elevating child care

In The Toilet

The advice I’m reading on the web about potty training is disappointing, to say the least.  Potty training in 3 days? One day? Tips and tricks? Shouldn’t we have a little respect? Children don’t need to be manipulated with treats and rewards.  Using the toilet is something children want to do when they are ready, for themselves. It is a natural process that is best led completely by the child with our support.

I can understand parents wondering, worrying and feeling impatient about successful toilet training, but it is something every healthy normal child eventually achieves. We risk creating resistance, distrust, even shame when we coax a child to the potty before he’s ready.   

One problem is the word ‘training,’ which gives us the impression that we must be proactive in a process that works best when it happens naturally. When children are ready, they train themselves. If we can be patient and create the atmosphere of acceptance our children need to initiate their transition from diapers to toilet, they will master the skill easily, and gain the feeling of autonomy they deserves.

Readiness is the key. Children must be ready physically (have bladder and bowel capacity and muscle control), cognitively (be fully aware of what they are supposed to do), and they must be ready emotionally to let go of a situation they are used to and comfortable with (urinating and releasing feces into a diaper whenever they feel like it.)

Parents lay the groundwork for the child’s readiness when, beginning at birth, we make diaper changes an enjoyable, cooperative time together, and respect the baby by slowing down and talking him through each part of the process.

When the child begins to show signs of toilet readiness (he lets you know he has urinated, wants the wet diaper removed immediately, and then begins to tell you before he urinates), it might be time to have a small potty on hand.  Then, every person who cares for the child are advised to be on board to refrain from asking the child to use the potty, or nudging in anyway. Some children are extremely sensitive to being pushed in this area, and reactions can be as extreme as holding feces in for days, or having to put a diaper on and hide to be able to have bowel movement for years after having been supposedly ‘trained’.

I have seen cases where children began a pattern of resistance when the parent coaxed them to use the potty, and the relationship of resistance continued in other areas into adulthood. Parents must tread carefully when dealing with toilet issues.

It is safest to relax, remain patient and allow the child to tell us every time he wants to go to the toilet on his own. The process of self-training can take weeks, even months. Disruptions in the child’s life (a new sibling, traveling) can cause him to backtrack, even after we thought him fully trained. In those cases it’s best to “go with the flow” (so to speak) and keep diapers or pull-ups available well after training seems finished.

Trusting our children pays off for everyone. Children take pride in their newfound autonomy, and their self-confidence grows. By being trusted to ‘let go’ when they are ready, they can ‘hold on’ to intrinsic motivation.  After all, if we have to control our bodily functions to please our parents, what can we ever own?




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117 Responses to “In The Toilet”

  1. Thank you for sharing that term. I will try to incorporate it!

  2. avatar Sarah says:

    Hi Janet, First of all, thank you for this article and for all the wisdom you bring to the world of conscious parenting. I am a huge fan of your writing. About a month ago, my 26 month old daughter started asking to “make a pee pee in the potty” (we have had one in the bathroom since about 16 months, but I have never encouraged her to use it). She did make a pee pee in the potty without much fuss, and since then has been asking to do it periodically. If she’s naked in the house she will go into the bathroom to use the potty when she needs to pee. But the same time as she started peeing in the potty (the next day or so), she started complaining about a tummy ache and her tush burning. At first I thought something was wrong, but I realized that evening when she made a poop right before bed (which she never does, she goes daily in the afternoon) that the idea of using the potty may have increased awareness of the process of “making” and she seems scared now to poop, whether in the diaper or the potty. I tried to show her pooping on the potty because she seemed to have entered a state of purgatory where she didn’t want to poop in her diaper, but also had no idea how to do it on the potty. I have coaxed her through pooping on the potty a few times (saying things like “let it slide out” “it’s ok to make a doody” etc.), and she’s very proud after and feels like a big girl, but the idea of pooping has become problematic. I think she is holding her poop. She has pooped every day since she was born, and now she poops every other day, and sometimes every two days. Unfortunately she may have already been biased against pooping by a bad experience with her dad changing her diaper one day and exclaiming about the amount of poop. Because since then she has been apprehensive to have her diaper changed and has repeated the words (“it’s a major doodie??”). I have told her it takes a while to learn the potty and it is OK to make a poop in her diaper or in the potty, but she still seems scared or apprehensive to poop (she’ll be standing around in a diaper and all of a sudden say in a fearful way “it’s ok to make a doodie!”). Unfortunately, I have also rewarded her for pooping in this potty, and I have let her use my phone on the potty, both of which I am against but which I did the first time she pooped in the potty because she had been holding her poop and I just wanted it to come out, and relied on instantaneous advice from people around me instead of really researching the matter. I have no desire to push my daughter to be potty trained and only want her to be healthy and regular. Any advice on how to either let her know it is ok to poop in her diaper, or help her through knowing it’s ok to use the potty for pooping? And undo any negative thinking about pooping or damage I may have done by rewarding her for using the potty? Thank you!

  3. avatar Sarah says:

    As my son approaches the age at which most parents begin potty “training”, I am very thankful to have read this article. Thank you for removing the stress from the situation for me. Now I know to let this happen naturally, in due time. What a much happier way to live!

    • avatar janet says:

      You’re welcome, Sarah! And, yes, I agree that trusting our children to achieve these developmental tasks makes for happier parenting. 🙂

  4. avatar Mairi says:

    Hi Janet

    My son is 3 years old and is still not really using his potty. We put a kids stool in the bathroom for the adult toilet and he used it very occasionally. I then started reading him a story book about a bear learning to use his potty which he loves and he got excited for us to go shopping and to choose his own potty. He chose a brightly coloured one and used it a few times to urinate in but then his Dad told him off for playing with the potty & tipping it upside down and since then he has not shown any more interest in it. I have just left it there and am not putting any pressure on him. Do you have any advice? Thanks

  5. avatar Rachel says:

    While I would much prefer to go this route I know that most preschools require a child to be potty trained. I have been told by my doctor and read elsewhere that it gets much harder for them after 2.5 for them to be ok with using the potty. What age do they generally shift toward the potty? What if they don’t?

  6. avatar Monique says:

    Hi Janet – thanks for your article. I really enjoy, value & respect your perspectives on baby and child care. However, this is one area I don’t suppport traditional RIE thinking. Having done elimination communication, incorporating some elements of gentle adult-led toilet training (no gimmicks/rewards/tricks etc) with my daughter I don’t support the ‘readiness’ idea that it prompted in western modern disposable nappy cultures. In my experience babies are born with a sense of the bodily function of elimination. Putting babies/toddlers in nappies full time (particularly high absorbency modern disposable nappies) ignores their senses & the opportunity to communicate with your baby/toddler regarding their elimination. It is such a lost opportunity for respect, dignity, learning, communication and independence. Full time (disposable) nappy wearing from infancy is, in my view, what ‘trains’ babies/toddler with respect to elimination behaviour. So I can appreciate the issues that might ensue when parents try to change that learnt behaviour. The convenience & absorbency of modern disposable nappies has led to the now common practice of toddlers in nappies well into their second & third years. Historically & geographically babies didn’t/don’t wear nappies that long into toddlerhood, if at all. I think RIE is missing it big time on this particular topic. Sincerely, Monique

    • I agree with you Monique. I love all things conscious parenting except this. I think we are disrespecting our children by keeping them in nappies for so long. Also, nappies have only been around for 100 years or so, potty training is not a natural human milestone, because nappies aren’t a natural part of their lives. I have 25 month old twins, who have been partly cloth nappied. One day my LG declared “no nappy”. It was ME that wasn’t ready. I didn’t trust her. The time had come for me to give her a chance to walk around without a nappy on, and the thought freaked me out completely (my carpets, floors, her clothes, it was winter, I had many excuses). I took the risk, removed the nappy and without blinking an eyelid, she used the potty consistently every time she needed it. The next day, her brother followed suit, he wanted to give it a try too because she was doing it. The key thing is though, it only works with bare bums, and very few parents are prepared for the occasional accident that entails. They just won’t risk it, don’t trust their children, and then end up rewarding and punishing children to take off a perfectly comfortable disposable pull up for months on end.

  7. avatar Carol says:

    Janet, do you have advice for boys who are approaching 4 and have no interest in toilet ? Is there a time and place for gentle encouragement? Incentives? A little nudge in this direction? We have a couple in our preschool program and they are big kids pooping in their pants daily. They will be 4 next month. Parents and teachers are seeking advice. I am conflicted.

  8. avatar Laura says:

    Hi Janet I have a nearly four year old who was almost fully toilet trained about 6 months ago (he was still having the occasional wee accident but all BMs went on the potty or toilet). We did initiate the toilet training as he was refusing to have his nappy changed even when he had soiled himself and was getting bad nappy rash. However We went On holiday for a week and since then he has regressed completely. He has been back in cloth nappies and now is back in pull ups so he can go to the toilet when wants to. some days he will use the toilet on his own, and will just go off to the toilet to do BMs. But Just as often he will poo in his pull up & not tell anyone. If you ask him if has gone in his pull up he will say no and run off even if he has. And he always resists nappy changes- if he’s just done wees I do get him to change himself. I don’t really know how to handle the not wanting his soiled nappy change, especially as if we don’t notice he’s soiled he gets a horrible rash. I have talked to him and tried to find out why he won’t use the toilet or why he doesn’t want his nappy changed but he just says he doesn’t know. And when I ask him if it’s nice wearing a soiled nappy he says yes. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

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