Watch your baby, not the calendar, for the following “I’m ready to learn” signs:
- Imitates your toileting
- Verbally communicates other sensations, such as hunger
- Understands simple requests, such as “go get ball”
- Begins to pull diapers off when wet or soiled, or comes to tell you he’s dirty
- Follows you to the bathroom
- Able to pull clothes off
- Climbs onto the potty-chair or toilet
- Has dry spells: stays dry at least three hours
- Investigates his or her body equipment
Watch your baby for the following external signs that he feels the pressure inside:
- Peers into diaper
- Grabbing diapers
- Crossing legs
- Grunting and grimacing
- Retreating to the corner or behind the couch like a mother cat about to deliver
About to go: retreats to quiet place, stops play quiets, squats. Going: grabs diaper, grunts, crosses legs.
Gone: peers at diaper bulge, senses different feel, resumes play or verbalizes production. These signs tell you that baby is developmentally mature enough to be aware of what’s going on inside his body.
Timely training. There are developmental phases when toilet-training is untimely. If your toddler is going through a generally negative mood in which he resists all interventions and his vocabulary is limited to the two-letter word “no,” hold onto your techniques a few more weeks and catch him at a more receptive time.
Are you ready? Choose a time to train when you’re not preoccupied with other commitments, such as during an older child’s high-need period, work stress, a move, a week before childbirth (a new baby in the house tends to cause regression anyway), and so on. Also, warm-weather training works best-you don’t have snowsuits to contend with.
“Tools” that you will need include:
- Sense of humor
- Endless patience
- Creative marketing
- Training pants
Show-and-tell. Capitalize on a prime developmental interest at this stage-the desire to imitate. Let baby watch you go potty and explain what you are doing. Girls naturally do better in the bathroom classroom with mommies, boys with daddies, but same-sex training is not crucial.
Peer pressure. If baby has a friend in training, arrange for her to watch what her friend does. If baby is in daycare, her teammates may show her a trick or two. However, some preschools won’t accept children in diapers, so the pressure is already on.
Potty props. Some parents use a doll that wets to model the toilet- training steps. Baby sees where the “urine” comes from, removes the doll’s diapers, places the doll on the potty seat, changes the doll’s diapers, removes and empties the potty-chair bowl into the toilet, and then flushes the toilet. The combination of live models (parents and peers) and a doll model makes toilet-training easier.
Feeding for easy passage. Remember, the food that goes in at the top end affects the ease of passage at the bottom end.
Book learning. Besides live models and doll models there are clever books that show pictures of a child in training. Exposing your child to these potty- trained characters gives your child the message “If they can do it, so can I.” Try the book Toilet Learning: The Picture Book Technique for Children and Parents, by Alison Mack (Little, Brown, 1983). Other helpful books are: Going to the Potty by Fred Rogers or Once Upon a Potty by Alona Frankel.
Once you’ve determined that baby is developmentally ready, and you are ready to invest the time, class begins.
Picking a place to go. The teacher’s next decision is whether to buy baby her own potty-chair or an adapter for the toilet. The pupil’s decision is which one, if any, he prefers. Most babies prefer their own potty-chair, which alleviates flushing fears. Many children normally fear having a bowel movement in the adult toilet because they are afraid of seeing “parts of themselves” come out of their body and go swoosh down the drain. Potty-chairs securely contain babies, and potty-chairs can be carried from room to room and even put in the car. With a potty-chair baby can plant her feet squarely on the floor, instead of dangling them in mid-air from the adult toilet.
Little legs dangling from big potties tighten rectal muscles making defecation difficult. Be sure your baby’s feet rest comfortably on the floor, or on a footstool if he prefers the adult potty.
Potty Picking. Play the pick-a-potty game. Take baby to the toy store with you and let him pick out his own potty chair. Toddlers are more likely to use the potty they choose. There are as many varieties of potty-chairs as there are contours of babies’ bottoms. Choose one wisely. Baby may prize it, much like his first riding toy. When purchasing baby’s first potty, consider the following:
Baby’s opinion. Take the baby to the store with you for a test sit. See how comfortable your fully-clothed baby is using it as a chair before using it as a potty. In fact, at home he may like using it as a chair long before using it as a potty.
Ease of cleaning. Be sure the catch bowl lifts out easily. A catch bowl removable from the top is easier to clean than one removable from the rear or side.
Safety. Beware of sharp edges or hinges on the seat that can pinch baby’s fingers or bottom. Also, avoid the older “urine deflectors” that pop up. In theory they act like a basketball backboard to rebound the penis-directed urine. In practice, your little boy can get hung up on the deflector and injure his little manhood parts.
Stability. Be sure the chair doesn’t tip easily when baby squirms. Since you will be using it on slippery surfaces (such as kitchen or bathroom tiles), it should have rubber tips on the bottom to keep it from sliding.
Design. Your toddler may enjoy trying one of these new designs: 1. Musical pots. To entice the squirmy toddler to stay put, some first-class seats even play music while baby sits. 2. Multiple-use potty-chairs. These clever designs contain three parts-a potty-chair for the rookie, an adapter seat that fits on an adult toilet for the graduate, and a step stool for the veteran ready to go at it alone.
Teaching toileting talk. Teach your toddler words for his body parts and for their actions. Putting a label on what baby does makes any developmental skill easier.
Give baby the proper names for proper parts (penis, testicles, vulva, vagina), but don’t expect him or her to use them accurately until three years of age. Say these words as comfortably as you would “arm” or “hand,” so baby does not pick up vibrations that you are uneasy about these mysterious parts.
Now that the action is ready to begin, give baby easy words and phrases such as “go potty,” and later get more specific-for example, “go pee-pee” or “poo- poo.” Avoid words that imply shame: “stinky,” or “Did you dirty your diapers?” Use terms that you are comfortable with and baby can say and understand. “Urination” and “defecation” are beyond toddlers.
Games Little Boys Play
Remember, a sense of humor is top on your list of tools for successful toilet- training. Little boys like to:
- “Write” in the snow or dirt
- Play criss-cross pee with dad or an older brother
- Sink floating pieces of toilet paper
- Hit floating targets-these can be purchased as incentive gadgetsBeginning squirters need a few lessons in target practice to improve their aim.
Feeling and going. Help baby make the connection between what he feels and what he needs to do. When baby shows about-to-go signs (for example, squatting, quietly retreating), interject a reminding “Go potty” as you usher the willing baby to the potty. Once you plant the connection “feel pressure-go potty” in baby’s mind, in time he will learn to go potty without you triggering his memory.
Feeling and Telling. Tell baby what to tell you. As soon as you notice the about-to-go signs, query, “Go poo-poo? Tell mommy!” (or “Tell daddy!”) You are planting another mental connection: When he feels the urge, he says the words.
Once baby masters these two connections-urge to go with running to the potty and urge to go with asking for help the rookie trainee is ready to advance. Notice the proper role-playing: You set the game plan, but it’s up to baby whether or not he chooses to play. If after many rehearsals baby isn’t getting the message, wait and try again.
DRESS FOR THE OCCASION
Dress baby for a quick change. If he has to struggle to remove complicated clothing enroute from urge to potty, he is likely to let go before getting unhooked, unbuckled, unbuttoned, and so on. Then you wind up with a double mess, a soiled baby and soiled clothing. Elastic waistbands and quick-release Velcro fasteners are a must. In warm weather, very loose training pants are all baby needs around the house. Use pants or shorts that are easily pulled-down when in public.
Potty times. The next connection to teach your trainee is that when you sit him on the potty, he goes. This is called conditioned reflex. This won’t work unless baby is about to go. The key is to catch him at the time when he is about to go, and sit him on the potty before he makes the deposit in his diapers. He will then associate sitting on a potty with having a bowel movement and, eventually, with urinating.
Tips to Tell Potty Times:
1. Short of shadowing your baby all day long to catch him in the act, try these elimination-time clues. Make a potty time chart. For a week or two, record the time or times of the day when your baby has a bowel movement. If you detect a pattern, say after breakfast, put him on the potty each day at that time. Provide baby with an attention-holding book and let him exert his squatter’s rights to sit until he goes. If you do not see a pattern, put baby on the potty every two hours, or as often and as long as your time and patience permit.
2. A physiologic aid for bowel training, called the gastrocolic reflex, may help predict when your baby will have a BM. A full stomach stimulates the colon to empty around twenty to thirty minutes after a meal. Try potty sitting after each meal until baby’s patience runs out. Best odds for a predictable daily BM is after breakfast. Another benefit of this daily routine is that it teaches baby to listen to his bodily urges. It’s a physiologic fact that bowel signals not promptly attended to will subside, and this can lead to constipation.
3. Even when your baby goes in his diapers, take him into the potty-chair room and empty the contents into baby’s toilet. At least this will teach him where his productions go. Typically, you have to first catch your baby in the act, so that you can train him to eventually catch himself in the act.
Bare-bottom drills-an undress rehearsal. Covering up the evidence delays toilet-training. Diapers keep baby from making the connection between the urge to release and what he needs to do about it, and they do for baby what baby needs to learn to do for himself.
Outdoor training. For warm-weather training, if you have a private yard, bare bottoms make training easier. Remove your toddler’s diaper and let him run around the yard bare bottomed, covered mostly by a long t-shirt if you wish. (T-shirts from an older child make good cover-ups.) When the urge to go hits, he stops and maybe squats because he suddenly realizes what’s going on. Amazed by this revelation, baby may talk about what he’s doing, “Go pee-pee” or “Go poo-poo,” or look toward you for “What do I do now, coach?” guidance, or let go puppy-like with his puddle or load.
Now it’s your move. Watch how baby handles this uncovered elimination. He may look confused, proud, or even upset, especially if he soiled his legs. Praise his productions and clean up matter-of-factly. (If he protests bare- bottom drills, wait a while and try again.)
Have the potty-chair available so you can show him where the BM goes. Then next time if you catch him squatting, show him how to sit on the potty instead. Don’t resign as toileting coach if your baby plays with what he produces. Avoid showing disgust, as this only plants counterproductive connections that something is wrong with what comes out of him.
To save having to clean out the receptacle bowl after each BM, place cling-wrap in the bowl and lift out the contents.
Indoor training. After trying outdoor drills for a week or so, you are ready to venture back indoors. Remember what you learned from the yard scene: bare bottoms promote quick learning. The early days of indoor, bare-bottom training should be spent, as much as possible, on a non-carpeted floor-easier to detect and easier to clean. You may need a few days of catching baby in the act and offering the reminder “Go potty” as baby enjoys his new diaper freedom.
After baby has been dry during the day for a couple of weeks, he’s ready to graduate from diapers.
Training Pants. Training pants look like super-absorbent, padded underwear and are used in transition from diapers to pants. You can make your own or get extra absorbency by sewing a piece of cloth diaper into oversized underwear or into regular training pants. Be enthusiastic about this step up, but be careful what you call them. “Big boy” or “big girl” pants is a loaded term, especially if your toddler isn’t sure he or she wants to be big. This dilemma occurs with hurrying the older child into pants to make room on the changing table for a new baby. When the older child sees all the attention the diapered baby gets, he may not want to be a big boy. We prefer to call them special pants. Buy around six pairs, and be sure they are loose fitting for quick slip down by impatient hands.
When accidents happen. In all developmental milestones, babies take two steps forward and one step backwards. Expect soiled and wet pants when baby gets his signals crossed. This is normal when learning a new skill. Prepare for accidents during intense play when babies are so preoccupied that they miss their bladder and bowel signals. Babies become so engrossed in what is going on outside that they forget what’s occurring inside. Trainees in these big-league pants may need an occasional bare-bottom reminder to keep their mind on their body.
Teach little girls to wipe from front to back (keeping germs that may cause a urinary infection away from the vagina). Children are slow to want to wipe themselves and seldom do a thorough bottom cleaning. Expect to be your child’s bottom assistant for a few more years.
Flushing fears. Flushing is a matter of preference for the child. Some children fear the loud swoosh of the flush as their production disappears into a swirling hole. Others consider flushing part of the whole package and insist on doing the honors. Be prepared for an increase in your water bill from the frequent flusher who likes the sound-and-water show at the pull of the handle. Invest in a seat latch to be sure the right stuff gets flushed, not toys.
Praise success, overlook “failure,” relax. One day I heard a joyful “yeah” coming from another room as our teenage daughter, Hayden, cheered our two-year-old’s potty-chair deposit. There is no place for punishment in toilet- training, just as you wouldn’t scold the beginning walker for tripping. Serious long-term emotional problems can result from angry scolding or punitive attitudes toward accidents or resistance. If you are struggling with your child over toileting and recognize negative feelings toward your child, get some help from trusted advisers or even a counselor. Your goal is for your child to emerge from toilet-training with a healthy self-image. Then he or she can tackle the next phase of development-sexual identity-feeling good about himself or herself. Try to relax-what’s one more year in diapers?