So, the time is approaching. The time I’ve been dreading a bit. The one developmental milestone, that, for some reason, I was kind of hoping my son would reach later rather than earlier. It is almost time for toilet training. How do I know? Well, the little guy routinely sits on his little potty for a few minutes before bathtime. We read some books, chat, and that is that. But, lately, these nightly sits on the potty have occasionally become, shall we say, productive.
- Signs that they are ready
- Maintains a dry diaper for a couple hours at a time during the day.
- Shows awareness and/or verbalizes that they have a wet or dirty diaper.
- Senses the urge to go, and then verbalizes that they need your help to get to the bathroom.
- Shows pride in small accomplishments.
- Has curiosity about the toilet.
- Able to follow simple instructions.
- Most kids aren’t ready for all of the above before 18 months of age. In fact, some studies have shown that children who were started prior to 18 months and, presumably, weren’t quite ready, took longer to achieve successful training.
- Ways to prepare
- Buy a little potty and have them start sitting on it fully clothed for “fun”.
- Allow them to watch parents using the bathroom.
- Point out to child when you notice signs that they need to go or are going.
- Start dumping stools from diaper into potty and allow child to watch or flush the toilet.
- Talk matter of factly about using the potty.
- Read books together about it.
- Most sources will recommend a “child-directed” method of toilet training. This method was first put forward by Dr. T. Berry Brazelton in the 1960’s. This method involves around one week of allowing child to sit on the potty fully clothed. Then, the transition is made to sitting child on the potty naked and encouraging efforts at voiding. Finally, the child should be led to the potty whenever child or parent anticipates the need to go. The child is praised for all successful efforts. After one week of success, child can transition from diaper to cotton underwear. Essential for this (and all) methods is making the potty readily available. Some experts even advise having more than one potty, especially in a multi-level home.
- The so called “fast-track” or “parent-directed” toilet training methods are mostly based on Azrin and Fox (psychologists) book Toilet Training in Less Than a Day. Their process involves devoting a (pretty intense) day to toilet training in two phases. Phase 1 involves pretend-play with a doll. You and the child put the doll through all the steps of using the toilet in a very detailed way. Phase 2 involves the child drinking lots of water and going through the steps of using the toilet just like the doll did. They also advocate rewards for using the toilet and a statement like “that’s not what big kids do” if the child has an accident. Variations on this theme can be found in more recent parenting books as well. For more information on this method, there is an excellent review at Parenting Science.
- Other parent-directed methods such as “timed-voiding” are generally not felt to be as effective as helping the child learn the cues from their own body. Having said that, it is probably a good idea to have a general idea of how long it has been since the last time your child voided in order to start looking for cues that they may need to go again.
- Treat constipation. Kids who find it difficult to stool will naturally resist efforts at potty training. If this is a problem for your child, increase the fruits (especially pears, prunes, peaches, apples), veggies, and water. If this doesn’t help, talk to your pediatrician.
- Have your child wear easy to remove clothing.
- Carry around extra pairs of underwear and pants in your diaper bag or purse.
- Buy some carpet cleaner. Accidents are to be expected.
- What about pull ups? Some experts advise that there is benefit in making the underwear “feel different” than the diaper. So, if you used plastic diapers you would transition to cotton pull ups and if you used cotton diapers you might try plastic pull-ups (although I’m guessing this might be a difficult sell for some families in both cases).
- This may take a while. Be patient with your child. Praise successes, but don’t punish mistakes. If you’re not making any progress after a month, take a break and start again later.
- Consider delaying if you or your partner doesn’t feel quite ready, you’re expecting a new child soon, you’re moving, or other big changes.
There are lots of resources out there about potty training. Check out Dr. Greene’s advice for a “child-directed” approach and baby center has a pretty good review of the “fast track” method. There aren’t really any good head-head comparison studies of the two methods (let me know if you have found any). I would say your choice of method depends mostly on parent/child preference and personality.
So, after thinking about all of this, what will we do? Well, given that he’s only 20 months, I think we’ll stick with what we’re doing for now. I’ll start pointing out when I notice signs that he is going, so that he starts to notice them too. We’ll look for a few books about the potty and read them together. And then, whenever we’re all ready, I’ll probably devote a weekend to a modified “fast track” method. Given that my husband and I are both softies, and that the mildly punitive part of the fast-track method doesn’t really sit well, I’m guessing it will take a little while. And, that’s okay.
What methods did you use to toilet train your kids? What went well? What were the pitfalls? Do you ever miss diapers, or was it good riddance? Funny, motivating anecdotes welcome.