Potty training then and now
In the 50s, experts advocated starting potty training around 1 year old, expecting toddlers to be completely dry by 18 months.
In the 80s, a nanny who had a TV programme, advocated sitting a 9 month old child on the potty 4 times a day for 10 minutes at a time. The baby is held on the potty with a scarf tied around their middle, fastened on the bars of the playpen! (She did say you should only do this if the child is happy about it though, and she didn’t expect the baby to be clean and dry until the age of 2.)
We have a much more relaxed attitude about when to start these days – partly down to how good modern nappies are. And maybe partly down to how our homes are more likely to be carpeted and we don’t want to be mopping up mess!
Here are some different ways of approaching potty training:
Four different approaches
1: Elimination Communication / “Baby Led potty training”
When your baby is small, if you can figure out when they usually go, e.g. immediately after a feed, then you can put them on the potty and try and catch the wee/poo. Over time the baby can develop a reflex action that tells them to release their bladder/bowels when they touch the potty. Making a particular noise or teaching your baby a sign can also be a trigger for them to release their bowels. This is different from the conscious control that toddlers learn when they are older, and there can be difficulties in the transition period when toddler switch from the reflex action to choosing when to go to the toilet. There is more about EC here if you are interested.
Pros: uses fewer nappies. This is the method we used to use until a generation or two ago, and is still used in most parts of the world.
Cons: having to sit the baby on the potty every hour or so to catch the wees – time consuming. You have to watch your child closely. But you can keep a nappy on in between.
2. Child led, “Wait until they are ready” approach
Your child decides when they are ready to stop using nappies. You encourage and help them with using the potty when they are ready.
Pros: it’s quick and less effort as they child feels they are ready.
Cons: You might have to wait longer than you would like before they feel they are ready.
3. Intensive, train in a day method
You create the opportunity for the child to recognise and respond to the signs of a full bladder within a very short time. Requires the parent to decide “today’s the day” and spend the whole day or week training the toddler and keeping it entertaining. There are books you can buy that detail the approach. It won’t work until the child is of an age where they are ready to train. There is more about training in a day here.
Pros: They get the idea very quickly.
Cons: Can be hard work and requires dedication. If the child isn’t into the idea you are going to fail.
4. Slow and steady approach
This is the approach most people fall into – potty training takes weeks or months, with frequent accidents. Try without nappies for a bit, maybe with pull ups, then have a few set backs. If you can keep relaxed about it, they will get there eventually.
Pros: They do get the hang of it eventually
Cons: Can be stressful, dealing with accidents and regressions.
There is no right approach – have a go at whichever one you think will be best for you.
When to start potty training
When they are ready!
How do you know they are ready?
- Telling you they want to use the toilet/potty. Telling you they have done a wee/poo. They need to become aware that the wet in their nappy is actually coming from them.
- Have they got the coordination to be able to sit on a potty and get up again, and are they able to understand instructions? This would occur generally between 18m – 3 years, though from at least 2 years old is most common.
- Are they doing fewer, bigger wees? Does the nappy stay dry for an hour or two?
- Are you ready too? It’s easier when you have no big life changes coming up e.g. new baby, moving house, changing childcare. If you child is going through an emotionally difficult time, they will be less amenable to potty training.
- Have confidence in your own ability to judge when your child is ready. Don’t start to train because you feel pressured from friends or family.
- Make sure they see you going to the toilet, and if possible, see other children use a potty or toilet.
Night time dryness
Becoming dry at night is a different process to becoming dry in the day, and can take years longer than day time potty training. It can take up to the age of 6 or 7 for some children to be dry at night – others get there much quicker.
Top Tips for Stress-free potty training
- Make sitting on the potty part of your getting dressed and undressed routine.
- Make sure your child is drinking plenty of water so the bladder is able to fill up properly and empty properly.
- Choose clothes that are easy to pull up and down, and easy to wash.
- Let you child choose their new pants. Don’t use pull-ups – they are just a nappy in a different shape.
- Choose a potty with your child.
- Show pleasure and delight when your child uses the potty successfully (don’t go overboard!)
- Never force her to sit on the potty longer than she wants to, but you can encourage her to stay on there with books or toys. The longer they stay on there to greater chance of her doing something.
- Talk to your child about the contents of the nappy in a matter of fact way. Never “Yuk”!
- Many people recommend training in the summer time so your child can have sessions with no pants on, especially in the garden.
- Encourage your child to tell you when they have done a wee or a poo. The awareness of having urinated or defecated comes before the awareness of needing to go.
- Some people like to reward their child for using the potty, others use praise. Personally, I don’t find sticker charts or bribing with sweets particularly useful, but I know lots of people do it.
- Move towards using the potty in the bathroom only, but initially have upstairs and downstairs potties (in the same design/colour) easily accessible.
- Resist the temptation to ask your child every 5 minutes whether they need to use the potty. This is boring and irritating for both of you.
- Above all keep calm! Don’t get stressed out. Your child will pick up on your stress and this can lead to problems around using the potty/toilet. They will get there! Very few children are still in nappies when they start school.