Mom, read this if your child is ready for potty training

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In modern Western culture we tend to measure our parenting success by two ultimate 0utcomes:

  1. Is my child sleeping through the night?
  2. Is my child potty trained yet?

Potty training – what you need to know

Few topics will yield more conflicting advice than potty training when you do a Google search. Everyone seems to have an opinion and parents are judged whether they start early (which can cause emotional harm) or late (you’re making him used to the nappy and further delaying the process). You must know that there is very little research done on the topic, and most of this information is people’s personal opinions.

It all seems to completely ignore the biggest determining factor, which is that it is your child potty training, not you. This is one of the first and biggest steps that they will ever take to being independent and self-sufficient. All children will cope with this challenge differently.

Conclusion first

If you are reading this blog you probably either have a baby nearing the age where you are planning to start potty training, or you are currently trying to get it done, but things are not going as well as you would have liked.

So let me draw to my conclusion first (and as with most other ‘facts’ on this topic, this is more my opinion than anything else).

In the bigger scheme of things, is it really that important? Your child will eventually get there, even if it is later rather than sooner. One day in the adult world, no one is going to ask at what age he finally mastered his own bodily functions. You may not believe it now, but you’re also going to look back and not be completely sure of the age anymore.

So by all means do all you can to make it happen, but don’t let it cause unhappiness and stress in your house. He will eventually get it right and it says nothing about your skill as a mother.

Potty training in other cultures

Actually ‘potty training’ is not the right word as there is not really a potty involved. But in many cultures in countries like India and Africa babies are raised with less nappies from the age of birth. The caregiver will observe the baby’s queues (they may make a specific sound or draw a face when planning to go), and then hold them over a toilet, an outside latrine or even just an outside area.  In these cultures baby’s are usually carried by the caregiver, making it easier as they are always close-by. A big part of this is also financially motivated as many people living in these countries are very poor and simply don’t have money for nappies. In these cultures it is also typically more acceptable for children to urinate or pass stools outside, and people are less concerned over the mess that this method may cause.

Many Western parents feel that we can learn from this method, and there are some advantages. On average these little ones will obviously be able to use a potty independently earlier. It also reduces the cost and the environmental impacts of both disposable and cloth nappies. Nappies can cause rashes and skin irritations.

On the negative side, get ready to regularly clean up accidents for quite a long time to come. And know that people around you will scratch their heads and roll their eyes at you, because it will be new to them.

If you want to explore this further you can read on ‘Elimination Communication’. There are many websites and pages offering support and information to parents wanting to go this route.

A balanced suggested approach

Take a moment to identify what you would label as ‘successful potty training’. Your child will probably be a lot older before they have fully mastered the skills needed and never have an accident anymore. Many parents have children out of nappies before then but are still cleaning up every day.

ALSO READ: Setting the Page for A Good Night’s Sleep

Understanding what needs to happen

The American Academy of Paediatrics list the following factors of readiness for potty training:

  • Your child must be physiologically ready, meaning that their bladders and digestive systems must be able to delay movement until they can get to the potty. This can happen from about 18 months of age for some children, but may well take longer for others. If this step is not in place you will not be successful with potty training. This is not something your children learn to do or understand to to; it is depending on development of the nerves between the brain and the bladder and gut.
  • They must be cognitively ready, meaning able to associate the need with to eliminate with using the potty, able to remember how to use it, and resist the distraction of whatever they are busy with long enough to actually go. Some little ones can get so engrossed with what they are busy with right now that they are not interested in the boring old business of doing your thing.
  • They need the necessary motor skills to walk to the bathroom, manage their clothes and sit on the potty in time to go.
  • They need the emotional readiness to be more independent to master a skill on their own.
  • They need verbal understanding of what is happening and must be able to communicate with you when they need to go.
  • Lastly, social readiness will be the awareness of other people’s toilet use and the desire to imitate them with this. From this viewpoint a nursery school can help.

As you can see there is a lot that needs to happen. While you don’t have to wait until each and every one of these developments is in place, each step does increase the chances of toilet-training success.

A word of warning when it comes to potty training

Pushing potty training before your child is ready can have negative results. Many children start holding back specifically bowel movements when they feel pressured and anxious, which leads to constipation. This can get so severe that it forms small tears when they pass stools, making it painful and causing them to resist going even more. This is a very difficult negative cycle to break.

Alternatively, some children start passing stools in strange places like behind furniture or curtains, or under the bed. Punishing them also just worsens the situation.

If this happens or if you pick up any anxiety over potty training it’s best to relax and try again in a few weeks’ time.

Keep an eye out for next week’s blog where we look at different potty training methods and how to find one that works for you.

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Christine Klynhans is a midwife and lactation consultant with a firm believe that gentle parenting can change the world. She has worked in midwifery since competing her B.Cur nursing degree in 2004, and has a special passion for education and for writing. She currently works in a well-baby clinic and give antenatal classes and breastfeeding support. She enjoys working with parents of babies and toddlers, aiming to help them find gentle solutions to their parenting problems and assisting them in incorporating healthy habits and natural health alternatives into their daily lives.