Fearless Potty Training
It's not surprising that many parents approach potty training with such trepidation. Psychologists once thought that the methods they used had a major hand in children's personality development. Sigmund Freud went so far as to state that parents' toilet-training methods dictated a child's eventual career choice! The good doctor believed that overly lax methods would result in the kind of sloppiness that would prompt adults to enter careers like painting. Harsh training methods would lead to controlled youngsters who would enter fields emphasizing the traits of frugality, obstinacy, and orderliness, which Freud considered typical of bookkeepers and accountants.
There is absolutely no evidence that a parent's approach to potty training has anything to do with forming personality, much less career choices! Yet people still refer to exacting, overcontrolling adults as having “anal personalities,” and many believe these traits stem from their potty training experiences. Indulge their fantasy if you wish, but know that the research suggests that they're wrong.
Who's in Charge?
In potty training toddlers, parents can do absolutely everything “right,” but youngsters won't be successful until they are physically ready, are intellectually capable, have mastered the complex mechanics involved, and decide to refrain from wetting and soiling. In many families, the last point is the stickler. Since readiness tends to occur at the time toddlers are entering a particularly oppositional stage, the foundation for difficulties is laid if parents are very anxious to say good-bye to diapers. Starting potty training very early can be a way to lessen conflict — assuming the child is physically ready. The time to begin is before the actively oppositional period begins. On the other hand, starting potty training very late also lessens conflict — assuming parents can resign themselves to dealing with diapers.
Even if parents are very strict and insistent, potty learning offers parents potent lessons in accepting their fundamental helplessness. When it comes to deciding when and where to go to the bathroom, all the punishments and praise and presents you offer may not make much of a difference. For once, toddlers are in control. All parents and caregivers can do is teach children what they need to know to be able to use the potty, help them acquire the specific skills, try to increase their motivation, and remain confident that if nothing else, the social pressures of kindergarten (if not preschool and day care) will provide an incentive powerful enough to zap the thorniest resistance.
In order to be potty trained, children must be physically capable of controlling bladder and bowel, which means their central nervous system must have matured to the point that they can control the sphincter muscles that stop and start the flow of urine and expulsion and retention of stool. To achieve nighttime control, the child must be awakened by the sensation of a full bladder, so staying dry at night typically comes later.
It's not possible to be certain whether a youngster's muscles are still automatically giving way when the bladder fills to a certain point. A toddler may have enough physical control for successful potty training if he:
Remains dry for three to four hours at a time
Awakens from a nap with a dry diaper
Passes a substantial quantity of urine at one time
Has bowel movements that occur at predictable times
Has well-formed stools
Routinely goes to a specific place to urinate or have a bowel movement (e.g., a corner of the living room)
Is able to stop the flow after urination has begun
There is no way to be certain that after experiencing the urge to urinate, the child has the physical control of the sphincter to stop the flow. Punitive methods can cause youngsters who cannot comply with demands to feel incompetent, ashamed, and humiliated. Parental kindness and patience are in order.
The bladder is the most reactive organ when it comes to stress, and people of all ages can and do respond to emotional upset by literally “peeing in their pants.” By applying pressure to perform, parents can cause youngsters to feel anxious. This undermines bladder control. Accidents in kindergarten are common, and often happen in first grade classrooms, too. Be kind! Be patient!
Using the potty is a complicated affair. In addition to being able to recognize and communicate the need to go to the bathroom, and follow instructions on where and how to use the toilet, children must be able to:
Understand how urinating and passing stool happens (that it comes from them)
Understand the purpose of the toilet (that they are to go to the bathroom there)
Discern when their bladder is full (recognize the physical sensation of the urge to urinate)
Recognize the urge to have a bowel movement (recognize the physical sensation of the urge to pass stool)
Consciously contract the muscles of the abdomen to push out urine and stool while simultaneously relaxing the sphincter muscles
Youngsters must also be emotionally up to the challenge. Psychological readiness includes:
Being proud of their accomplishments
Wanting to wear underwear
Disliking wet or soiled diapers
Being able to sit quietly for five minutes
Learning to use the potty requires a lot of effort on the toddlers' part. Don't begin when they are coping with other major adjustments, such as the birth of a new sister, an older brother starting school, a change in a parent's work schedule, or an illness.
Parent readiness matters, too! Choose a time when you aren't under a lot of stress so you can be patient. You should feel very comfortable with your baby taking yet another giant leap toward independence, and have the time to be on call for at least two days. Children need far more than two days to learn, but working parents can at least help toddlers have some concentrated practice to get them started. Then the methods being used at home need to be discussed with day care center staff and baby sitters so potty training can continue during the week.
Seeing Is Believing
Before toilet training can begin, toddlers must be aware that their urine and stool come from them, and that elimination is an act on their part. If they are always in diapers, they may think all those wet and soiled clothes happen by magic. They may have better luck making the connection by:
Having the opportunity to watch others use the bathroom. Some parents aren't comfortable with this, but it can really speed things along! Sometimes an older sibling is willing to demonstrate. Many children have opportunities to witness peers using the potty at day care.
Being repeatedly told that they are having a bowel movement when they are grunting or straining. If you can tell when your child is going in his diaper, be sure to point it out!
Observing themselves in the act. Letting them go around the house without clothes is messy, but toddlers simply must be able to observe that urine comes from their own body. Letting them be naked in the backyard in summer is a solution for some families.
Watching the contents of their diaper being put into the toilet. This doesn't guarantee they'll make the connection, but may help some youngsters make sense of what is supposed to happen.
Reading can facilitate potty training in several ways. Read toddlers a story to prepare them. Then, after buying a potty, read to them daily while they sit on it. Check out
What's in a Name?
The answer to that question is: Far more than some parents might anticipate. Toddlers need to learn the vocabulary of the bathroom: potty or toilet, clean and messy, wet and dry. They need words for urine and stool, too. Parents may think it's cute when their toddler refers to bowel movements as “shit” or “crap” and to urine as “piss.” But professionals from pediatricians to teachers will find such language unpleasant, and most other parents will be appalled. Older children can learn that certain words are too offensive to be used in school and other social situations, but for toddlers it's an all-or-nothing proposition.
Alternative acceptable words for “number 1” are variations on
Some child development professionals urge parents to avoid words like “stinky.” They point out that negative terms can make youngsters feel ashamed of what is a normal bodily function. And if they feel ashamed, they might not want to admit when they need to use the potty. That makes toilet training difficult indeed!