When it comes to starting the potty training journey, there are no hard and fast rules to follow.
Each child decides at their own pace when they're ready to take the step from toddler to 'big kid' in this regard. This doesn't happen at random, there are a number of psychological and physiological factors which must fall into place first.
Having the ability to control the reflex sphincter as well as the myelination of the extrapyramidal tracts are both important factors that must take place before potty training can begin. These developments typically take place at around 18 months of age. It is important to note that they cannot be accelerated7 and must happen naturally.
Once these physical factors have been ticked off the list, the child's psychological maturation must also be assessed. There are many ways for a child to let you know that they're ready to start potty training. In fact, some children simply ask for the potty as they've spotted their friends using one or may just be mimicking other family members use of the toilet.
If this happens, be sure to embrace potty training with gusto as your little one is letting you know that they are completely ready to begin this new journey.
Other potential signs are subtler and may include:
- Awareness of the difference between having a wet or dry nappy (diaper).
- Being able to stay dry while wearing a diaper or underwear for several hours.
- Sensing the need to urinate or have a bowel movement before it happens.
- The ability to sit comfortably on the potty or toilet seat.
- Being able to express the need to use a potty before an 'accident' take place.
- Following simple commands that could help with the potty training process.
- The desire to no longer wear diapers.
- The ability to undress him/herself (or being willing to learn)
If your child does not exhibit these signs and does not seem up for the challenge of this ‘next step’ in the development process, relax. These things can take time and you may want to invest a little more in mentally preparing him/her for it. Let your child accompany you to the loo, explain why you’re there and what you’re doing. These little steps will go a long way into making your child comfortable with what will then seem like a natural process.
What will you need to begin potty training?
Once you decide to begin the great adventure that is potty training, it's time to stock up on everything you may need. While you and your child may not be ready to kick off the process immediately, it's important to be ready for when that day may suddenly appear.
The very first potty training tool you'll need in your arsenal is research (just like you’re doing now). Discuss what worked (and didn't work) for your friends and their children. Ask questions and make sure that you fully understand what you're about to embark on, for your sake as well as for your child's.
The next tool you'll need is patience. Without an extensive amount of patience, the potty training process can be hell. It's simply a fact that there will be long hours spent waiting for that first potty moment, many pairs of wet underwear and equally as wet clothing to wash, and of course, nights spent changing sheets after an accident when you think your child has ‘got it’, but events prove otherwise.
Unfortunately, there's no way to avoid these fateful moments as they are simply part of the potty training experience. Consider them a badge of honour that every parent must don at one stage or another.
Next up on the list is that everyone in your household needs to be on board for making potty training work. Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, all caregivers need to understand how you'll be potty training and what that entails. Consistency is key and that means you'll need to lay down the rules, the vocabulary you've decided to use (will you be asking your little one if they need to "pee" or make a "weewee"?) and these rules should be law.
If your child attends a school, be sure to inform them that you're now potty training and provide detail on how you've decided to do things. The potty training experience can often be aided by being around other potty training children, so don't be afraid to have caregivers at school continue the process when you're not around.
Now that you have the preparation out of the way, you'll need a few extras before you really begin potty training your child:
- Let your child choose a potty chair or toilet seat adaptor (as well as a foot stool) that they like. Have them decorate the potty chair with stickers to truly make it their own.
- Purchase underwear with your child's favourite TV character or animal on it to encourage wear.
- Be sure to communicate with your little one that they must voice when they need to use the potty and not be shy. When they do so successfully, be sure to praise them and make a fuss. This positive reinforcement can go a long way to making your child comfortable with the potty training process.
- Prepare yourself for accidents. When they happen, no matter how frustrating, assure your child that you're not angry and never punish your child. Negativity during this process can severely hinder progress, making potty training even more frustrating than before and affect your child’s self-confidence.
7. US National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health. February 1999. Development of bladder and bowel control: significance of prematurity, perinatal risk factors, psychomotor development and gender: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10048607 [Accessed 25.09.2018]