In these empty days of lockdown, for once, it gives us the opportunity to do all those tiresome jobs we’ve been putting off. My filing cabinet and accounts are in the best shape I’ve ever seen them, while my husband’s been doing all those odd jobs around the house that he never usually has the time to get done!
As a parent to a young toddler you may already have your hands full, especially if you have older siblings at home that you now need to home-school but this is the ideal time for lots of parents to potty train.
I’ve been potty training (as its termed, I’d rather call it ‘toilet coaching’) toddlers for the past 16 years and I know that, in those first few years it wasn’t a task that I relished. Now however, I’ve found if the timing is right and the child is ready and the environment is supportive, toddlers will more or less train themselves, with a little fuss and excitement that is!
As parents we just have to make it an enjoyable experience for our children and try to allay our own anxieties. This new routine of using the toilet independently takes a lot of skill and practice to master, but if they are ready, master it – they will!
ARE THEY READY?
So, if you think your child is ready, that is they can,
- Understand basic instruction, I find many children can’t articulate themselves well at this age but they understand lots. They have the vocabulary and understanding tucked up inside their heads even though they may not yet use it verbally, that’s why it often feels like they start talking in sentences overnight, so even if they cant say what they want, if they can understand what you want them to do such as ‘Sit on the potty’ this is a good indicator.
- Also, they may not like the wet or dirty cold discomfort of a soiled or wet nappy and may tug at it, point or lay down as if to say ‘Change my nappy now!’ this too is a good indicator.
- As well as if they notice they need to go to toilet before they go or display signs to you, they are about to go. In my experience I’ve witnessed children going to hide behind the sofa and curtain or hold onto their nappy, especially at a certain age, when they start to feel a bit more self -conscious and like to go somewhere private as we normally would when we use a toilet in a bathroom. Or they suddenly stop what they’re doing and make a funny face as if to hold it in or their face flushes as they are straining to let it go. They become aware they have wet or soiled. They can often tell you if they have the vocabulary to do so such as saying ‘poo, poo’ although I’ve found this term can mean either a wee or a poo some don’t differentiate between the two. At this stage though they may still not be able to let you know they are about to go to toilet before they actually go, but there maybe physical signs as above such as going to a certain place when they feel the need to go. At this stage we have to be proactive as parents and observe our children carefully, taking the lead from their cues. Another cue is some children have bowel movements at a certain time each day like clockwork, this is so useful to know when it comes to toilet coaching. If we know little Johnny has a poo at around 11am we can have the potty at hand ready and waiting to limit the mess of an accident. As their bladder capacity increases their nappies will remain dry for longer periods of time too which is a good sign they can hold on.
- If they can then hold on until they reach their potty or the toilet, remove their clothing and sit on the potty or toilet, then they’re ready, although this will take some practice. There are things we can do to help such as dressing them in clothing that is easy to remove. I prefer to toilet train when the weather is nice, usually during the school holidays when there’s no school runs or too many children. Easter or May half term or the six- week summer holidays are ideal. We can allow our children the freedom to run around in just their pants and a vest around the house as the temperature is warm and this is the easiest clothing to remove. Its also usually the time when we take time off to spend with our family. At the moment time home with our family is something most of us have.
- I’ve found children between 2-3years take to toilet coaching a lot quicker, any younger and its difficult for them to control their bladder or rectum and any older, their voluntary control sometimes becomes a bit lazy as they haven’t been practicing, but there’s no exact age to start, only you will know your unique, individual child, even if you’ve got ten children, each and every one of them will be different and will learn things at different times and at different rates. Their siblings may all have potty trained at 18months but if little Johnny is two and a half and still not ready then you have to wait until they are.
LEARNING TO GROW UP
I usually set aside two weeks if possible, of no going out to soft play etc… and focusing solely on the goal of toilet coaching.
I also find it very helpful if I have more than one child of appropriate age, who is ready also, to coach both children together. This way they motivate and learn from one another.
What I’ve found over the years is that children love to grow up and do the things the older children or us grown ups do, which is more than helpful at times like these.
Many parents buy their children a potty to play with from a young age, way before they are ready to understand what it’s for. I personally don’t recommend doing this as over the years I’ve encountered children who do just that- play with their potties or use them as seats to sit on, especially now you can buy these fancy thrones that sing and light up.
I know we want to make the process attractive and fun but most children I find are naturally drawn to the big toilet, especially washing their hands afterwards with the liquid soap in the sink. They don’t want more singing toys; they want to be like us. We are their greatest role models, I know for most of us its almost impossible to use the toilet ourselves without an audience of little people tagging along, and this can be good, especially if you have a son following his father and observing and imitating his dad, this helps him to learn, likewise, our daughters can learn from us mums.
It’s also great when our children attend childcare settings such as a childminder’s, where they are surrounded by children of various ages, at some point they will experience being the baby or youngest child, middle child and then the oldest and they learn from the other children and copy them. This is great when it comes to toilet coaching as they will see the big boys going to the bathroom to use the big toilet and will naturally want to be just like one of them.
It seems ironic that – the bathroom or toilet is the one place I stop the babies and nappy wearing toddlers going into, one -through fear of germs while crawling round the ubend and two- losing toys or ornaments down the loo (this is more common than you may think!) so the banned room as you can imagine is their run to place as soon as my back is turned. Its attractive because its somewhere they know I don’t want them to go without me!
We don’t want to create germ phobia particularly now in this time when they will already be watching us obsessively handwashing and disinfecting the house several times a day, due to the current coronavirus epidemic. Yes, it’s more important now than ever before to wash our hands thoroughly and teach our children how to do so, but again we must make this a fun experience not get neurotic. If they have an accident in the bath that looks like a scene from ‘Kevin and Perry -Go Large’ then don’t panic, keep calm, cool and collected, this is what we call a learning opportunity.
They don’t do this on purpose to upset us so, just remove them from the bath while explaining to them what has happened, where its come from, how it’s a normal bodily function to get rid of what his body no longer needs, and give it a name so he can recognise it.
Remember babies and toddlers seldom get to see their faeces, its in their nappies which we change so, being able to see it helps them to identify with it, I call it ‘Poo, Poo’ your child may find a better or at least a funnier name for it. Just be consistent when referring to bodily waste so your child is clear what you mean when you say it, so for example, if your child likes to use the term ‘Wee, Wee’ you may throw them when you ask them to go for a ‘Pee, Pee’.
NOW IS NOT A GOOD TIME
Sometimes though they maybe ready but we aren’t, this is what happened to me with my first child, I had just arrived home from the hospital after giving birth to my second child and was in the middle of breastfeeding him when she announced ‘I need a wee wee on the potty!’ and ripped off her nappy.
No way I thought as I flew up from my seat to come to her aid, but she just did it…. sat down and wee’d and that was that. I was relieved and over joyed she had achieved her first independent pee on the potty and she was chuffed to be getting all the attention. And that was that. ‘No more nappies’ used to be our daily mantra!
And it worked, she put on her big girl knickers and basically toilet trained herself with little coaching from me. I know I was lucky, I’m not bragging, I’m sure her baby brother coming along and hogging her lime light helped in her gaining the praise and attention she was used to, so the timing although initially I didn’t feel was right- worked out perfect!
But we had done other things leading up to it, such as reading books about potty training so she could associate the potty with going to toilet, not as an object to play with or sit on. I kept the potty in the cloakroom toilet so it had a place too, so she understood we only go to toilet in this place.
But you also need to feel ready, ‘toilet coaching’ is just another new routine that you and your child will need to get used to and like all new routines it requires patience, energy, and understanding on everyone’s part.
The secret to successful ‘toilet coaching’ will largely depend on how patient we are and how we encourage our children to use the toilet or potty.
It means showing unconditional love even when they’ve had an accident or wet their pants for the eighth time that day. It’s tempting to expect them to change overnight because we want them to, but children won’t change if we force or rush them.
HANG IN THERE & PERSERVERE
Routines present opportunities to learn new and better ways of doing things, but they are best carried out in a calm, relaxed, and patient manner. Telling them off or rushing them is unproductive. So regardless of their age, I think more important is understanding your child and their needs and choosing a time when you personally feel both mentally and physically strong and determined. It’s easier for us to give up and put the nappy back on our children if we are tired or frustrated ourselves.
We just have to take it one day at a time. No matter how much we prepare our children or no matter how prepared we think we are, we will still find toilet coaching difficult at times, likely when we are mopping up yet another puddle in the living room or worse. That’s why we need to choose a time when we can commit one hundred percent and start as we mean to go on. Once we have decided to go for it and they are using pants and not nappies we need to keep the momentum going. Going back to nappies only tends to confuse children and means any effort made previously in toilet coaching was all in vain and a total waste of time, tears, effort, and energy.
WHEN SHOULD WE WORRY?
I do however, know of children who have been toilet training for years, there can be a number of factors why this happens including, physical developmental issues or emotional ones but on the whole, setting those issues aside, if your child is ready the process will be more like weeks before they are dry throughout the day rather than years, so don’t worry.
The word enuresis derives from the Greek word ‘to make water.’
When children initially start potty/toilet training, we can’t expect them to be dry at night, overnight. Taking precautions to protect the bed such as using waterproof sheets and putting them in pullups to sleep in is a sensible option, along with expecting night-time wetting. While in a deep slumber, a child’s muscles relax, making them unable to notice they need a wee until they are wet.
If they are under five, then it shouldn’t present much of a concern, especially in the toilet training stages. Making sure they use the toilet just before bed so they don’t fall too deeply asleep and have an accident or wake up needing to go to the toilet in the middle of the night helps.
It’s also a good idea to limit or stop the amount of fluid they drink prior to bedtime, offering only sips of water after four thirty pm, not milk or juice.
If they have not gone more than a few months dry at night after successful potty training in the day, they could have a developmental issue with their bladder, this can be hormonal and usually nothing to worry about. There are treatments available, and you can discuss these with your doctor. They could also have a small bladder capacity, if this is the case, you will probably notice that they urinate often throughout the day and find they are often desperate to go. They may wet at night due to emptying their bladder too frequently during the day. Either way, it’s always advisable to consult your GP if you are concerned at all.
If they’re still bedwetting past six years of age, medical causes, as well as emotional factors, need to be looked into with their doctor to rule out any medical condition. Once they have been dry at night for several months to a year but then regress back to wetting at night, this nocturnal enuresis would suggest some sort of emotional stress or anxiety is responsible. If your GP has ruled out a physical problem such as a water infection, we can be proactive by looking for any apparent patterns, such as, do they only bed wet on certain days such as school days and not at the weekend?
Does it happen early on in the night or toward the end near morning time, when mum is on night watch or dad, how often a night/a week/ a month does it occur?
Are there any causes that influence the episode, such as this current change in our lifestyles due to lockdown?
Our children’s fears and insecurities may seem so trivial and insignificant to us, but the smallest changes can have a huge impact. Looking at what is currently going on in other areas of their life is helpful. This is where the U URSELF Routine comes in handy, we can notice if another area such as their eating or exercising and play habits have changed too. (You can read more on this in my book The Confident Parent’s Guide to Raising a Happy, Healthy & Successful Child.)
This current situation can be stressful for a small child, especially if their normal daily routines have been disrupted.
What we want to do is focus on what we want them to achieve, not on what we don’t want. Highlight the positives, such as the dry nights, and ignore the wet ones as best we can in the presence of our children. We can encourage and motivate them by offering to buy them some nice new pjs or bedding with their favourite tv cartoon characters on them once they have successfully gone a whole week with a dry bed. How we phrase that reward is important, so keep it positive and focused on the dry bed. Instead of saying you can have a new pair of pjs if you don’t wet the bed. We want to motivate them for staying dry, not put pressure on them not to wet the bed. When they do succeed going one night dry, we want to make the biggest fuss possible by showering them with praise and exaggerating how happy we feel for them, this is a chance to give their esteem a boost!
GIVE THEM RESPONSIBILITY
What we don’t want our children to do is form a habit of bedwetting for either attention or feeling they have no control over their bedwetting. In no circumstances should we encourage this behaviour further and be tempted to bring back the pull up training pants for bed time. Once out of nappies and pull ups for several months, they are through with that baby phase of development.
What they need most now is responsibility over their progress, they can’t do this by going backward in how we treat them. They need to feel the wet cold discomfort to register they are wet, and this is something we want to motivate them to avoid in the future. A nice cosy, warm, dry, comfortable nappy or pull up, only motivates them to stay passive in their development. There’s no urgency to progress by controlling their bladder. I’ve potty trained many toddlers over the years, and I’ve always used pants and knickers over commercial pull ups, a cheap pack of pants are usually cheaper than pull ups, and we can throw the soiled ones away if needs be, the same way we would a disposable nappy. But children learn far quicker by having accidents that they can feel and see. A pull up still feels like they are wearing a nappy, so I’ve found when parents choose this as a toilet training option, progress is much slower. I know pull ups are safer, easier, and less messy, but long term, they just delay the process. A couple of weeks of accidents, patience, and practise in real pants is the quickest and best long-term, effective, solution.
And they will feel confident to try if they are given encouragement to do so. Our aim is for them to take conscious control over their issue, not be a passive allower. Fostering this self-reliance is what will help them to build self- confidence, making them feel they can handle situations themselves. They don’t feel guilty or as though we are punishing them if they feel they are helping in some way and having choices and responsibility. Children want to be independent, that is why there is often conflict and tantrums, because they want to be able to do things for themselves. Managing conflict and tantrums is covered extensively in my other book, The Powerful Proactive Parent’s Guide to Present Parenting.
Children only fail if they fail to try. Highlighting their successes should be our main focus. One wee on the potty is better than none at all, they haven’t failed because they had an accident while toilet training, they’ve succeeded at least once by trying.
They will learn their most memorable lessons through failure, and these will be the lessons they will tend to not want to repeat again. Allowing them to fail can be difficult, failure is deemed far from being successful, but they learn how to overcome obstacles and challenges firstly by observing us and seeing how we react to situations (so getting angry, frustrated or upset over some spilt wee on the floor won’t help) and secondly they learn more from doing than being told. I’m an advocate for what I call ‘Present Parenting’.
Present Parenting is consciously parenting by staying present in the moment and being aware of everything going on around us. It’s thinking before we respond, not just about what’s going on, but how and why? It’s understanding our children’s behaviour and how they are feeling and taking all of this into consideration. Although, we can only experience this when we learn to lighten up and see things how they really are instead of catastrophising and making mountains out of mole hills.
Have you ever heard the saying, ‘If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry?’
I know it can be hard at times. I had to fight back the tears when my two- year-old threw our brand new digital SLR Camera into a potty full of pee!
It would’ve been one of those perfect memory making moments to capture and look back on and laugh at years later now she’s a teen. But at that time, the camera stopped working!
Our children’s behaviour can be challenging, but is it really all that seriously bad?
And finally, don’t feel intimidated or compare you or your child to those so-called perfect parents who magically toilet trained their baby of 12 months over night. Every child is different and develop at different rates, its not a competition, so relax.
This can be a very rewarding time for both you and your child, they will feel pride and achievement once they master this new routine like a ‘big boy’ or ‘big girl’ which they will love immensely, but it can also be an emotional time, especially for you as a parent as its one of the first signs that your baby is growing up!
Stay Proactive, but most importantly Stay Present,
Love Em x