Training your child to use the toilet can be a battle for some and no big deal for others. It is important to understand that every child is different and what works for one child doesn’t always work for another. Before you begin, you should realize that your child must be physically ready in order for toilet training to be a success. Infants who have not yet developed control over the muscles that control elimination can not be expected to use the toilet every time they need to eliminate (even if they are capable of communicating with you when they do need their diaper changed). Toddlers who have more control over elimination but lack skills to pull down their own pants may also struggle. Perhaps the biggest frustration for parents is training children who seem not to care that their clothes are soiled or who are intentionally defiant when it comes to using the toilet. These behaviors could indicate other problems that may need to be addressed before successful toilet training occurs.
Children who are able to communicate their needs and have the motor skills to pull down their own pants and sit on the toilet or training potty are probably ready to try. Using picture books about toilet training can be a good way to broach the subject without creating conflict between parent/caregiver and child. It can also help you gauge your child’s eagerness to engage in the process. If he seems interested and receptive to the idea, why not give it a try? If he could care less, then waiting awhile before broaching the subject again may be in your best interest. Some children are ready before age 2 and others may not be interested until just before entering school. Being among peers in a daycare or preschool setting can sometimes prompt a child who is less than enthusiastic to want to use the toilet themselves. It is very common for younger children to experience regression in toilet training if there are any large transitions in their lives (moving, new sibling, stress in the household), so be prepared to roll with the punches.
It is never a good idea to force a child who is not yet ready to toilet train. When a child has negative associations with toilet training (like being forced to sit on the toilet until she eliminates), it can have lasting negative effects on the child’s physical and emotional health. Encouraging your child, using positive language, and following her cues will make for a better experience. It is also important to respect your child in the process by acknowledging her feelings and letting her have control over some aspect (like flushing the toilet afterwards). It is normal for children to have accidents, so being prepared with extra clothes and not making a big deal about it if/when it happens is also important. Making a child feel humiliated or ashamed is destructive to their self-esteem and a quick way to land back at square one. It is normal for adults to feel frustrated/angry when inconvenienced by such an accident, but keeping emotions in check is a must.
Rewarding/bribing is a common tool employed by many parents, but beware of the drawbacks. You may end up with a child who has to use the toilet every 5 minutes if she thinks there will be a reward for her efforts. Some children may also fail to make the association between the reward and the desired behavior, which can prove frustrating if they think they are doing the right thing (e.g. telling you they have to use the toilet after they have had an accident). A better strategy is keeping some sort of visual aid that the child can help with, like a sticker chart. The child can place a sticker every time he successfully uses the toilet and see his day to day progress. This also reinforces the goal of self-motivation, since the visual aid will remind the child of his successful efforts. You may have to get creative to figure out what type motivation works best for your child and if nothing seems to work, you may just have to wait a bit longer for your child’s self-motivation to kick in.
One thing to keep in mind is that night time bedwetting is common in many children and may be completely normal up until the age of 7. Being prepared for nighttime accidents (rubber sheets between regular fitted sheets for a quick bedding change) can help during this transition time. A child who continues to wet the bed after age 7 may need to be seen by a doctor, especially if they have other symptoms like increased thirst, difficulty gaining weight, or frequent urination, which are all symptoms of diabetes. Also, if your child seems to be urinating more frequently or she complains of pain while urinating, it may be a sign of an infection that needs treatment. You should always teach little girls to wipe from front to back in order to avoid fecal contamination of the urethra–the cause of many urinary tract infections. And don’t forget to teach your child proper hygiene–hand washing with soap to the tune of “row, row, row your boat” every time he uses the bathroom!
If you have concerns about your child or are struggling despite following these suggestions, please consult with your child’s doctor.
About the Author: Dr. Bowker is a Naturopathic Physician and owner of Snohomish Valley Holistic Medicine. In addition to her clinical practice, Dr. Bowker has served as a Board member for the Washington Association of Naturopathic Physicians. She has also been a guest speaker for community organizations and instructor of several community health classes. For more information, please visit her primary website: www.snovalleyholistic.com