Should I start potty training?
Should I start potty training? This is a question that almost every parent will ask themselves during the first few years of their child’s life, and one that I’m guessing you have asked if you’ve landed on this blog. Whether you currently use cloth nappies or disposables, one of the major concerns of parents about the concept of potty training seems to be how they go out and about with a child who is newly without nappies; given the current circumstances, it seems more and more people are looking to conquer this challenge whilst we have no choice but to stay at home.
How you approach potty training is likely to mirror how you approach most aspects of parenting, that being you will likely fall on the scale of parent led-child led in a similar position that you do on other things like weaning and sleep.
There are plenty of resources online that support a more parent-led approach, but it won’t surprise you to read (given that this is written by me) that the focus of this piece will be more toward the child-led route.
It is important at this stage to reinforce the fact that this is one of the many topics that fuels a lot of emotion in parents and that there is no right or wrong, only what is right or wrong for you and your family.
Potty training is often used as a place of comparison between children of similar ages and that can, therefore, encourage some parents to tackle the ‘issue’ in a way that doesn’t necessarily feel right to them. It’s likely that if you search online for ‘how to potty train a 2yr old’ you’ll be met with a fairly sizeable list of strategies, reward charts, systems etc. But there are other ways to go about the process with a more gentle approach.
Potty Training Readiness
As with all aspects of development, every child will be different in their readiness to ‘potty train’. If you put this into google you’ll find a list of physical signs that a child ‘should’ show such as regular predictable bowel movements, having dry periods of at least a couple of hours, can pull their own trousers up & down and they show interest in you using the bathroom. There are also readily accepted behavioural signs of readiness such as showing discomfort when their nappy is wet or dirty and cognitive signs including the ability to understand and follow simple instruction (“Do you need a wee”? or “Where’s the potty”?), being able to name the motion or being able to tell they need to go and showing awareness when they are having a wee or poo.
For me personally the biggest gap we see in these approaches is a child’s emotional readiness. A much-loved author of mine Sarah Ockwell-Smith notes in her blog that while some children may be physiologically ready they may actually be quite some way from emotional readiness. Emotional readiness relates to characteristics such as being scared of the potty or toilet and showing resistance behaviour such as stool withholding as a response to this major change in their lives.
The writers over at HappyWithBaby.com write quite extensively about The Emotional Side of Potty Training and stress that shame and punishments associated with potty training can cause psychological effects such as issues of insecurity and anxiety that last well into adulthood. Now, I have don’t have the sources they have used to write their piece but even without those I think it can be clear to see why these negative associations with potty training wouldn’t be ideal.
A study shows that over 50% of parents start potty training as their child will soon be starting nursery, with only 27% starting because their child shows signs of readiness. Now imagine what percentage of parents strat when their child shows emotional readiness, not just physical and cognitive!?
Potty training: what to consider
Not only do you need to consider whether your child is ready to potty train you need to consider your own thoughts and feelings around the topic. Why are you starting? Is it something you feel comfortable about? Worried about? Grossed out about? Excited about? How you feel about the journey ahead of you will shape how you approach it and how you deal with it when it doesn’t go to plan (does anything child related ever go to plan??).
Maybe you’re desperate to get it done and don’t feel like you’ve got much patience for it? Maybe you’ve tried before and it’s made you angry all the clearing up? Maybe your totally relaxed about it and in no rush but your child is starting to show some signs and you don’t really know how to progress?
I guess what I’m saying here is think in advance about how you will respond, about your strategy. If you know you can be a bit hot headed but you really want to approach this in a relaxed way then think in advance about how you’ll keep your cool when you’ve got wee or poo over your floor or furniture. Think about what you’ll use to clear up accidents, plan for how you’ll get poo off your fabrics just in case it happens because IF it happens you are going to want to get it cleared up damn fast…before your beloved spreads it any further (yep, I’m talking from experience here!).
Do you want to use a traditional potty, a toilet training seat or a raised potty? For our family we used this raised potty – it sits slightly higher off the ground and so to me seems just a little more comfortable to sit on…totally personal preference there! Ours also has a removal vessel so we can easily dispose of the contents and clean it without having to put the full potty in the sink!
Enough about preparation, let’s get started….
My first point will be to absolutely read the book The Gentle Potty Training Book by Sarah Ockwell-Smith. Sarah is a well-researched author on all things respectful parenting and goes in to considerably more detail than I do here.
- Ensure your child is ready – emotionally, physically & cognitively
- Make sure you are ready – mentally & in terms of home preparation
- Over the first few days try to keep your child naked from the waist down – keeping some socks on their feet helps to keep their legs warm. By stripping away lower-body clothing your child is likely to be more aware of the sensations associated with going to the toilet & it means that when they suddenly realise they need to go they haven’t go to negotiate with trousers etc.
- If things go well introduce underwear on day 3 or 4. Keeping underwear off for too long can create the association between being bare bummed and using the potty which they can struggle to move past when you finally introduce clothing. If for some reason you do need to clothe them fully do so in easily accessible clothes like elasticated waist leggings so you can still respond to their need with speed. If you can keep them in pant sonly until day 5 then great!
- Once you’ve got it nailed with pants it’s time to move on to easily accessible clothing until your child has gained enough understanding of the sensations and urges of using the toilet at which point you could introduce things like tights/zips/buckles etc.
That sounds way too simple….what about accidents?
What about them? They will happen – the same way as when we all learn a new skill we make mistakes. But what’s the best bit about making a mistake? You learn from it. It’s called mistake-driven learning. You may find that lots of accidents highlight that your child wasn’t ready after all. If you prompt your child once an hour or so, or when you use the bathroom yourself, this should be adequate. Any more than this and you are essentially telling your child’s subconscious that you don’t trust that they can recognise their own sensations.
Rewards, punishment & praise
The natural progression here would be to discuss rewards, punishment & praise. Rewards & punishment don’t really hold a place within a gentle approach to potty training. Punishment serves no purpose as a child is unlikely to have accidents ‘on purpose’ – it’s more likely to be down to not being fully ready either physically or emotionally. In the same light rewards (like a sticker or chocolate button, for example) are great when they are given, but what about when they aren’t? Children quickly learn to ‘perform’ for something they really want, but when that reward is removed after a week of successful potty training then to your child the removal of the reward is exactly like a punishment!
Appropriate praise is a really great middle ground.
The above are the very brief and main points from Sarah Ockwell-Smiths The Gentle Potty Training Book which I highly recommend you read if you are starting to consider potty training your child, or even if you’ve started and you have concerns.
There are also plenty of resources online if you search for ‘gentle potty training’ or ‘emotional potty training’.
We have had two very easy and successful potty training journeys following these approaches, and I expect we will embark upon our next journey in the not hugely distant future and I’ll not hesitate to follow these approaches and steps again.
So if you’re on this journey I hope it all goes well and you have a calm, positive experience of something that is marketed as one of the biggest hurdles facing parents of young children.