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 child needs to initiate his transition from diapers to toilet, he will master the skill easily, and gain the feeling of autonomy he 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 child pays off for everyone. The child takes pride in his newfound autonomy, and his self-confidence grows. By being trusted to ‘let go’ when he is ready, he 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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