After reading The Everything
Q: What is the best age to begin potty training my daughter?
A: That depends on whom you ask — and when. In 1928, psychologist John Watson urged parents to hold a little pot under their infants starting in the first weeks of life. Until then, parents typically began training at age two to three months. In 1945, author and pediatrician Benjamin Spock recommended parents wait until babies would sit up by themselves. In 1961, author and pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton recommended waiting until the toddler years. Later he suggested it might be better to wait until around age three. Most cultures in the world still begin at two to three months of age.
It is usually best to begin potty training before children are mobile, assuming a stay-at-home parent can work with them regularly. After that time, psychological factors become important. In general, it is best to avoid the “overly active ones” and “terrible twos,” but if your daughter can sit still as required (difficult for many one-year-olds), can cooperate (difficult for many two-year-olds), or is exceptionally motivated, toddler training may be fine. Otherwise, it may be best to wait until close to age three, or even later.
Q: My son would rather have an accident than go to the potty when I tell him to, and if I insist, he throws a tantrum. What can I do?
A: You can't make your son take off his pants or sit, much less use the potty, but you can hold a “potty practice” every hour or two, or whenever you think he needs to use it. Stay with him in the bathroom for no more than five minutes. Don't talk except to remind him that he's supposed to practice sitting on the potty. Sit on the toilet and read a book (or pretend to) to show him what he's supposed to do.
The key is not to become involved in a power struggle. If he decides to use the potty, don't praise or reward him. Just say, “You used the potty. You can go play.” If he doesn't, say, “Your practice is over. You can go play.” If he wets himself during potty practice, just say, “You wet your pants. I'll change you, then you can play,” when his five-minute practice ends. Once he understands how potty practice works, announce when it's almost time, and tell him that if he can use the potty before the practice starts he will get a reward. Otherwise, have the session as planned.
Q: My daughter sits on the potty and we sing, read books, listen to music — whatever — but nothing happens until I put her diaper back on. Then not only does she go almost immediately, but she also gets very upset about it.
A: Contrary to what you might think, your daughter is trying to cooperate. The problem is she is trying too hard. As long as she is nervous, her muscles are tense, and that includes her sphincters. Without realizing what she is doing, she is holding in her urine and stool. When you put her back in a diaper she finally relaxes. Her sphincters relax, too, so she begins passing waste.
Eliminate the fun and games and see if sitting quietly helps. If not, have her go without a diaper for four or five hours every day. Try to keep her in the kitchen or another room that won't be destroyed by accidents. Keep the potty nearby, but tell her not to worry about using it or having an accident. She needs pressure-free time to focus on her physical sensations so she can notice how her muscles move when she passes waste. When she figures out how her body works, she'll be able to figure out how to tense and relax the proper muscles willfully.
Q: My son was almost potty trained, but now he won't have a B.M. in the toilet. He has a small B.M. in his pants several times a day. Sometimes he wets, too. He doesn't seem to notice or even care. I'm at a loss.
A: This sounds like a classic case of encopresis. When children become constipated, a mass of stool too hard to pass stays in the bowel. Softer feces make their way around the mass and leak toward the rectum. When the anal sphincter opens to release them, the urinary sphincter opens, too, so children end up wetting when they soil.
Even if your child can feel what's happening (which he probably can't), he can't control the leakage. See your pediatrician to discuss the matter. If your son is in fact encopretic, he may need a stool softener or enema until he can pass the mass, and a better diet (more vegetables, whole grains, fruit, and water) to prevent a recurrence. Once his bowel movements are back to normal, it may take a while to get him to have bowel movements in the potty again. Have him sit on it five to ten minutes around the time you expect him to have a bowel movement. Put him back in a diaper if he doesn't have one in the potty, and if he does, he can wear underpants.
Q: Is it really possible to train infants to use the potty? How?
A: Yes, it is absolutely possible. This more natural training method is gaining in popularity again since it is more hygienic and creates stronger parent-child bonds. The parent must remain attentive in order to recognize when the infant is about to urinate or have a bowel movement. While cradling the baby, the parent quickly places a pot under its bottom to “catch” the waste, and makes a special “ssss” or “shshsh” sound as the infant is relieving herself. If this is done consistently, the infant develops a conditioned response. Then, whenever she recognizes the sensation of the pot on her bottom and detects the special sound, she automatically pushes to relieve herself. If any waste is in the bowel or bladder, it will come out.
Parents can reduce or eliminate the need for diapers, and infants don't have to lie in their waste, though many parents do diaper their babies at night. Infants soon begin signaling for their little pot by fussing and reaching for it when they need to eliminate, just as they signal for a bottle when they want to be fed. The biggest problem is that few mentors are available to school new mothers in the art of infant training. See the Resources for recommended books.
Q: My toddler has asthma. Is it possible that he is allergic to a diapering product?
A: Some of the chemicals used to manufacture disposable diapers irritate the bronchial tubes and are known to produce asthma-like symptoms in susceptible youngsters. Children don't even have to be wearing a disposable diaper to become symptomatic — simply being in the same room with one can trigger an attack. The harsh liquids used to wash cloth diapers can be a real problem, too. Be sure to put them through an extra final rinse to remove chemical residues. Sometimes changing brands of disposable diapers or detergents can solve the problem. Instead of talcum powder, try cornstarch or plain flour (bake it first so it doesn't become gooey when wet). Otherwise, if you continue to suspect that a diapering product is endangering your child's health, begin potty training immediately.
Q: My two-year-old pees in the toilet, but absolutely will not poop in it. Instead, he goes in his bedroom when he thinks I'm not looking.
A: This is actually a very common problem, although that doesn't make it less difficult! Potty refusals often begin during a bout of constipation. Toddlers associate the pain of passing a hard movement with the potty, and become afraid to use it again. Or they get splashed with cold water when sitting on a potty seat on a regular toilet, and refuse to have any more bowel movements there. Many children are upset when they see their stool flushed away, as if part of themselves were disappearing down the drain. Others find standing or squatting a more comfortable position and have difficulty passing a bowel movement when sitting down.
Let your child wear regular underwear, and when you see signs that a bowel movement is starting, offer him a diaper. Stay close by so you can retrieve the dirty diaper afterward so he doesn't succumb to temptation and play with his B.M. Be careful he doesn't see you dispose of his diaper or its contents. Store the diaper in a lidded pail, and empty the pail when he's sleeping.
Q: My daughter trained easily, but I'm having trouble potty training my son. I've heard boys take longer to train than girls. Is it true?
A: On average, boys do finish training a few months later than girls. This difference may be due to the fact that boys mature a bit more slowly. Little boys tend to be more active and less compliant than girls, too, which makes training more difficult. However, younger siblings typically train sooner because they want to mimic their big brother or sister.
Be patient with your little guy, and try not to compare your children. Each one is different, with a unique personality and rate of development. Holding one sibling to the standards of the other erodes self-esteem and can translate into more intense sibling rivalry. What worked for your daughter may not work for your son, so check out several methods before deciding how to proceed.
Q: My last attempt at potty training my daughter ended up being a miserable experience for both of us. Now she won't even go near the potty. Where do I go from here?
A: Put her back in diapers, put the potty away, and give her a month to forget. Then, start reintroducing the potty very gradually. Put it in her play area so she can see it for a few days. Then invite her to sit on it fully clothed while you read her a story. Have her accompany you to the bathroom or leave the door open so she can watch you use the toilet. Ask her to hand you toilet paper and help you flush. A few days later, put her potty in the bathroom and suggest she feed a doll a bottle and have the doll use the potty while you use the toilet. Next, suggest she sit on the potty chair in the bathroom while you read her a story. After a few days of story reading, see if she will sit on her potty with nothing on her bottom. Tell her she is “just like Mama.” Thereafter, see if you can get her to sit on the potty once a day without anything on her bottom, timing it so she might use it, and praising her if she succeeds. Whatever you do, avoid chastising her for accidents. Instead, try a reward system.
Q: Does the way toddlers are potty trained form their personalities?
A: Actually, it's more likely that children's personalities will dictate how easy or difficult they are to potty train. Easygoing youngsters with regular systems who adapt well to change are usually easiest to train. Shy youngsters are often more fearful of the potty at the outset and have bigger setbacks if something scares them during training. Insecure youngsters can become overwhelmed by the challenge if the pace of potty training is too fast, and are more inclined to give up after they've been criticized for an accident. More active children will have a harder time sitting still, which makes them more difficult to train. Parents have a harder time helping an irregular child get to the potty at the right time, which makes it harder for them to learn the process.
Certainly, abusing children during potty training warps their personality development, and shaming and humiliating them erodes their self-esteem. Harsh criticism can upset an overly sensitive tyke enough to cause posttraumatic stress syndrome, which creates serious emotional difficulties. Barring something so drastic, potty training doesn't have much, if anything, to do with personality development. Parents have less of a hand in molding their children than people generally think!
Q: What rewards work best for toddlers?
A: It really depends on the toddler. A smile and approving nod is all the reward many youngsters need. However, during the oppositional two-year-old stage, children are often driven to do the opposite of whatever they think parents want them to do, so parental praise may backfire. A spray of perfume and the statement, “You smell as pretty as a flower now that you used the potty instead of wetting your diapers,” delights little boys as well as little girls. Stickers and the chance to wear real underwear are very popular, but some toddlers soon lose interest. The chance to earn a Hot Wheels toy has induced lots of toddler boys to drop everything and run to the potty time and again. The opportunity to do something special such as paint or blow bubbles works for many toddlers, but to be effective, rewards must be given immediately after a potty success. Lots of parents find that an M&M, animal cracker, or piece of sweetened cereal works better than anything else. Remember that rewards can be given for any “success,” including just sitting on the potty.
Q: My child hasn't had an accident during the day for six months, but he still wets the bed at night. Is this normal?
A: Although there are no hard and fast rules, children typically start staying dry at night around the same time they are using the potty regularly during the day. Children with a relative who wet the bed as a youngster are at greater risk for bedwetting; boys are more often bedwetters than girls; and anxiety and depression can cause temporary bouts of bedwetting, too. Eventually, however, most children simply outgrow it.
Treatments aren't available until age five, so about the only solution is to try to cut down on the number of accidents by limiting fluids in the evening and taking him to the potty during the night. Put your child to bed in a diaper and use a waterproof pad to protect the mattress. If you can determine when the wetting usually happens and carry him to the potty before then, you may prevent it. After being taken regularly during the night for a time, some children stop bedwetting.
Whatever you do, don't get angry. Bedwetting isn't something children can control. Since anxiety and depression can also cause bedwetting, punishments can make things worse.
Q: My thirty-month-old is so defiant, I've been dreading trying to potty train him. My mother has offered to give it a try. I'm wondering if I should let her.
A: Because toddlers are trying to establish a separate identity, they usually save their worst behavior for the people they are closest to. Your son may in fact respond better to someone with whom he has a less intense relationship, assuming that it is a good one. Toddlers are often “trained” to use the potty by day care friends and older siblings.
Talk to your mother first, to be sure you are comfortable with the methods she plans to use. You must be able to support her efforts by using the same methods in your home.
Arrange the schedule so that your son returns home each evening. Potty training is stressful because children are excited, are learning so many new things at once, and must really concentrate. Unless your youngster is accustomed to being with his grandmother for extended periods, a bout of homesickness could end up making it harder for him to give potty training his all.