As with most things, timing is everything! My first son Hugo was 2½ years old at the height of summer – so potty training was incredibly simple as we spent a lot of time outdoors/on the beach and it was easy to get him to “go” as he generally didn’t have a nappy on, or was wearing a cloth nappy.
However, with son number two, Todd, 2½ years old, time for potty training came slap bang in the middle of winter … no matter how much I tried, he was not going to sit on the cold toilet seat/potty – and I can’t say I blame him! The point here is that the key to potty-training success is starting only when your child is truly able to do so.
Some children can start as young as 1½ years; others don’t seem interested until they are over 4 years! The bottom line is that the child will only train when ready (excuse the pun!). By the same token, if there has been any change to routine such as the arrival of a new sibling or starting a new school, the advent of a potty training schedule might be too much. Wait until you are in a good routine and then go for it!
Check out how others do it! Toddlers learn by imitation so watching Mum or Dad ‘making a wee wee’ is a natural first step. (Here’s hoping that sons also copy Dad lifting the seat!)
Living in South Africa with such great weather most of the year makes a potty less necessary than in cooler countries, as toddlers are more likely to “go” in the garden than have to go inside to use a potty the whole time. Most experts do advise buying a potty so that your toddler can claim some kind of ownership over it and feel less intimidated than having to use a big toilet straight away (which can be scary, especially if they fear falling into it!). There are quite cool training seats which can fit on top of a regular toilet. If you opt for this, make sure you get a little stool for them to be able to stand on and point or climb up easily. At my son’s old playschool they had a great little ladder which made it look most inviting to go to the toilet – keep it fun. A Mum I know even put some ‘Flings’ in the loo for her son to use as target practice! I didn’t try this myself as, knowing Todd, he would have fished them out afterwards!
There are also some great books that feature toddlers using the potty, along with their little stuffed toys (who all need to go too!). In the beginning stages I found it useful to read books like this and then go and find Todd’s potty and ‘play’ going to the toilet (along with various furry friends). As the game progressed over several days, we eventually got some action and much celebration, “How clevers” etc. Much cheering, of course, from the stuffed toys!
Since the advent of the disposable nappy, the average age of potty training has risen dramatically (approx. 18 months in the last 30 years!), as children are kept permanently dry and can no longer learn to associate wee-ing with being wet. With this in mind, I strongly advise using a trendy fitted cloth nappy to bridge the gap between being in nappies full time and in underpants/panties; this will give your child the security of a nappy (to avoid embarrassing accidents) whilst getting them used to the feel of cloth and linking bladder release with wetness. If your child has been wearing disposables prior to potty training, it would be a very good investment to buy at least 5 cloth nappies to use as training nappies and night nappies; children in cloth nappies potty train on average 6 months earlier than their peers in disposables!
Co-ordinating routine: There is absolutely no point in trying to potty train your child if you do not co-ordinate your routine with all of his caregivers. If they are in daycare or looked after by a caregiver or granny, then everyone needs to be on the same page, i.e. taking them to the toilet and doing and saying the same things as you do. If relatives do not have a potty – then make sure he can take his own if staying there for extended periods of time.
Watching for signs:
Teaching everyone involved to watch for the “signs” is also a good step towards successful potty training. The most obvious signs are when your child is ‘clutching’ or hopping up and down in one place. You can also make sure that they go before and after going in the car (just like Mum or Dad), and also after they have had something to drink. Consistency is also key, and the more time your child spends out of nappies the better … positively reinforce all the successful toilet trips and avoid scolding for any accidents – this is more likely to keep him in nappies, rather than get him out of them!
Rewards & fun:
I have mentioned my friend who put “Flings” in the toilet for target practice … whilst this may not have worked for me – the idea behind it was good FUN! A little girl at Todd’s school sat for AGES on the toilet whilst reading a book – so if you have a little bookworm, giving her some of her favourite stories to read whilst having ‘a go’ is a good idea. You can also try rewarding your toddler with the good old sticker chart for whenever she goes successfully.
Only attempt this once your child has successfully potty trained during the day, as night training is quite tricky since your boy/girl will have to ‘hold it in’ the whole night. It is a really good idea to buy a good mattress protector since this will take away some of the stress of leaving your child without a nappy for the whole night. As mentioned, using a fitted cloth nappy with extra boosters for a sleep through night is also an excellent way to get through this stage without too much fuss … You can also help by limiting the amount he drinks after 5pm as well as making him go for a quick wee if he wakes in the night – you might find that your toddler will often wake with a dry nappy, but will wee very shortly after waking up. So if you hear your toddler stirring in the morning – be quick to jump up and get him on the loo as fast as possible. We all love to jump out of bed early, don’t we?! Luckily summer is here and potty-training on a nice warm sunshine-filled day seems all the more doable! Good luck!
By Vicki Penfold, Founder of BIOBABA