“Learning to use the toilet is a natural process that begins when your child’s desire to be grown up and his neurological development have reached the point where he can control his bladder and bowels. We don’t train children to use the toilet, we support them when they are ready.” – How to Raise an Amazing Child: The Montessori way to bring up caring confident children, by Tim Seldin
Toilet training is part of growing up process. It is an important stage in a child’s development. There are many theories and research that associate toilet training to a later stage in a child’s life.
Many parents often face a dilemma or pressure in deciding when to start this process. When is a good time? There is no definite time or guide when this will come. It differs from every child, siblings or even twins. I have two daughters that went through the same toilet training process, but their personality plays a part in each of their own accomplishment. My first daughter who is now 16 years old has a more reserved personality. She was toilet trained and independent at the age of 4 but she would not express her needs to use the toilet in school or outside. There were many occasions when she came home with a wet pair of culottes. We even had to provide her with XXL diapers for outings and nap at 6 years old. Her teachers would continue to bring her to the toilet along with her friends who were able to express their needs to use the toilet. Eventually towards her last few months in Kindergarten 2, she started to open up and was more confident to express her needs to use the toilet. My younger daughter has a very different personality from her elder sister. She has a more outgoing personality and expresses her thoughts and feelings more openly. Her toilet training process was much smoother and quicker and was able to be totally diaper-free by the age of 3.
So, what do we look out for when a child is ready for toilet training?
Firstly, let it be a natural gradual process for the child. Look out for your child’s diapers that can stay dry for more than an hour. DO NOT FORCE if they are not ready. Let’s not be pressured to say that your child must be toilet trained at a certain age. No child’s developmental milestone is the same as another. Each child is an unique individual.
(Pre-toilet training) – During diaper changing, we can talk to them about their bodily function as it is a normal process for everyone to use the toilet to get rid of body waste that is not needed by the body. Some parents may be comfortable to allow your child to observe and learn how adults use the toilet. Narrate your actions. Honestly, it helps. The key is communication. Encourage your child to use words or show hand signs to indicate his or her needs to use the toilet. Be consistent in the language use for your child to express their needs – like pee, poo, passing urine or passing motion. It is best to share this consistency with other caregivers or teachers looking after your child’s needs. Some children may tell you before they do it and some may tell you after they are done. Observe their facial expressions and look out for the frequency and timing to be more aware of your child’s toileting needs. This will help you to proceed to the next step… Set a routine. Incorporate toileting into the child’s routine close to their frequency and timing that you have observed. Some examples could be, in the morning after milk, before and after going out, before and after meal or nap, etc. Inform the child “It’s time to use the toilet” rather than posting a question to them like “Do you want to go the toilet?”. There may be rejection to the question. You can also use an alarm clock set at regular intervals to remind them to go, “The clock says it’s time to use toilet.” Eventually the child will identify the sensation of peeing or pooping. When they are more aware of their toileting needs, they may decline and say, “No, I don’t need to go”. Never force a child to use the toilet or potty. If the child is engaged in a task or activity fixing a puzzle, wait until they have finished. Do not interrupt the child to use the potty.
At the age of 1 to 3 years old, they start to show autonomy. Independent skill starts to kick in here. Independence leads to confidence which then reflects on their emotional stability. In your toilet setup, use a stool with handle and a child-sized toilet seat for them. This will allow them to climb up the stool and sit on the toilet bowl by themselves safely. When using a potty, place it in the bathroom rather than moving it around the house. This is to give them the concept that toileting is to be done in the premise of the toilet and not anywhere else. Use pull–up diapers instead of strap. Teach them how to pull up and down their diapers. Start putting on training pants or underwear, as they progress in toileting and dressing & undressing by themselves. Choose clothing that allows them to manage by themselves like elastic-waist trousers. Using training pants will let the child feel the wetness sensation and this will provide a sense of discomfort when it is wet. This will greatly help them to begin to learn that it feels nicer to be dry and in control for a longer period of time.
What if they wet themselves? Accept that accidents do happen. It is a learning process for the child. Some adults may feel frustrated especially to clean up the mess. Stay calm and reassure your child. Do not make them feel ashamed and just state the facts. You may wish to say, “I see you are wet. Let’s go get some dry clothes.” Assist them if needed or if they are overwhelmed. You can also empower your child to decide on his next change of clothes. Let them change at their own pace. Parents must also learn to control their emotions and not allow themselves to make a big deal out of the situation.
Do bear in mind that toilet training is an important developmental milestones for the child. You might want to bear in mind to take note of suitable time period to avoid other situations that will also cause the child emotional stress during changes like, the birth of a younger sibling, changes in the family relationships like a divorce, or some other upheaval in daily life like moving house.
Toilet training in school. Discuss with your child’s class teacher about your plan in toilet training your child that you plan to start with your child at home. This will give the teacher a heads up for any behavioural changes and adjust her timing during lessons to accommodate the frequency for toileting training. The teacher can support the child’s toilet training by reading some books related to it. (Potty by Leslie Patrice, No More Nappies by Camphell Books, A Potty for Me by Karen Katz, I want my potty by Tony Ross) The teacher may also share the books that she has read in school with you, so that you can also read to your child as a bedtime story or during any other time in the day.
Do expect a different outcome when in school during the initial stages. In your child’s home environment, he/she may initiate the use of toilet more openly and confidently with you at home. As compared to the classroom settings, your child may tend to be overly focused on the play or work activities that they tend to forget to express the need to use the toilet during the initial stages. Hence, be prepared to have a ready stock of toilet training pants for your child’s use at school, so that he/she can continue to have more practice to eventually wean off the use of these toilet training pants confidently.
Toilet training is not troublesome; it is easy when the child is ready!