WHEN IS THE RIGHT TIME to begin to train your child to use the potty? It’s a question that most parents grapple with as their child begins toddling around the house with his diaper hanging down around his knees.
Is it too soon to begin training now and will it create undue anxiety in the child? If I delay it, aside from the mess I have to clean, will it create problems for the child? Am I being overanxious about the question?
Zero to Three, the organization dedicated to the development of healthy children and families, has a whole set of criteria on this question that concerns every parent of toddlers. Most important, it stresses that toilet training should be approached “matter-of-factly and without emotion….When parents are matter-of-fact about potty training and don’t make big deal about it, children are more likely to follow their own internal desire to reach this important milestone.”
It should be thought of as “just another skill you are helping your child to learn,” writes Zero to Three. “If you show anger or disappointment when it’s not going well, or overwhelming joy when it is, it lets your child know this is something you want him to do badly. Refusing to do it becomes a very powerful way for your child to feel in control” and he can comply or not comply depending upon how he feels toward you at a particular moment.
Some Guidelines on Toilet Training
Some guidelines laid down by Zero to Three about when the child is ready for toilet training are: if your child stays dry for at least two hours at a time or after naps, if she realizes that she is urinating or having a bowel movement, if she is capable of certain critical physical skills like walking, pulling her pants up and down and being able to sit on and get off the potty. The most important one, though, is that the child indicates that she wants to use the potty, perhaps copying her parents’ behavior like wanting to “go potty” like mommy does.
It also offers some tips for when it is not advisable to begin toilet training, like if a child is going through a period of significant change or several changes at once that can cause stress to him. These could include when a family is moving or is about to move or the beginning of a new child care arrangement, or switching from a crib to a bed, or when a new baby is expected, or a recent family crisis.
The important thing is to let the child decide, recognizing that he should be in control of his body. The parent can learn the child’s body signals for when he needs to go but should expect accidents and not react with anger at them. The parent should also teach the child the proper words for body parts, urine and bowel movements because the child easily recognizes the differences in the way you talk about them as opposed to the way you talk about other things and then feels there is something taboo about the subject.