How do you know when to potty train your child and how do you get it right? Lori Cohen asked the experts – and some inspiring moms who nailed it – for their advice
THE PRICE OF nappies! Besides watching your child reach a new level of independence, this is one of the major reasons parents are keen to potty train their toddlers as soon as they can. Plus, some crèches will only accept a child who is weaned off diapers. That can swiftly take potty training from an exciting project to embark on with your child, to something that is urgent for him or her to grasp. Whew, that’s a lot of pressure for both you and your tot!
WHEN’S THE RIGHT TIME TO START?
While no statistics exist for South Africa, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) reports the average age at which training begins has increased over the past 40 years from earlier than 18 months of age to between 21 and 36 months – largely due to the use of disposable nappies, which keep children more comfortable when wet. Their research shows controlling bowel movement overnight is the earliest toileting skill (around 22 months in girls and 25 months in boys) while being able to pull up underwear or training nappies is usually the last skill mastered, happening at around 29.5 months in girls and 33.5 months in boys. The AAFP says children do not master all necessary skills until after 24 months of age, although some do as early as 12 months. So where does that leave you?
LOOK FOR THE SIGNALS
If you are not faced with a preschool or crèche toilet training deadline, there are three things to consider before you get started, says occupational therapist Lara Schoenfeld. “Your child needs to have developed a sensory awareness, in that they look down at their nappy or get a confused or thoughtful look on their face when they release. They may also show an interest in the toilet or watching you on the toilet. The last thing to think about is the weather, as it is easier to toilet train when it is warm and they can go nappyfree during the day,” says Lara. Plus, the brain needs to be able to make the connection between weeing and feeling wet, which cannot happen if they feel dry in a nappy all the time, she explains. Considering these three factors the appropriate time to start toilet training is when it’s the summer season nearest when they are 18 months old,” says Lara.
Paediatrician Dr Temlett Hockey further explains that a child may be ready when they have a predictable, regular bowel habit, are dry for more than two hours at a time and the following developmental milestones have been reached: PHYSIOLOGICAL They can hold their bladder/rectal content voluntarily. COGNITIVE They can make a connection between the toilet and the need for elimination, can resist distraction and can remember where the toilet is. MOTOR They are able to undress/dress, climb onto the toilet and wipe themselves. EMOTIONAL They need to have the maturity to be able to relax sphincters voluntarily. SOCIAL They have an awareness of the
actions of others and may try imitating them.
VERBAL They are able to understand instructions and receive guidance from adults.
WHAT’S THEIR PERSONALITY?
We often forget that children are individuals when it comes to practical tasks like potty training, says Lara. Recognising your child’s sensory sentiments should be a consideration, she says. “A baby that has always been hypervigilant and hypersensitive – where they feel and hear everything – will require a different approach to a baby that has always been content and easy. The settled baby will not register as much sensory information in their nappy than the settled child so may not have the awareness as early, for example,” she says. “The sensitive child may require a padded potty or use soft wipes while potty training to make it more comfortable. The most important thing is that every child is on its own journey and they will all get there eventually. If both you and your baby are finding it a stressful process that is not progressing give it a break for a while,” she recommends. HANNA GREEN, MOM TO DEVORA (3) I put my daughter on the toilet from about 14 months as a fun routine before bathtime – I did this so she wouldn’t be afraid of the toilet when the time came to train her. I then let it happen naturally without too much pressure and she has always followed me to the toilet (the joys of being a mom), so she has witnessed how it’s done from a very young age.
Going straight to toilet rather than using a potty made more sense to me as it’s one less item to have to clean and sterilise. I also wanted my daughter to be comfortable with an actual toilet without needing a potty as it was unnecessary to have an extra step in the toilet training process. She had never seen a potty so moving straight to a toilet was easy for us and fine for her.
I chose to use a seat that fitted onto the toilet. From age two she was going to the toilet for pees and poos, then she became terrified of doing poos in the toilet. We decided to try the Baby Throne toilet seat. It’s fabulous and she was happy to have her own special toilet seat that’s easy to use, very safe and comfortable and actually helps the child empty their bowel. It can be used from a much younger age and it has an attachment so can also be used as a potty but we put ours straight onto the toilet seat. My favourite part is that you don’t have to worry about clothes getting peed on as it’s literally like a throne and the back is quite high and holds them so nicely. I found making toilet time fun helped. We used star charts and read books – anything to make it a fun activity. Each day is different, so sometimes it’s not as easy as it sounds as toddlers are super stubborn and like to do things when and how they want, but with a relaxed attitude, it is not so scary to transition from nappies to the toilet.
Being at playschool definitely helped as all the children are encouraged to go and they learn from their friends. She joined playschool at age 2.5 so this is when I really let go of nappies during the day. I think the fear of accidents and mess was more my issue so I kept her in a nappy more often than she needed it and that confused her a bit.
CHILD-LED INCENTIVE METHOD
LINDY DIAMOND, MOM TO AERIN, AVA AND ARI I have three daughters close in age and each was different when they were ready to potty train. My first began at about 20 months, the second a bit earlier and the third was ready from 16 months – so I definitely think a bit of role modelling from the older siblings was a factor. I knew they were ready when they began to get curious about what I was doing in the toilet, became very uncomfortable when their nappy was in any way wet and would even sometimes remove their nappy after a wee themselves.
To start toilet training, I took a large glass fishbowl and filled it with all the sorts of things I knew my eldest loved; stickers, sunglasses, “fancy” panties, a few small toys, nothing too expensive but everything glittery and enticing. I told her that every time she realised she needed to wee and managed to do it in the toilet she could choose one thing from the bowl. The bowl sat in a very visible place in the house, which helped her keep remembering to think if she needed to wee. With my second and third daughters, they had the added motivation of having a potty trained older sister, so for them I chose one gorgeous toy and then we used star charts to work up to earning the toy. During toilet training I also asked if they wanted to make a wee every 30 minutes. The more we asked, the better the chances of success.
I think when your child is ready to be potty trained it is easy and hasslefree, which it was for me. If they aren’t ready, then things can get stressful. My kids were ready, and then the incentives were just icing on the cake! Kids love instant gratification (we all do, I think) and receiving a little treat after getting it right just makes the whole experience positive and fun.
Pooing was a challenge, more than weeing, but we used the same method and it came right eventually. Once they were successfully weeing and pooing in the toilet I would get asked after every wee if they could get a prize. Three months down the line this can get a little old! But I explained that now that they had accomplished this challenge, we could find new ones to work towards.
VARENKA PASCHKE, MOM TO KOLYA, LORELEI AND LORCA This method doesn’t really involve potty training – it’s actually a nappy-free method you use from birth. I decided to try it because I didn’t like the idea of environmental impact of disposable use. I decided to give it a try with my first child, without putting too much pressure on myself for it to work, but it did and I’ve used it with both my other children including my 6-month-old.
It’s been an amazing trip in communication with my kids because it involves learning their cues of when they need to eliminate and also to use your intuition. From birth I would place my babies on my chest nappy-free. As I began to learn their cues – they would squirm, make a noise or express themselves in some way –- I would hold them over a Tupperware and make a peeing sound and then they literally eliminate. In the first three months you are with your baby all the time so getting into a rhythm and getting to know them physically is easy. They get used to you making the sound, holding them over the bowl – it’s conditioning, really. Because you respond to their cues they retain their muscle control that they would lose with nappy use. That’s the big difference between babies that wear nappies and those that don’t – they never have to learn muscle control again when they are older. When they are at the age when they start walking I was able to communicate with my children and tell them to hold on for a bit until I could take them to the toilet. You get to know the times of day they want to do their business – so you know that they usually need the toilet half an hour after they wake up or after they’ve eaten.
I use mattress protectors and waterproof sheets on my bed in case there are accidents. When we are out I put thick training pants on them, but they rarely need them. A bonus of the experience is the intuitive level of communication I have with my kids.