Learning to use the toilet is a major milestone in every child’s life and a huge step forward in the transition from toddlerhood to childhood. For parents, the unfamiliar territory of toilet training is often a source of worry and anxiety, especially when the process doesn’t go as smoothly as expected. Much of this apprehension stems from not knowing what’s normal when it comes to toilet training or what to do when a child’s toilet-training progress doesn’t seem to match that of his or her relatives or playmates.
The most important thing for parents to keep in mind as their child works on acquiring the skills necessary for independent toilet use is that it doesn’t have to (and likely will not) progress according to a predetermined schedule. Every child is unique and has to master a wide variety of developmental skills. Your child may exceed or lag behind his or her peers in one area or another. Remember, it’s not a race, and there are no awards for finishing first!
1. Know when it’s appropriate to begin
The biggest question on many parents’ minds is when should toilet training begin? The simple answer is: when your child is physically and emotionally ready to toilet train. Physically, your child must have sufficient control over the bowel and bladder muscles. Look for signs such as waking from a nap with a dry diaper, making it through the night without having a bowel movement, and having bowel movements at a somewhat predictable time every day. Of course, the child must also have the motor skills to climb on and off the toilet or potty seat as well as the ability to undress.
Examples of signs that your child is emotionally ready to toilet train include demonstrating a generally cooperative mindset, exhibiting the ability to follow simple directions, expressing displeasure and a desire to be changed when his or her diaper is wet or soiled, expressing an interest in using the toilet, expressing an interest in others’ toilet use, and expressing a desire to wear “big boy” or “big girl” pants instead of a diaper.
Emotional readiness often lags behind physical readiness, so don’t be discouraged if these two skill sets don’t match up initially. Most kids are physically and emotionally ready to toilet train somewhere between the ages of 22 and 30 months, but that’s just a general guideline.
2. Don’t rush success
After the question of when to begin toilet training, the second biggest question in many parents’ minds is how long should toilet training take? A child is considered toilet trained when he or she has the ability to recognize the need to use the toilet and is able to use the toilet with no or minimal assistance. Most kids achieve this level of skill by around age three or somewhat later, but some will finish sooner or later than their peers and girls tend to finish before boys.
Also, just because your child is toilet trained doesn’t mean he or she will never again need assistance when using the toilet. Many kids will need a little ongoing help or support with skills like wiping themselves or using unfamiliar restrooms.
3. Never punish failures
The last thing you want is for your child to associate toilet training with negative repercussions. Never punish or scold him or her for failing to progress or backsliding in training. On the other hand, frequent praise and simple rewards, such as stickers, can be good motivators. One effective technique is to place a sheet of paper on the wall next to the toilet and affix a sticker to it (gold stars work very well for this purpose) every time your child uses the toilet. With this technique, your child will have a visible and tangible representation of his or her progress close by.
4. Don’t sweat the setbacks
Sometimes there are setbacks in toilet training with the child seeming to become less cooperative with the process (e.g., expressing a desire to wear diapers again or “holding it” for long periods). This behavior may simply indicate that your child’s emotional readiness needs to catch up to his or her physical readiness. You don’t want toilet training to turn into a battle of wills, so sometimes the best step forward is a temporary step back.
Also, keep in mind that stressful events, such as changing preschools, the arrival of a new sibling, or a death or conflict in the family, can cause a child who seemed to be toilet training successfully to suddenly backslide and revert to old habits. Don’t let this discourage you. However, do keep in mind that a highly stressful period is not the ideal time to initiate toilet training.
5. Accept that accidents will happen
Even if your child sails through the process of toilet training without the slightest setback, he or she may still have wetting or soiling accidents from time to time until somewhere around age five. This can happen during the day when a child is too absorbed in play or too distracted by other things to recognize and respond to the impulse to use the toilet. Sporadic nighttime bedwetting can be an issue for some kids well into school age.
If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s progress with toilet training, be sure to share them with your pediatrician. Otherwise, relax, take your time, and stay positive. Your child will master this skill soon enough! ❦