There aren’t many phrases that can faze the seasoned parent, especially once you’ve been in the game for a few years and seen the bizarre, hilarious and sometimes downright disgusting behaviours young children regularly exhibit.
The words ‘toilet training’, however, have been known to strike fear in the hearts of even the most practised mother or father. Whether it’s due to the sheer enormity of the task at hand, the horror stories passed down through playgroup or the too-close proximity to bodily fluids no longer safely contained in a nappy, teaching your little one to use the potty or toilet is often approached with trepidation.
Like many new developments you expect in your child’s life, the thought of toilet training is often much worse than the reality.
Understanding the process, approaching the task with the right kind of strategies and frame of mind, and above all else, retaining your sense of humour throughout, all play a role in helping you and your child conquer toilet time successfully.
READING THE SIGNS
While it’s often the parent who ultimately decides that it’s time to give toilet training a crack, the decision is generally reached after observing a number of tell-tale behaviours in older toddlers and preschool-age children that indicate they are developmentally ready.
Richard Curtis, behaviour expert from The Kid Calmer and author of 101 Tips for Parents, 101 More Tips for Parents and 101 Behavior Tips for Parents , advises parents to watch for signs that their child might be ready to try using the bathroom for herself.
“There will come a point where you notice a change in your child’s behaviour as she begins to recognise the need to go to the toilet,” says Richard. “This is linked to a child’s cognition levels.”
Acknowledging these signs and discussing using the toilet, purchasing a potty to place in the bathroom and allowing your child to watch while you use the bathroom (they are curious creatures, after all!) can help encourage her understanding of the process behind toilet training, making it seem less intimidating for all involved.
Parents can be proactive in helping establish the link between the toilet or potty and pooing and weeing. Most parents can immediately recognise the face their child pulls or the specific behaviours she exhibits (sneaking off and hiding, squatting, grunting) when she is about to wee or poo. Realising what’s happening and springing into action is key. “When you see that face, place her on the potty, even wearing her nappy,” Richard says. “This helps form a link between the act of going to the toilet and being on it.”
Once the process kicks off, you may encounter a number of common roadblocks before you’re able to say sayonara to nappies for good! We asked our Practical Parenting online community about toilet training to discover the frequently asked questions, then had Richard weigh in on them with his expert advice.
Q. HOW DO IGETMY TODDLER, WHO IS TOILET TRAINED DURING THE DAY, TO WAKE UP AND USE THE TOILET DURING THE NIGHT?
Initially you’ll need to make sure she goes just before bed. Reduce fluids in the evening and wake her up during the night to take her to the toilet. This will teach her to begin to naturally wake up when she feels the urge to go to the toilet in her sleep.
Q. MY SON IS HAPPY TO WEE ON THE TOILET BUT I CAN’T GET HIM TO POO, IS IT SOMETHING I’M DAOING WRONG?
You are probably not doing anything wrong! Look at his body shape. If he is curled up it will encourage the body to hold onto the poo. Make sure his feet are flat on the floor or on a stool. Next, get him to blow up a balloon, blow bubbles or blow on an instrument. This encourages the body to open up the anus, rather than holding it tight.
Q. MY TODDLER IS GETTING BETTER AT GOING TO THE TOILET BUT I STILL HAVE TO ASK HIM IF HE NEEDS TO GO. HOW CAN I GET HIM TO GO OF OWN ACCORD?
Firstly, well done, you've made the first important step! Next, don’t stress. Having to remind kids to do things is something we have to accept. Finally I’d use a reward system to build in praise for the times he does do it. By focusing on the positive times and not the times he doesn’t, you’ll help it be a far less anxiety-inducing process for him.
Q. HOW DO I DEAL WITH REGRESSION? MY DAUGHTER WAS DOING WELL AND NOW WE ARE BACK TO SQUARE ONE.
Don’t worry! I know it’s an easy thing to say but by worrying you’ll make the act of going to the toilet more stressful for your daughter, which makes the problem worse. This is all perfectly natural and it will take less time to get back to where you were than it did before. It’s only if it goes on for a long period that professionals get worried. Focus on the positive and giving praise and you’ll be back there in no time.
Q. MY CHILD LIKES TO PLAY WITH HER WEE AND POO, HOW DO I DISCOURAGE HER?
Let me reassure you, this is perfectly natural and gives a child a huge range of sensory feedback. Don’t overreact to it (as this feeds the problem) and help your child to access the same sensory experiences through other means, reducing her need to play with it.
Q. HOW DO WE MAKE THE TRANSITION FROM POTTY TO TOILET?
Start by doing little things, such as referring to the potty or weeing as going to the toilet. Move the potty in the bathroom next to the toilet so that he links it with the toilet and when you’re ready try sitting him on the toilet and getting him to blow bubbles (as it encourages relaxation and helps with the act of going).