Potty training concerns

Potty training concerns

If it's your first time tackling potty (toilet) training a little one, or even training your second child of a different gender you may have a number of questions and concerns. You are not alone and every parent goes through the angst of wondering whether boys and girls should be trained in the same way, if their child is ready or whether a child with special needs will ever be able to manage at all. Let's address these issues here.

Potty training - boys vs girls

Potty training boys vs girls

One of the main concerns when considering whether to potty train or not is how much control a child has over their bladder and bowel movements. This may be an obvious point, but a child who has no grasp of when to 'hold it' will be nearly impossible to potty train, no matter their age or gender.

But is there a difference between potty training boys and girls? The main distinction seems to be the fact that little girls are able to achieve the necessary control of their bowel and bladder movements at a slightly younger age than little boys.1

If you were to ask a parent of both boys and girls who was easier to toilet train, the answer is very often in favour of girls. While there's no science to back up this claim, it could be due to the fact that girls simply have to master the art of sitting on a potty, while boys have to learn both sitting and standing for different functions. In either case, there's still a lot of thought, hard work and effort that goes into making sure that a child is confident enough to use a potty and is actually ready to take the plunge into the activities involved in being a 'big kid'.

Potty training too young

Can potty training take place "too young"?

The science behind potty training is minimal to say the least and many have attempted to unravel the mystery behind this natural step in the development ladder.

Over the years, the focus on how potty training takes place has shifted, including the appropriate age at which experts believe the process should begin. In eras gone by focus was placed on the parent-centred approach 2 that offered a rigid solution to potty training.

It wasn't long after this approach didn't offer great outcomes that advocates such as Spock 3 and Brazelton 4 suggested a form of potty training that focused more on the child than on what suited the parents.

This has been the main approach to toilet training ever since and it seems to offer the most success. This method focuses on when a child is both physiologically and psychologically ready before starting the task of potty training.

It's due to this potty training method that many parents are starting the process between the ages of 24 and 48 months old 5. It's at this point that many children appear to be at the perfect age to both understand what's taking place while also being able to control their bodily functions efficiently.

Starting at this age, rather than at an earlier age, could result in children being completely potty trained within 3 to 6 months6. Once again, this is depending entirely on your potty training style and on your child. All children are different and that means different methods could have different outcomes.

Despite all of the expert advice you could possibly receive, the only method that will truly work for you and your child is one that you've tried and tested.

Potty training a special needs child

Potty training a child with special needs

Potty training a child of any age or gender can be a tricky, but also an exciting milestone to deal with, unfortunately this may not be the case for parents of children with special needs.

While many children start to show signs of being ready to potty train from 18 months old, children with autism, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy or other special needs may be different. Unfortunately for some, they will never show signs of being ready to potty train as it's simply not possible.

Communication difficulty is one of the largest hurdles that parents of special needs children will face. Being able to identify and communicate the need to use the potty is key to building confidence, but that doesn't mean children with special needs are without hope. As many parents know, understanding a child who struggles to communicate conventionally becomes a language of its own.

Facial expressions, non-verbal cues, hand gestures, sign language or any of the recommended methods for your child’s particular condition can be utilised to assist in the potty training experience.

Potty training a child with special needs will take extra time, dedication and work as the rate at which a child may stay dry could change regularly and extra provisions may need to be made. Depending on the need or disability of the child, a special potty training chair may be required as well as special training pants and underwear.

Above all else, the basis for potty training remains the same. Keep the process as fun as possible and remember to remain calm. With practice, hard work and communication, anything is possible.

If you're unsure about the best place to begin, check with your paediatrician or contact an occupational therapist to help you develop a routine that works best for your child and family.


1. US National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health. October 1977. Longitudinal study of bowel and bladder control by day and at night in the first six years of life. I: Epidemiology and interrelations between bowel and bladder control: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/913900 [Accessed 25.09.2018]

2. ResearchGate. October February 1950. Psychologic aspects of pediatrics – sixty years of child training practices: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/8311926_Sixty_Years_of_Child_Training_Practices [Accessed 25.09.2018]

3. US National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health. November 1946. The Common Sense Book of Baby & Child Care. First Edition: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1625859/[Accessed 25.09.2018]

4. Paediatrics. 1962. A child-oriented approach to toilet training: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/437f/d7d3d69aa5d6fb359314af778abdc1a048fa.pdf [Accessed 25.09.2018]

5. JAMA Network. October 1951. Eating, sleeping and elimination practices of a group of two-and-one-half-year-old children: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/article-abstract/495269 [Accessed 25.09.2018]

6. US National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health. 1988. G. Stenhouse. Toilet training in children: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3353038 [Accessed 25.09.2018]


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