On a weekly basis, I receive numerous calls and emails requesting consultations to deal with almost every facet of toilet training. A common theme that causes tremendous pressure for parents is the idea that their child “needs to be” or “should be ready” to toilet train long before they are. Becoming completely toilet trained includes being able to
know when they need to go
sit on the toilet
flush the toilet
Wash their hands
Get dressed again
This is a complex skill for most children to master and the complexity is easy to forget when there is a deadline imposed on getting your child toilet ready. The feeling that your child is somehow behind the curve adds a whole new dimension of stress and pressure for many parents. The downside of that is that this process really needs to be free of stress and pressure, in order for it to be successful.
Parents with children starting kinder next year may be familiar with the deadline imposed by the center that children cannot start until they are completely toilet trained. Other parents will impose their own deadlines to accommodate their lifestyle or life events. This is often so that toilet training is completed at a time that is convenient and easier, such as waiting until after a new baby has been born, or until the return from a family holiday. Some will make their child wait until a particular ‘season’, believing that summer, for example, is an easier time to toilet train. Regardless of whether the deadline is imposed by yourself or by an external party, this makes toilet training unnatural in a sense, led by external factors rather than your child’s toilet readiness.
Toilet training is also something very personal and intimate and many children do not react well to these expectations as they want to be the ones that are in control. We allow them to be much more in control when it comes to other early childhood milestones, but not for toilet training! In order to navigate this conundrum, it’s critical that while the parents are aware of the deadline, the child does not feel the timeline or the accompanying pressure. A great way to begin to lead your child towards toilet independence, when they otherwise may not have been ready, is to begin slowly and well in advance, to introduce them to the toilet, remove the mystery and spark their interest in becoming toilet ready.
Beginning 6 months prior to the deadline, you can begin sparking your child’s interest by making ‘toilet talk’ a part of everyday family conversation. Talk to your child about using the toilet, let them have fun with flushing or using toilet paper and let them sit on the toilet in a non-pressured way. If family members are comfortable, let your child watch you or them use the toilet and encourage their curiosity as they ask questions and learn about toileting. Focus on every aspect of toilet training including dressing independence and becoming aware of when they need to go or when they need a nappy change! By praising and acknowledging what they are doing right, they are less likely to feel defeated by the parts they haven’t yet mastered.
A common pitfall when it comes to toilet training is expecting a child to be able to follow what the expectations are without really understanding the concepts involved. The more ways you can find of bringing toilet training concepts to the forefront, the better. Social stories, books and drawings are one way to explain without talking! Toilet exposure can also be made fun with the use of products such as food colouring agents which change the colour of toilet water when you wee on it, or games such as pouring water down the toilet. Initiate and encourage age appropriate discussions about sinking and floating, using toilet paper, props and toys. I encourage parents to let their child take ownership of the process by decorating their toilet seat and steps so that they are excited to use ‘their own’ toilet seat.
In the panic to meet a toilet training deadline, parents will often miss signs that their child is showing that they actually are in fact, ready to toilet train. This applies equally to assuming their child is ready when it fact they are not showing any signs at all. Sings to watch for are:
1. Your child tells you when they are doing a wee or poo
2. They become upset about the idea that they are wet or dry
3. They are able to pull their trousers up and down
4. They ask questions about the toilet and are interested in seeing other members of the family go
5. They ask to sit on the potty or toilet or are excited to flush after someone else has gone
But what happens if, despite your best efforts, your child is simply not on track to meet the imposed deadline? In this situation, I always advise parents to be honest with the person setting the deadline and talk to them about the specific difficulties you are having in getting your child toilet ready in time. There are many reasons why a child may not be ready when you would like them to be and in the vast majority of cases, if you abandon the process for a few months and then revisit, you will have success. If that hasn’t worked in your circumstance your child may perhaps be facing an obstacle that needs greater investigation or a different approach. This could include sensory issues; communication delay (which can lead to toilet training delay); untreated constipation and many other things.
Every child is an individual and deserves to be treated as one particularly for this most private of milestones!! Toilet training is a skill that all kids will master in their own time but when your child feels the issue is being forced, they are being pressured or it has become a chore, they are likely to regress. Therefore, no matter what the reason for the deadline, it is important not to allow your pressure to be felt by your child. Rather with some clever forward planning and giving yourself lots of time, a deadline can be achieved in a way that is comfortable for everyone.
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