Potty training - two words that give dads cause to feel intense excitement and trepidation. The prospect of not having to change another nappy is enough to make a parent want to high-five anyone and everyone who will have one (social distancing rules aside!). But the prospect of changing soaking wet, or soiled, clothes and cleaning up accident after accident is enough to fill them with dread.
Ok, things are really getting out of hand.— Dr. Stephen Becker (@spbecker) March 18, 2021
This morning our younger son, a potty-training 2-year-old, took his pants off, opened the sliding glass door, stepped outside in the rain, and pooped on the patio.
POOPED ON THE PATIO. https://t.co/MSmhz14iij
Jokes aside, potty training is a big development milestone for a toddler and it can be an underestimated emotional time for a parent, realising that their baby is growing up. And while there is plenty of advice on some steps you need to take pre-potty training, there are some things you need to do during the potty training process itself that can help you and your little one along the way.
That’s why we’ve put together this guide, looking at why potty training is so important and some of the most crucial pieces of advice on offer.
Why is potty training so important?
"Supporting them to tackle this significant milestone affords you as a parent the opportunity to see your once tiny, dependent, bundle of joy take their first steps into the world of independence. It also means that their minds are maturing in a way that they can begin to recognise the cues given to them by their body."
Child psychologist and founder of The Good Play Guide, Dr Amanda Gummer, says potty training is more about confidence and independence than it is mastering going to the toilet.
She says: “The thought of potty training can make even the most experienced parent feel a sense of dread. Yet potty training need not be feared and the benefits can go way beyond the physical act of moving from nappy to potty.
“For your child, mastering the potty allows them to develop a sense of confidence that is readily associated with this particular milestone. It is that confidence that supports them in tackling new challenges and mastering future milestones and it allows them to begin to develop the foundations for understanding the importance of self-care and hygiene.”
Because going to the toilet is completely natural to us parents, and has been for the vast majority of our lives, it can be difficult to see beyond the process as just ‘learning to go to the toilet’. To a young mind, however, it’s far more than ‘just going to the toilet’.
Potty training involves the development of a number of small, but crucially important skills, that not only enable them to achieve that end goal of potty training successfully, but set them up for later life.
All at once
All of a sudden, we’re asking our children to develop an understanding and recognition of when they need to wee or poo. We’re asking them to develop the ability to resist the urge and hold it. We are asking them to be aware of where their potty is at all times. We’re asking them to quickly undress, which itself is a very new skill learned in the pre-potty training phase. And we are asking them to develop all those new skills all at once, in the right order.
It teaches them to understand what their body is telling them, which is a valuable skill as they grow up. In fact, I would perhaps suggest that it’s a skill a lot of adults need to work on, these days. But it also helps them to develop control over their body. It’s also one of the first big developments in their ability to sequence a bigger number of movements and actions, an extremely useful skill that we take for granted as adults.
Key tips for potty training
1. Keep encouraging them
It’s no secret that children love encouragement and praise. And potty training is no different. It’s important that they are given the positive reinforcement that what they are doing is not only correct but something to be proud of. The encouragement should be physical as well as verbal, too - a high give, a hug, a fist bump...whatever your family does!
It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that encouragement and praise is only needed in the early stages of potty training. However, it’s really important to keep it going throughout the process. You can probably dial it down a little as they become more and more used to it, though!
Visual representations are a great addition or supplement to the physical and verbal praise and encouragement. While most children respond well to social interaction as a form of praise, others form a better understanding when they have something to look at.
Reward charts are a great way to add more to the feeling of pride and fulfillment in your child. Make sure to add the next sticker as soon as they’ve finished toileting and everything is cleaned up. It will help them form that connection between the sticker/praise and successfully weeing or pooping on the potty.
3, Keep nappies for night time
A lot of parents will admit it’s really tempting to effectively keep potty training for home or indoors, and put on a nappy if you’re going for a walk, or need to go out in the car. But swapping between pants and nappies throughout the day can be incredibly confusing for a young mind.
Yes it’s likely to mean accidents and asking them 84,329 times if they need a wee during your trip but it saves them a world of confusion.
4. Don’t punish accidents
On that note, it’s really important not to punish your child if they have an accident. The added pressure of being worried they’re going to do something wrong or upset you isn’t going to make them learn any quicker. In fact, it will only take them more time.
It’s highly unlikely they have decided to wet or poo themselves on purpose. Even if it seems like they’ve cracked it, accidents can still occur weeks and months down the line. Remember that they’re still developing these new skills. They might have been having too much fun to recognise they needed to go, they may have noticed too late and not had time to reach the potty, or they may have been sure in what they needed to do but got the sequencing mixed up.
Even months down the line, when use of the potty seems like has become second nature to them, accidents can happen for a variety of reasons. Tiredness is often a big factor, but some toddlers regress in their potty skills when they’re going through a big change - it’s particularly common if there’s a change in family dynamic like a separation or new baby sibling brought into the home. Things like starting nursery, moving to a different nursery or changing class can be a trigger for some children, too.
5. Don’t rush
While there are usually milestone guidelines, children develop at different rates. But it’s important to recognise when your child is ready to potty train, rather than when you think they should be potty training.
In his book ‘How to Raise An Amazing Child: The Montessori way to bring up caring confident children’, Tim Seldin says: “Learning to use the toilet is a natural process that begins when your child’s desire to be grown up and his neurological development have reached the point where he can control his bladder and bowels. We don’t train children to use the toilet, we support them when they are ready.”
Starting when your little one isn’t ready not only risks creating negative connotations with the concept of toileting and underwear, but can also have serious physiological consequences. Steve Hodges, a paediatric urologist, warns that potty training too early (before the age of two) is more likely to result in day-time accidents, constipation and urinary tract infections.
Reducing the risk of harm
He argues that at an earlier age, children cannot distinguish the ability to wee or poo on the potty with the biological need to wee or poo. He explains:
"When children hold their poo, it backs up in the rectum. The enlarged rectum presses against the bladder, reducing its capacity and causing the nerves feeding the bladder to go haywire.
Research has shown that bladder growth continues in children up to the point of toilet training. Uninhibited peeing and pooping in nappies appears to be more beneficial to bladder development.
In my practice, it's often the children who trained earliest and most easily who end up with the most severe problems with going to the toilet."
He adds: "There is nothing magic about the age of two. If parents opt to train early or late and are meticulous about making sure children go to the toilet on a regular schedule and monitor them for signs of constipation, I suspect the incidence of voiding dysfunction would decrease."
6. Bedtime and wake-up
Encouraging your little one to use the potty before they go to bed and when they wake up in the morning, even if they don’t actually go, can be really useful. It can help them to build an understanding of a routine and the idea of going to the toilet at regular times throughout the day. Later down the road, some parents like taking their children to use the potty during nighttime wakes as it can help to prevent or reduce accidents when the time comes for nighttime nappies to go.
Most parents will place the potty in an easy-to-access part of the house, usually the living room because it’s where their child spends most of their time and doesn’t pose the issue of stairs or doors.
But a child’s quick grasp of potty training can leave parents in a false sense of security, thinking that they can move the potty to the bathroom to advance their understanding of where we wee and poo.
As we’ve mentioned, those skills are still developing weeks after potty training and something as simple as moving the potty too soon could be too much of a change for them to cope with and understand.
7. Lead by example
Potty training going really well pic.twitter.com/NwN8bDUDbU— Nigel.Pearson (@Nigelp89668893) March 14, 2021
Most of us are really uncomfortable with someone watching us go to the toilet. If you’re one of those people, we’ve got some bad news. Children learn really well from watching what other people do. Perhaps leave the door open or invite them into the bathroom so you can show them how it’s done and how easy it is, particularly if they’re struggling to get to grips with it.
As we all know, hopes and dreams of your kid nailing potty training first time very quickly go out the window. And the journey is usually layered with disaster after disaster. Here are a few of our favourites:
Scene from potty training:— Evan Zasoski (@CodenameEvan) March 17, 2021
Me: You made it all the way through dinner without an accident. Great job!
Daughter: (very excited) I peed in my pants and on the chair and on the floor!
Me: (unbuckling her from high chair) So you did...
I love Daisy and am being patient with her while potty training but I sure would appreciate if she stopped walking into her puddle of piss and then running around the place— White Boy Summer (@AOCummies) March 17, 2021
Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom! Once your not so little one is potty trained, you’ll look back on those disasters with a smile and a laugh. And there is plenty to be optimistic about, as Krzysztof Slosarczyk can attest to. He’s a 36-year old dad living in Banbury with his wife and two year old son, Benjamin, who recently started potty training, and he told us about his approach:
“Making it fun is essential for us so that Benjamin knows when to communicate back to us when he's ready to go to the toilet on the potty,” he started.
“A neighbour recently gave Benjamin a potty training book and he is obsessed with us reading it to him. So much so that we bought him the exact same potty. Suddenly sitting on the potty was his favourite thing to do.”
Keeping is fun and removing any pressure is key to Krzysztof and his wife’s approach, as he explains: “We talk about ‘sitting his botty on the potty’, which makes him giggle every time. He loves it!
“We taught him body parts quite early on so he knows what we’re talking about, which has definitely helped. We actually turned the potty into a bit of a game, which has made it more enjoyable for him. He’s not got to the stage of saying he wants to go for a wee or poo, so we’re not putting any pressure on him whatsoever.“My wife is a motherhood wellbeing coach at Mamas Find Your Voice and she always advocates a ‘zero pressure rule’ to everything, because pressure can cause unnecessary anxiety for both parents and child.”