Training your child to use the toilet is a milestone that most parents both look forward to and dread. The idea of being done with nappies is fantastic but the process to achieve that goal is often fraught with stress and anxiety. Parents have been told that starting at the wrong time can somehow scar their child for life or lead to years of toileting problems. No parent wants to make that kind of mistake.
Additionally, the process can be both lengthy and frustrating for both kids and parents. This makes it very difficult to figure out what the right time for training might be. The key is to know your child and to use the techniques that best suit your family and harmonise with the rest of your parenting style.
What Age Is Best?
Over the last few decades the age that children toilet train at has increased. In the 1950s most children were trained by the age of 2, today that age has risen to almost 4.
In part, this is due to the idea that harsh, early training, before the child was ready could lead to psychological problems. This idea took hold in largely because T. Berry Brazelton, a noted child expert, and paediatrician claimed that it was true. The validity of these claims is still being debated.
The later age for toilet training is also a reflection of the move to disposable nappies. Disposables involve much less work for parents than cloth nappies. When a child soils a cloth nappy the parent has to dump the solid waste and wash the nappy.
These things were dirty and time-consuming. Also, cloth nappies don’t wick the moisture away from the child, so the child was substantially more wet and uncomfortable than they are in a disposable. The move to disposables has made kids and parents more comfortable, therefore, there is less impetus to stop using them.
However, parents should still be inspired to get their children out of nappies as soon as possible. Disposable nappies cost families hundreds of dollars per year. They also create a ton of waste and are horrible for the environment.
So at what age should we try to start the training process? The answer to what age is best really depends on your particular situation. Recently, some parents have discovered elimination communication or EC, an early toilet training technique used by women in Vietnam and in other countries where access to nappies is limited.
These mothers watch their baby for signs that indicate they are about to pee or poop and then they hold them over a toilet or sink. This technique can be started with infants who are just a few months old. While people have claimed great success with this method it seems to me like you would have to be really committed to it to make it work.
Official advice today generally recommends waiting until the child is ready and showing interest. The consensus seems to be that for girls this is usually around 2 to 2 ½ and for boys around 2 ½ to 3. This is a reasonable age because by this time children can usually communicate well and have the physical ability to remove their own pants. I think there is something to be said, however, for our mothers and grandmothers timing.
By the time a child is 2 ½ they are well into the “terrible twos” when they are desperate to exert control over any aspect of their life that they think they can. “NO” is by far their favourite word. In many ways, this is not a great time to try to teach them anything.
By starting slightly earlier between 18 months and 2 years you might find that your child is more flexible and willing to try something new. No matter what age you go with, the key is that the child be agreeable to trying. If they are fighting you every step of the way it is going to be a long process indeed.
Signs to Gauge Readiness
- Are they interested in the toilet? Encourage them to watch you go. Explain what you are doing “Mommy goes pee in the toilet, big kids go pee in the toilet too.” Seeing you use the toilet helps motivate them and reassures them that it isn’t something scary. If you have an older child you can have them be the example instead.
- Can they remove their own pants? Kids need to feel like they are in charge of the process, so it is best if they can pull their own pants down. That said, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Kids will still need your assistance for quite a while before they get it totally correct. My kids were both big fans of kicking their pants off entirely and then putting them back on backward.
- Are his nappies dry for at least 2 hours? If a child has a long period with dry nappies it shows that they can hold their bladder well enough to use the toilet.
- Does he acknowledge when he needs to go? If your child tells you that they are going in their nappy or if they suddenly retreat to a corner of the room to have a poop, they clearly know what is happening and could make the transition to the toilet.
5 Tips for Success
1. Put them in underpants
I think this is critical. Pull-ups or training pants just send a mixed signal and allow kids to still feel comfortable going in their pants. Buy underpants that your child will really want to wear. Pick some that are his favourite colour or ones that have the cartoon he likes on them. When you put them on talk about how special and exciting they are and about how he needs to keep them clean and dry by using the toilet.
2. Get the right tools
Buy a little toilet and a child sized seat for every toilet in your house. You want to be prepared for every possibility. Little kids usually can’t hold it for very long, so once they say they have to go you don’t want to be running to the upstairs bathroom to find where you left the toilet seat.
Also, some kids gravitate towards a little toilet because it is their size and feels more comfortable and safe. Some want to move right to using the toilet like mommy, daddy and big brother do.
3. Pick the right time
Do not try to toilet train right before you are going on holiday or the same week that your older child starts school. Do it at a time where you can all be relaxed and focused on the toilet training. Be prepared that you might not want to leave the house much in the first several days until you start to get the hang of it.
4. Empower them to be successful
While I am not sure about the concentration needed for EC you do need to be alert to your child during the training process. Watch them for signs that they might be getting ready to go. Also, just place them on the toilet at times that you know they are likely to need it. For example, 30 minutes after eating, before they get in the bathtub, or if it has been 2 hours since they last went.
5. Offer them rewards
If your child responds to positive encouragement you can set up a rewards chart. You can offer them a small “prize” like a hand stamp. Stickers also make a good reward. Sometimes just your praise for a job well done might be enough.
The most important thing to remember is that toilet training is a process. From starting daytime training, until your child is fully trained to sleep through the night can take years (let’s hope not, but it can!).
Don’t compare your progress to others and try not to get frustrated with yourself or your child if you have setbacks. It happens to everyone. It might sound a bit cliché but if both you and your child have a positive attitude toward the toilet training process that will be the most critical factor in making it successful.