Potty training is not a phrase I especially like!
I prefer to see the role of a parent or caregiver as supporting the child as they acquire this new skill rather than ‘training’ them. There are many books on the market ‘teaching’ parents to potty train their child and the internet is flooded with advice, however the most important tip I can give you is to respect your child as the, unique, individual, wonderful little human being that they are and remember that one size does not fit all when it comes to pretty much anything parenting, including potty training!
Moving from nappies to the potty or toilet is something that a child needs to be both physically and emotionally ready for. If both these boxes are ticked then it tends to go fairly smoothly, so let’s take a look at them in turn:
A bit of science! - In order for a child to be able to hold their pee and poop the reflex sphincter control needs to be matured and myelination of the extrapyramidal tracts needs to have occurred – this happens around 18 months of age and there is nothing that you can do to encourage this process as it is just a natural part of a child’s physical development.
These developments often coincide with most toddlers being able to walk which is an asset to potty training!
Children ideally need to be able to pull their own trousers up and down, and to have the cognitive ability to follow instructions – “quick let’s find the potty”!
Physical readiness often happens before the emotional readiness. Whilst the physical readiness tends to be something that you cannot impact yourself, they are just ready when they are ready, emotional readiness is something that you can help with.
1. Think about the language that you use: I hear so many parents squeal at their children to keep their hands out of their poop because it is yucky and dirty, with the very best intentions, yet not realising that this can mean that when potty training comes around their child may understandably have a fear of poop! Talk positively about pee and poop, teach your children that it is a natural process that is not to be feared. There are some great books out there for children that show the digestive process from eating to pooping, and some of these could be a great addition to your bedtime story pile in the run up to potty training.
2. Let your children see you pee and poop – this really helps them to understand the process and to realise that it is a natural part of life. Children love to mirror what their parents do. I often observe that mums find this easier to do than dads however for a boy, being able to see another trusted male stand up and pee can be really helpful. Of course, you need to feel comfortable with this.
3. Try to ignore the external pressures to potty train and really follow your child’s lead and trust your instinct. You will always have well-meaning friends and family members suggesting that you should be ‘getting on with it’, but no one knows your child better than you do. If you feel pressured then your child will pick up on this. Remember following their lead, going at their pace, will most probably mean that potty training runs really smoothly and you will be less likely to run into some of the common issues that I see day in and day out with clients- holding in poop, frequent wetting, anxiety around the potty and toilet.
4. Make the potty part of your furniture well before you intend to try with no nappies. This means it becomes a familiar object, Teddy can poop on it, your child can sit on it before bath if they want to. Buy a potty adapted to your child’s shape and size. If you have a tall toddler then a potty chair may be more suitable than a low to the ground potty (although for some children knees higher up actually helps position wise for pooping!) Don’t be swayed by the all singing all dancing potty, pick a potty that will best suit your child - they can also help choose!
5. Look at your own emotional readiness, for some parents this can be a big step, especially if this is likely to be their only or last child. Moving away from nappies often indicates to a parent that their baby is growing up and this can take a little time for some parents to process. Find the support you need if you feel you are struggling emotionally, or if there are other things that are going on in your life that are creating added stresses for you. The less anxious and stressed you are the calmer the process will be for everyone. Trying to ‘potty train’ whilst dealing with an unwell sibling and a heavy work schedule may not be the best time!
These are all things that are great to be aware of really early on. Often people don’t think about potty training until the child starts saying they have pooped in their nappy, when actually there is so much you can do to encourage their emotional readiness well before then, and actually to support your own emotional readiness too!
Remember to trust your instinct, to listen to your child and to take things one step at a time!
Author - Caroline Evans
The Eric website has some good evidence based advice on potty training: https://www.eric.org.uk/when-to-start-potty-training
These are books that are not specifically about ‘potty training’ but about how the body works, and poop!!