Is My Toddler Ready for Toilet Training?

By: Dr. Noel Swanson.


Toilet training often provokes great anxiety in parents. Many seem to see it as some sort of competition - the earlier they get their child potty trained the brighter their child must be, and the better they as parents must be. Total nonsense of course! Trying to potty train your child before he or she is ready is a recipe for frustration, frayed nerves, and traumatized children.

On the other hand, waiting until your child is genuinely ready makes the whole process a whole lot easier, happier, and less stressful. Does it really matter if your little Susie is trained three months later than your neighbors Cathy?

Every child is different. Very few toddlers are genuinely toilet trained before the age of 20 months. Most start at around the age of two or three (boys later than girls), and some are even later than that. Almost all children are toilet trained by the age of 4, although 10% are still bedwetting at the age of 5. There is no rush. Trying to force the issue before they are ready can set up problems, such as soiling, that can continue for many years into the future.

Here are some tips to prepare your child for the toilet training and how to know when he or she is ready to start.

1. First, talk to your child about the body parts and their functions. It doesnít matter what names you as a family use as long as everyone knows what they mean.

2. It is a good idea to let the child see you or other family member, of the same sex, using the toilet. Again, itís a misconception that it will traumatize the kid. No, it wonít - unless you make a big thing of it. If you are natural your child will consider it natural as well. Talk about it in a mature manner so that it becomes a target to achieve when they are grown up. Toddlers are imitating grown-ups all the time. And, this will instill a sense of anticipation and desire to be like them. You may allow your child to flush the toilet; it helps to get them used to the whole process.

3. Nearing the time for starting toilet training, get the potty out and leave it in a visible place. Then talk about it, telling your child what it is, and what it is for. But, donít force them on it straightaway. Tell them they will be using it some day.

How to know when your child is ready for toilet training? Watch out for the following signs:

1. In order to help your child tell you when he is wet or dirty, you can point at the potty immediately after he urinated or had a bowel movement. And, in order to reinforce the idea of cleanliness and dryness, make sure you change the diaper as soon as possible, regardless of whether you spot it, or he tells you. Also, praise your child profusely when he comes and tells you that he needs a diaper change.

2. Can she physically manage the potty? That is, can she pull off her own diaper (the elasticated pull-ons are great for this), can she sit on the potty without falling off? Can she walk/run quickly to the bathroom? At the beginning children don't get a lot of warning so problems with getting to the bathroom and getting clothes off may lead to more accidents and more frustration. Maybe better to wait another month or two.

3. Can she follow directions and instructions? Can she, for example, carry out an instruction to take a piece of tissue and throw it into the toilet? If not, or if she stubbornly refuses, then that probably needs to be addressed first.

4. Are there signs of developing bowel and bladder control? For example, are the bowel motions settling into a clear pattern such as twice a day after meals? Are stools firm and well formed? Is she able to stay dry for several hours at a time? If not, she may not be able to contain herself long enough to get to the bathroom. On the other hand, also make sure that she is not straining or experiencing pain on passing a motion as that can lead to deliberate witholding and a whole host of problems that can become very intractable and long term. She may need a change of diet to make the stool softer and easier to pass.

5. Above all, give a positive feeling about toilet to your child. He should look forward to the day when he can use a toilet like a grown up. It all depends on the preparatory work you have done. Some children have fears about flushing water etc, which will have to be addressed before starting the toilet training. You will need to make your child familiar with the toilet and let him practice sitting on the potty with clothes on. This will reassure him that he won't disappear and get flushed away like the potty does.

If you have done your preparatory work well, you will not have much difficulty in toilet training your little toddler. Remember to praise success, but there should be no punishments for failures.

Good luck!

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Dr. Noel Swanson's website provides free expert parenting tips and advice - just sign up for his newsletter and get a free chapter of his book, The GOOD CHILD Guide. You can also meet with other parents on a parenting forum.

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