Sooner or later, the day will arrive. Your little one is suddenly not so little anymore and it’s time to move on from nappies! Rather than seeing this as the end of an era, it helps to see this stage as an exciting step forward in your child’s journey. Lots of parents are actually relieved to be able to move on from the ‘grind’ of changing and tending to nappies and so potty training can be a welcome progression for many families. The problem here can be that sometimes children can be rushed into moving on from nappies before they are ready, or parents can grow frustrated at a seeming lack of progress if potty training isn’t grasped straight away. So how do you know when your child is ready to move on to using the potty or toilet, and how can you make the transition as easy and as gentle as can be? Hopefully our guide will help you.
Is the time right?
There really is very little point in starting potty training before your little one is ready, both physically and emotionally. The reason for this is simple. If your child is not ready, they will not understand what it is you want them to do. A child needs to recognise when they need the toilet, and they need to be able to verbalise that need too. Not only that, but your child will also need to be able to recognise when they are wet, and all of this comes with maturity, which occurs at different ages depending on the child. Just because a parent is ready for potty training, doesn’t mean a child is too. So if you have a suspicion that your child is just not quite ready, it might be worth holding off for a while longer- to save the frustration and potential upset if nothing else. The golden ‘rule’ here, is to let your child tell you when the time is right.
There are signs to look out for if you think your child may be close to getting ready for potty training:
● Nappies may be dry in the morning and after naps
● Bowel movements may only occur during the day
● Your child is aware of needing the toilet, and of ‘performing’
● Your child is aware of having a wet or soiled nappy, and may even ask you to change it for them
● Your child tells you they need to use the toilet
● Your child refuses to wear nappies, or asks to wear knickers/ underpants
● Your child shows an interest in using the potty or toilet, and an interest in other family members using the toilet
If you can tick most or all of these boxes, then it looks as though the time is right for your child to start potty training. If you’re not sure, wait until the signs are clearer. This will save you a lot of work in the long run, and there is nothing wrong with a toddler who is three years old and wearing a nappy. It is considered that most children will potty train at any time between the ages of 24 months and 3 years of age, but some children will be older; night time training can take longer still. Any variation on this is fine!
Making a start on potty training
If the time is right and you are both ready to go, then you don’t want to miss your window of opportunity. It’s also important to remember that you are playing by your toddler’s rules here. The last thing you want is to make using the potty or toilet a chore, or to frighten your child in some way. Gently does it.
Give your child as much control over the situation as you possibly can. Take them with you to choose new underwear, a new potty or a toilet training seat. Ask them which they prefer to use- a potty or a toilet, or both? There is no harm in going straight for the toilet (that way eliminates the transition from the potty) as long as you are taking your child’s lead.
Make using the toilet normal. Let your child explore the bathroom (with your supervision) and help them to understand the process of using the toilet with books and simple explanations of what happens to our body when we need the toilet. Explain that all the water we drink and food we eat has to come out and make sure your child understands that it is all completely normal. Lots of parents allow their child to accompany them or older siblings to the toilet so that there is no mystery at all involved; this is fine to do. Talk to your child as much as possible, and answer all of the questions that they may have. Some parents also introduce a potty long before their child is ready for it, just by leaving it around the house to be investigated. This way the potty is not seen as a strange object when the time comes to use it.
Think before you speak. Remember that all of this is new to your child, and that they are looking to you for guidance. Help your child to grow and to explore by praising their efforts, but be specific. Instead of ‘well done’, tell your child that you know they must feel proud for being able to use the toilet. Generic praise is much less effective in the long run, so consider your words carefully.
Forget the bribes. Lots of parents will be tempted to reward children for using the potty or toilet, but this can cause more problems than it is worth. Some children may even hold back from using the potty if there is no reward forthcoming, and all of your hard work on normalising the whole process will have been a waste of time. Instead of rewards (whether they be stickers, high fives or sweets), try to play down the whole thing if possible. Allow your child to recognise the sensations that occur when they use the toilet, and help them to feel proud of their achievements, but make sure that they know this is all their own hard work (and you know it is nothing to do with any potential prize they might be given in return). Rewarding performances on the potty can’t be kept up forever, and can actually cause regressions if said rewards are withdrawn, so stick to guiding your child gently to appreciate what they have achieved instead.
Once your child feels safe and secure enough to use the toilet or potty and has some degree of success with it all, there is no turning back. Try to stick to underwear during the day and reserve nappies for sleep time only. This will help to reduce confusion for your child.
It’s also a good idea to carry around spare clothing wherever you go, in case of the odd accident. This is inevitable in the early days and is really nothing to be concerned about. Like anything, using the toilet instead of a nappy takes practise and some children will pick it up quicker than others.
Don’t let your own emotions get in the way here- it may be frustrating to have to change wet clothes, but if your child has made good progress any negativity from you can cause upset, embarrassment or even fear. The last thing you want to do is to cause a regression because you lost your cool.
If you’re at home, let your child wear just knickers on their bottom half so that quick dashes to the loo are as easy as possible. Lots of parents leave potty training to the summer months for this very reason.