Nine frequently asked questions about toilet training

Ask any parent of a toddler what the two scariest words in the English language are, and you're likely to hear them say: toilet training!

Even the thought of it can strike fear into the most confident of parents, and with so many myths, theories and ideas out there, it's no surprise - it can be hard to even know WHEN to start, let alone WHERE to start! We've put together some simple Q and A to help you navigate the toilet training stage.

When will my child be ready?
You've probably heard your grandmother, or maybe even your mother, talking about how "in her day" children were toilet trained before their first birthday. Experts now agree that forcing children out of nappies too early can cause problems later on with regression, bedwetting and other psychological issues. It's far better to wait until your child shows signs of readiness, this will reduce the amount of time you spend teaching your child to use the toilet, not to mention reduce the number of messy accidents! Children are not able to control their bladder function until a nerve connection is made between the bladder and the brain, and this can happen any time from around 18-months of age until three years of age. Some experts believe girls make the connection slightly earlier and therefore are often out of nappies earlier, but it really does depend on the individual child.

What are the signs that my child is ready?
Your child's awareness of the toileting process develops gradually over time, and the first sign that he or she is starting to become aware is when he or she is able to acknowledge that they have a wet nappy. The next step is for them to be able to identify that they ARE wetting, and finally, as they near readiness for toilet training, they are able to recognize the need to wet before it actually occurs.
Once your child is aware of how his or her body is working, look for the physical signs of readiness. My Plunket nurse told me that I would know when my daughter was ready to toilet train as she'd take off her own pants and nappy and climb up onto the toilet. I was skeptical, but sure enough, a few weeks later she did exactly that. To enable your child to toilet train successfully, he or she must be able to take his or her own pants off with relative ease, and it helps if he or she is able to climb onto either a toilet or potty unassisted. Many parents choose to toilet train over the warmer summer months when their child is wearing fewer layers of clothing to make it easier for him or her to undress.

Where do I start?
A good place to start is by talking to your child about the toilet training process using language that he or she will understand. Let him or her watch you, or older siblings, using the toilet, and explain that this is what he or she will be learning to do now that he or she is a "big kid". If you are using a potty, explain what it is for.
Initially, begin by placing him or her on the potty or toilet at various times throughout the day, in particular before nap times, before going out and before meal times. Don't expect him or her to perform on cue, but if he or she does wee/poo in the potty or toilet, give plenty of praise and encouragement.
Later, begin looking for signs that your child might need to go to the toilet. These may include restlessness, holding on to their private parts and jiggling from foot to foot. When you observe these signs, ask your child if he or she needs to use the toilet or potty and then help him or her to do so. Again, when your child does wee/poo in the potty or toilet, give plenty of praise and encouragement.

Potty or toilet?
This is purely personal choice. Some parents prefer to use potties as they are easier for children to get on and off on their own, and they can seem less daunting for a small child. Others prefer to avoid having to clean the potty and go straight for the toilet. If you do choose to skip the potty stage, it might help to invest in a step to help your child get on and off the toilet, and a special toddler insert for the toilet seat to help him or her sit correctly.

What about accidents?
Accidents are bound to happen; they're a part of the process! Waiting until your child is showing signs of readiness can reduce the number of accidents he or she might have. When he/she does have an accident, try not to show frustration or anger, rather tell him or her that it is okay, accidents happen. Remain encouraging - if you become discouraged, so will he or she. If you are worried about accidents whilst you are out and about, you might consider using training pants for these times.

Undies or training pants?
Again, this is purely personal choice. Some parents prefer to go straight from nappies to normal underwear, whilst others prefer an intermediate step such as disposable, or cloth, training pants. Training pants do make the mess easier to clean up in the event of an accident, but they can impair the child's sense of when he or she is wet which some experts believe extends the toilet training process.

What toilet training aids do I need?
You don't necessarily NEED any toilet training aids, but here are some that other parents have found useful:
*A doll/toy who wets - this can help your child to understand the process of wetting. When my daughter was toilet training we found an incredibly annoying Potty Elmo who used the potty and sang little toilet training songs. Much as it grated on my nerves, it worked wonders and Potty Elmo has now done the rounds of her friends as well!
*A step - useful to help your child get on and off the toilet. There are special, purpose designed steps available from nursery goods retailers, but we found a small plastic stool from The Warehouse worked just as well and was much cheaper.
*A toilet training seat - this can help make the "big toilet" seem a little less daunting to your child, particularly if, like a lot of young children, he or she has a fear of falling in. A basic plastic model will cost less than $10, but you can also get more expensive padded ones, and ones with built in steps to help him or her get on and off the toilet as well.
*Star charts and reward systems - these can help encourage and motivate your child to use the toilet.

OK, so we've toilet trained but she is regressing - now what?
Many children do go through a period of regression after seemingly being fully toilet trained, this is perfectly normal, and can often be attributed to external stresses such as a new sibling, moving house or starting kindy or daycare. Be firm and consistent with your child. As frustrating as it is, try to avoid being critical or angry as this will just stress your child out even more, when the chances are he or she wants to be dry just as much as you want him or her to be dry! Perhaps look at a star chart or reward system to help encourage him or her.

When will my child be dry at night?
How long is a piece of string?! Just as all children are ready for day toilet training at different times, so too are they ready for night training at different times. My daughter was 100% day toilet trained at 22-months, which is relatively early, yet she was still in night trainers at 4 years, long after many of her friends who day toilet trained later were night toilet trained. If your child is not dry at night by the age of five, you might consider seeking medical advice, but it is generally accepted that some children will not night toilet train until well after they start school, particularly if there is a family history of bedwetting. Things you can do to help him or her stay dry at night include restricting fluid intake after dinner, and taking him or her to the toilet before you go to bed at night.


For more information, check out: Toilet Training Without Tears or Trauma by Penny Warner and Dr Paula Kelly


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