ups or undies? It’s a personal choice, but many experienced practitioners believe pull-ups impair a child’s sense of when they are wet which therefore extends the toileting process.)
The key message: Don’t start too soon, don’t rush, and do stay positive.
Every child gets there in the end!