The Zen of Toilet Training
I recently had coffee with a friend and watched as she was near tears in describing her frustration with potty training her toddler. “My friends give me advice, I’ve watched YouTube videos, read books and Mommy blogs. I’ve been told to start him early, start him late; to praise; to punish…I’m just so confused!”
With so much information available to new parents, it can be very overwhelming to distinguish between fact and fiction. Potty training can be especially stressful when you’re trying to get a child ready to start preschool, go on a vacation or have another baby on the way.
The first secret it to flip your idea of this process. You will not be potty training. Your child will be potty learning. This is not an adult-directed activity; this is your child learning independence. Your child’s body (with the help of her mind) will be learning how to control this bodily function. The good news is that this is something innate and natural.
Use the following seven guidelines for a (mostly) stress-free way to get your child out of diapers and into big boy and girl pants!
- Let your child wet her pants!
Yes, I mean it. A diaper or pull-up is designed to wick away the moisture from your child’s skin. But your child needs to feel the difference between wet and dry. Watch your child. The first time he wets his pants you will see a look of surprise cross his face as he experiences the sensation of wetness. Then immediately, he will use his muscles to stop the flow. He has made the connection between those muscles and control of his bodily functions. He has also made the connection between urinating and the uncomfortable feeling of wet cotton on his skin.
- Leave Fashion at the Door
The easier you make it for a child to pull down and up his pants when he has to go, the more successful he will be in making it to the potty in time. Therefore, boys and girls should wear two-piece outfits (shirt and elasticized waist shorts or pants). Leave the dresses on the hangers and avoid clothes that are difficult to fasten or unfasten because of belts, snaps or buttons.
- Find Out When Your Child is “Ready “ to Learn
I introduced my children to a little potty when they were just three months old. Some parents chose to wait until their child can dress and undress herself or when she expresses an interest in what goes on in a bathroom. But it’s not a question of maturity or personality or emotions. It’s just about introducing your child to the potty in a consistent way.
Sit them on it first thing in the morning, after nursing or a meal, before a bath, before you leave the house, and right before bed. Chances are they will have to go when they are sitting there and will get a level of comfort with what is expected of them. It’s also a myth to think that boys learn later and take longer to adapt to toilet training. I’ve taught toddlers for seven years and I’ve seen no difference between my boys and girls when it comes to this issue.
- Learn the Truth about Rewards and Punishments
The pride she will feel in knowing how to use the toilet and wear “big girl” pants is reward enough. She does not need outside reinforcements (sticker charts, M&Ms, the promise of a toy when she has learned). At the same time, this is also not a time for punishment! You will have to wash a lot of panties and clean up some spills but that is part of her learning curve…every “accident” is just another lesson on the way to mastering toileting. In fact, misses are a way to reinforce the connection between cause (not going in the potty) and effect (a wet mess to clean up) by including your childin the clean-up. “Let’s get you some clean pants and dry you off and then we can come back to clean up.” Ensure that there is no shame or blame in the “mess” and that the clean-up is a learning, not punishing experience.
- Tell Don’t Ask
In a clear and positive voice say “It’s time to go to the potty.” Do not ask you child if he wants to go; that is setting yourself up potentially for an argument if he refuses. Instead guide him and encourage him. If your child is struggling to keep dry pants, then you may need to set a timer for two-hour intervals to have him sit on the potty.
- Understand Set-Backs
You may encounter some regression with your child in her toilet learning. The arrival of a new baby might result in wet pants. Your child hasn’t forgotten how to use the toilet; she is just looking for ways to earn your attention. Other disruptions to a routine – teething, sickness, moving to a new place, starting a new school – can also be triggers for changes in toileting behavior. Even successfully reaching a developmental milestone may take her focus away from toileting. Identifying those triggers are the first step. You and your child can then talk and work through getting back to a place of toileting awareness and independence in taking care of herself.
- Don’t Hurry, Be Happy
There is nothing you can do to speed up this process other than remaining supportive. I’ve taught children who have learned toileting in two weeks and those who took longer. The key is consistency. It’s tempting after a long, hard day and want the ease and convenience of “just one day of diapers.” But the inconsistency will confuse your child. Think about the long-term reward for your wallet when you don’t have to buy all those diapers (and Mother Earth will thank you as well!)
Mamatha Chiruvella is the lead Toddler Program teacher at Arbor Montessori School in Decatur, Georgia. She has been a Montessori teacher for over 15 years, teaching children ages 18 months to 6 years.