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Adventures in the Toilet

Friday, 30 January 2015

Did you know that the average child goes through about 7300 diapers before s/he is potty trained? It's a scary thought, isn't it? If your child is still in diapers, you are probably wondering about when to start potty training. You need to potty train your child when s/he is ready, not when you are ready;). But what does that mean exactly? It's not like your child will come up to you one day and say "Mom, I'm ready for potty training.". Join me in the diaper-free world to learn all you need to know about the land of toilet training.

Q1: So, the million dollar question is "when is the right time to toilet train?". 
What you need to understand first is that being toilet (or potty) trained is a developmental milestone. In other words, your child would sense the need to pee and poop and eventually perform these functions on a toilet or a potty (without being prompted). I say without being prompted because if you need to take your child to the bathroom every hour or every couple of hours and s/he pees or poops, then you're the one who is really toilet trained, not your child. Studies and research suggest 2 important criteria to be met in order for your child to be successful in toilet training:

1. Your child needs to understand the urge to go;
2. Your child must have the desire to be clean. Your child needs to understand the connection between using the potty and staying clean.
Personally, I would also add that not wanting to wear diapers or copying others, such as an older sibling or you, can be substituted for #2. Research also suggests that boys usually care less about being clean than girls, which is why girls potty train earlier than boys in most cases. So, how do you know when your child is ready? Look for the signs. Is your child asking you for a diaper change? Does your child know how to pull his or her pants down? Is your child old enough to sense the urge to go? (Most experts says that children under 1 do not have these skills yet. However, my friends and I, kids of an older generation were all potty trained before we turned 1, and in those times there were no such things as disposable diapers, so go figure!) In any case, if the answer is 'yes' to the above questions, then most likely your child is ready to be potty trained. On the other hand, if your child is hiding when you're calling him to pee or poop or if s/he is waiting until nap time to empty his or her bladder, then you may want to wait until a later time to train him or her. Most kids get potty trained between 2.5 and 4 years of age; it all depends on the child.

Another important thing to remember about timing is the season or time of the year. You don't want to train your child in the winter or early spring as it is very cold. If your child goes outside wearing snow pants and has an accident, you won't notice it and s/he may not tell you, and your child could get sick as a result; so, you want to avoid that. Also, you don't want to train your child for weeks on; potty training should take about a long week-end, or a week at most, and sometimes 1 day. If it's taking you longer, don't go on cleaning up all those accidents and being frustrated, and making your child feel like s/he has failed. Just pick another day down the road.

With my older son it was clear to me that he was ready just after he turned 2 (he was pulling down his pants, asking to sit on the potty, handing me toilet paper, wanting to flush, and seeing his friends at daycare toilet trained), but then winter came and we decided to wait. In spring time, just before he turned 3, potty training him was so easy. He did have a few accidents, but not much. With my younger son, it was a whole other story. Just before he turned 2, he would always want to come to the bathroom when his older brother had to go, and showing the same signs for potty training readiness as my older son. So, I decided to start training him before my daughter was born. It was a nightmare and a lot of frustration, so I gave up. Then I tried it again a few months later, and success!!! I still prompt and ask him to go sometimes, but he has mastered the concept at most times. So, as you can see, every child has a different experience. 

Remember, it happens when your child is ready - not when you're ready!

Q2: What's first  - pee or poop training?
Most experts suggest that it really depends on the child. But again, do you trust those 'genius' experts? What do you think? Obviously, you will start with peeing first. I have never heard of anyone potty training and starting with #2! In my experience and based on other what I've heard from other parents, most children will usually accomplish peeing before pooping on the potty, and often getting used to pooping on the toilet takes some time to master. If your child refuses to poop on the potty, just be patient and give it some time.

Q3: Should I use "pull-ups"?
Personally, I say no. I think it's a waste of money and defeats the whole purpose of potty training. I know that many will disagree, but again, this is a personal opinion. Disposable pull-ups are almost as absorbent as regular diapers nowadays, so why should your child bother to stop playing and go to the bathroom? Yes, your child will have the freedom to take off his diaper whenever he needs to go to the bathroom, but will he bother to do it is another question. I used pull-ups with my younger son only when we went somewhere (like for a play date or birthday party) because he had more accidents. Otherwise, in my opinion, go 'cold turkey'.

Q4: Should I use a small potty or a toilet seat insert?
The decision is your child's. You will surprised to see that your child will have a preference. But you have to give an option to. So, try both - toilet seat insert and a small potty that you can put on the floor to see what works best for your child. 
potty insert

When I started toilet training my oldest, my parents got this wonderful potty from the US (unfortunately, I haven't seen it here in Canada, but I'm sure similar models are available) that was 3-in-1: potty chair you can put on the floor, a toilet seat insert, and a step up stool at the same time. And not only that, it also played music and came with a little book to follow along:).

The Summer 3-in-1 potty is very child friendly and a good value for your money. Like I said, it has 3 stages of use: stand alone potty, removable toilet insert or training seat, and a stepstool. It also comes with an illustrated soft cover hippo themed story book and an interactive sound panel with recorded story and an encouraging reward phrase. There are a couple of buttons to push. One tells a story with a follow along book and the other one says "hip hop hooray". Some parents are against musical potties as they believe it is too distracting during toilet training, and as a parent, it can get irritating hearing the same story, phrase or music over and over again. Again, it will be up to you to decide what suits your needs and preferences best. Both of my boys loved this potty, including the listening to the story and ready the book while on the potty. With my oldest, I used it as a potty insert and with my younger as a stand alone potty; like I said, your child will tell you what s/he prefers.

Q5: Should I teach my son to stand or sit when peeing?

The easiest is sitting. This will be easier for your son, and less messy for you. So, teach your son to squat like a puppy. As he learns to aim, he can pee like a 'Great Dane'. Apparently, aiming requires good hand-eye coordination. Who knew;)?

More Practical Tips

  • How much toilet paper is enough? Research says that "the right amount of toilet paper is four squares". I'm not sure who came up with that. I say use your common sense.
  • Wiping - Just in case you didn't know, girls need to wipe front to back.
  • Aiming - Boys need to learn that their penis should not be used as a water gun;).
  • Washing hands - ALWAYS wash hands.
  • What if my child continues to have accidents after being potty trained? - See my previous post on 'What's up with bed wetting?'
  • My child is perfectly fine at school, but continues to have accidents at home. - Cut no slack at home. Your child simply wants attention. There are other ways to get quality attention. Your child should clean up at home if s/he has an accident. You may want to try using a stamp or sticker reward system, for each time s/he successfully uses the bathroom at home, give a stamp or a sticker. You will be surprised how much kids love stamps:).
  • The daycare won't accept my child unless s/he is potty trained! This is unfortunate and unfair as daycares should not force toilet training before a child is ready. The best solution (if you don't have any other options, i.e. another daycare or train at home and then send to daycare) is to keep your child in the younger classroom until s/he is potty trained. Check out these great potty chart reward systems:

Disclaimer: This post was written by Stella V. All opinions are my own.
Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics, Ari Brown, M.D.; Relationship between age and initiation of toilet training and duration of training: a prospective Study, Pediatrics 2003;

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