Lessons in potty training
Dr. Lisa Franco
Updated: May 23, 2012 1:45PM
Mention “potty training” in a roomful of parents and you’re likely to hear horror stories, along with some helpful hints, for a smooth transition.
Let’s face it. Kids don’t always cooperate with toilet training. It’s the one element in their life they can fully control. Parents can force a child what to eat, what to wear and when to go to bed, but they cannot make the child use the bathroom.
So when I tell a parent you won’t accomplish training in a weekend, I often hear a panicky, “But he needs to be trained by the end of summer for preschool!” Unfortunately, the more the parent pushes, the more the child resists.
There is no magic trick for toilet training. Most kids accomplish it all on their own with lots of support and guidance from their caretaker. “Positive reinforcement” is the key to success. There is no place for punishment when it comes to potty training.
Watch the signs
First, watch for some developmental and emotional signs that your child is ready to begin the process.
For instance, is your child walking? Most kids walk by a year to a year and a half, the soonest you should even be thinking about toilet training.
Does your child put on and take off his clothes? Is he able to pull his pants up and down? Most kids can do this by age 2.
When your child has a soiled diaper, does he bring you a fresh one and ask to be changed? Having awareness of a wet diaper is a good clue he’s ready to start potty training.
Does he “do a little dance” when playing? Use this opportunity to encourage him to “try.”
In general, girls exhibit readiness signs slightly earlier than boys do.
Once your child is developmentally ready, you can entice him with books and/or videos on potty training. You can allow her into the bathroom with you and let her flush for you. Buy your child their very own potty chair. Whether it’s a separate kid-sized chair or a special kid seat to place on the grown-up toilet is up to you and your child. Either way, they can call it their own and that makes it special.
Reinforce correct behavior
How should you react to success and failure? If the child is unable to “go,” be nonchalant about it and quickly and quietly clean up.
If the child has an accident – accidents are common in the early stages of toilet training – simply and quietly, clean up the child, saving the conversation until he is wearing fresh clothes. If the child receives too much parental attention during this time, it might boost the notion that accidents bring extra notice from mom or dad.
On the other hand, lavish praise as well as incentives – sticker charts, kisses and treats – will help reinforce the correct behavior. Children really do want to please their parents, so knowing they’ve earned your approval will help guarantee future successes.
Sometimes, however, parents view these techniques as “giving in” to the child and try to control the process, such as forcing a child to train quickly and punishing for accidents. This could have negative consequences:
Low self-esteem: A child may feel like a failure if he cannot control his bodily functions.
Constipation: A child will become so fearful to “let go” that, eventually, he literally cannot. When he does, the resulting bowel movement may be large, hard and perhaps bloody.
Household stress: The family literally plans their life around the child and his toileting routine.
Training quirks: Perhaps a child will only feel comfortable using the home toilet.
How long does toilet training take? Generally, it’s a gradual process for a child to do number one and two in a toilet (some children will, at first, do only one or the other) and to finally remain dry at night, which can take several years past the time the child discards daytime diapers.
It’s a gradual process. It could take months between the time a child successfully urinates in the potty and when he succeeds with bowel movements in the potty. It could take years before a child is finally dry at night from the time he’s initially trained during the day. About 40 percent of kindergartners still wet the bed at night.
During the process of toilet training I recommend staying calm, following your child’s cues and offering lots of encouragement. Toilet training is more than just a “chore” we all have to do with our children. Once your child has mastered this skill, she will have also gained increased independence and self-confidence, which does wonders for self-esteem. So, try to enjoy the process and make it fun for your child.
Dr. Lisa Franco is a pediatrician who admits patients to Adventist Hinsdale Hospital.