Toilet Training

After breathing, it may be our bodies' most natural function. And most of us have been doing it for so long, we don't spend much time thinking about it. But for very young children transitioning from the toddler to pre-school stage, toilet training is not a skill to master lightly.

While adults and older children may envy how children of that age have almost everything done for them, the youngsters in question are eager to do things for themselves. And learning to go to the pottie by themselves allows them both control over their bodies and independence.

But it's a rocky road from diapers to toilet seats, with lots of accidents and temper tantrums along the way. It's not an easy time for parents either, with studies showing toilet training can trigger spikes in child abuse. So what are some suggestions for helping this process to be as stress free as possible?

Start by accepting that there is no "set" time for a child to begin toilet training. Generally it happens between 18-24 months, but the child should never be forced into it before he or she is ready. And he or she usually indicates readiness by:

  • waking from naps with dry diapers
  • showing interest in concept of using the toilet
  • can articulate and anticipate bladder and especially bowel movements
  • showing interest in wearing "pull down" underwear instead of diapers

Parents should provide a self-contained "toddler toilet" as opposed to a seat that fits on a conventional toilet, and stock up on patience. Children are easily distracted at this age, and messy accidents are common. Parents should downplay such events, and praise effusively successful "deposits". It is very common for "backsliding" to occur during this training, and unless a caretaker has reason to think that it might be linked to an unrelated event, not a cause for worry. 

If the child in training is in daycare, then parents should meet with care providers before training begins to insure that all caregivers are providing consistent instruction and support to minimize confusion and stress for the child. Open lines of communication between the center and at-home caretakers are important during training too, to track problems and progress.

Toilet training has been shown to have ramifications well beyond hygiene, so it's important that caretakers can support and themselves be supported through this important phase in a child's development.

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