As far as we know, all adults are toilet trained. Adverts suggest that if you place your adorable toddler in special, absorbent pants, in no time at all he will be sitting on a toilet seat squirting air freshener around while a small puppy steals the toilet paper. It is not always that easy. Whilst there might be a physical reason for this, some children seem frightened of toilets, or of needing to urinate or evacuate their bowels. There might be no apparent reason for this. On occasion this can become a significant issue with some children reducing their food intake so they don’t need the toilet, and others needing to put a nappy on when they need to go. It’s a difficult situation to discuss with others, and not rare.
Toilet training is something that happens so easily and so automatically with most children that it can be hard to remember that it does not always just happen. That said, very few adults have trouble with knowing when they need the toilet and taking reasonable precautions. Even people with Asperger Syndrome who sometimes fail to read sensory signals well, and those people with totally inadequate nerve connections can set their watch to remind them to void their bladders regularly.
When do I start
Essentially, it seems best to wait until the toddler is showing signs firstly of being aware of being wet, and then of needing to go to the toilet. You then make a toilet of some sort available, encourage the child to wear very little on his bottom, and encourage him to go. Often it is a good idea to put the potty in a room and have him sit on the potty while you read him a story, so that sitting on the potty is known to be a comfortable and nice thing to do. When he, and you, get lucky, you make an enormous fuss and praise him to the skies. This happens more and more frequently, mistakes happen less and less often, and, hey, you have a toilet trained child.
Some people suggest that you try to ‘catch’ your child’s urine and faeces in a potty from a very early age. With a very, very few children this might be effective. If you have a baby who goes to the toilet with the regularity of Old Faithful, the geyser, then maybe it will work for you. You will still need an enormous amount of luck, and you will still find mistakes sneaking through. If your baby is less reliable, then you will be undressing him needlessly again and again, frustrating you both in the process.
Most babies develop the sensations necessary to be toilet trained at around twenty four months, some sooner, some later, and bladder training always precedes bowel control. These sensations include a feeling of discomfort when wet, and a feeling of fullness in the bladder, shortly followed by the ability to hold the urine for a few moments. You will see your toddler developing this awareness – he will be less happy to wait to be changed, when he tells you he needs a new nappy, he means Now. He may even hold his nappy to show you that he needs a wee. Sometimes he will say he needs a potty for several days or weeks before getting it right, sometimes he will say nothing at all but when you offer a potty to use, will use it appropriately, at once.
I am assuming that all babies will have had the chance to see adults go to the toilet [some mothers can’t, at this stage, believe they'll ever go to the toilet alone again.] I am assuming, also, that the potty will be placed with some ceremony in the room that you are going to use, and that you will try to allow your toddler to be almost naked when you first try him with the potty. As far as I am aware, all toddlers begin by wee-ing sitting down, it is only later that boys learn to wee standing up.
Give you and the toddler about a week for the first experiment: plan a week where you can make sure he can access the potty easily and it won’t matter too much if he fails [usually not in a room with expensive carpeting or furniture, usually not in a week that includes somebody’s major party and the descent of a million relations].
Make it easy. Make sure that the potty is visible and accessible, make sure that the child is not wearing too much and be prepared to strip him off again and again and again, whenever he looks or sounds as if he needs to go, watch him closely, you might see the signs before he lets you know. Reward. And make a good positive fuss when he does well, perhaps letting him flush the toilet when you empty the potty. If the toddler doesn’t respond to the opportunity to use a potty for a couple of days, put it away again for two or more weeks before trying again. I believe that Pull-ups – those well-padded pants designed for use during toilet training are not very helpful at this stage as they almost give ‘permission’ to make mistakes. There are a number of further issues to consider. It is important not to make toilet training into a major issue. At this stage, a small child has control over very little of his own life; he has to do as he is told/made to and go where and when he is taken. He can, however, refuse to eat [see Feeding Issues] and refuse to use a potty or toilet – and you absolutely can not make him. So, this should be an issue where he feels he is willing and able to please you. If the first time you get out the potty, he screams, leave it in a corner of the room but neither draw his attention to it, nor sit him on it – leave it for a couple of weeks, and then put some interesting toys nearby so that he is attracted to that part of the room. From that point, it is relatively simple to encourage him to use the potty. Some toddlers are very keen to use a potty but make a huge number of mistakes – they are constantly asking to use a potty and then don’t need to go. This is frustrating, but try not to be irritated, your child is probably as frustrated as you are – desperate to please you and sorry it does not work. Then there are those toddlers who say they don’t need a potty and moments later wee on the carpet.
Moving to a toilet.
Generally, it is a good idea for the toddler to sit often, sometimes the wee will happen and increasingly, the toddler will connect the sensation of the potty under his bottom and urination. From there things move on. The child has to learn to use the toilet. Remember that it is quite uncomfortable to sit on something when your legs do not reach the floor, and provide a step for the child to use both to climb up on, and to feel under his feet while sitting on the toilet. Usually, a child who is happy to sit on a potty or toilet will progress naturally to doing a poo – a poo often occurs regularly and is fairly easy to time. It is more likely to happen easily if the child has something to do while sitting on the toilet – toys to play with or a book -, if the child has had lots of roughage so the poo happens easily and without much strain or pain, and if the child has something to press down on with his feet if he needs leverage – the floor or some support if he is on the toilet.
Some children are happy to use a potty to wee in, but demand a nappy for poos. They will ask to have a nappy put back on, and go somewhere [often a corner of the room or somewhere discreet] to do a poo. If your child behaves like this, it is often simpler not to make a fuss but to make a note of when he is likely to poo. You can then make sure he is sitting on the potty or toilet at the time, and, if you have given him lots of fruit or figs just before, you maximise your chances of a poo occurring by chance. Once it has happened once, it is likely to go on happening. Make a positive fuss about it, but allow the child to see you are pleased rather than making him feel that it is a very important issue. There is a general feeling that children are all clean and dry by the time they go to school at 4/5 [in England] and that is true in all but the most exceptional cases. In the end, most children are persuaded by the behaviour of their peers to imitate what they do, and go to school as children who are happy to use a toilet. Helping your child to be dry at night can be a different issue – see: Bed-wetting.