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Training your Toddler for the Toilet

Excerpt from Me, Myself and I

Dramatic Play - Girl

At first, it probably appears to the child that it is the toilet that’s being trained (hence the misnomer “toilet training”).  After all, she is typically reasonably satisfied to fill her diaper and continue on about her business.  It is parents who are so enthusiastic for her to move on to the pot in support of public health.

The transition need not be Armageddon if parents remember that a body is more ready for the mind to influence its conduct when development has prepared both.  Consequently, toilet training takes less time and energy when your toddler is as ready as you are.  Starting too early pretty much guarantees the process will be long and messy.  Many children who begin training before 18 months are not completely trained by age four, while those started around two usually are completely trained by age three.

Timing: Somewhere between 18 and 36 months, the child will start to notice that her dirty diaper has become a bother.  She may pull at her diaper or crotch while, or just before, she empties her bladder.  She’ll pick a favorite corner of a room or go under a table before she quietly moves her bowels into her diaper.  These are critical signs that she is making the necessary mental connection between bodily sensations and the urine or stool that is produced from them.  It is easier if this behavior follows the easing of the extreme negativism of early toddlerhood.  Bowel training is typically the first goal.

What Helps: Put a potty in the corner of her room and let her sit on it fully clothed at first, then without a diaper, a few times a day.  Tell her how big people go poop and pee and let her watch a grownup using the toilet.  (Stick to same sex demonstrators.  Otherwise, you will create needless confusion at this age.)  Tell her the potty is where she will put her poop when she is ready.  Then, she can wear “big girl” pants and leave her diapers for babies.  Let her play with her potty using dolls, water, whatever – the less mystery the better.

How to Proceed: Between one of these signaling behaviors and the event itself, ask – in a gently curious way – if she wants to take off her diaper and sit on the potty.  If the answer is no, forget it.  You will have many more chances.  If she says yes, stay with her while she sits, and praise her if she “produces” (not too lavishly, however.  Remember, this is her body to master, not yours.)  If your child doesn’t seem to be “getting it,” don’t force her to sit on the potty.  Instead stay mildly interested and uncritical.  If you change her diaper a few times and find solid stool, drop it into the potty with her to remind her of the real deal.

Expect accidents, and that they will upset your child.  If you’re even more upset, you’re probably pushing too hard.  Sustain your child’s self-regard by reassuring that: “We all have accidents while we learn to use the potty.  Let’s go get some dry pants.”  Also, expect a longer, slower process for staying dry.  Girls usually don’t learn day-dryness until after three, and boys learn even later.