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Toilet Learning not Toilet Training

I’ve wanted to write a post about Toilet Learning for so long now but every time I go to do it, I end up writing way too much and I can never edit it down. I’m going to try and keep this as succinct as possible, but I think I just know way too much about toilet learning and how it can go so wrong – I never want to leave anything out. So, I am going to break it down into a few different posts that I will be posting over the next few days. Please read through all the posts as I will explain the reasons for my method of toilet learning at the end. And these reasons must be heard as they are so important to your child’s health and well-being.

Before your child is even showing signs of readiness there are things you can do to help them on their toilet learning journey.

1. Involve children in nappy changes; making them a part of the process. This can be done from birth by explaining each stage of a nappy change as you do it. As they get older allow them to help more if they like – here’s a cloth to wipe your bottom etc.

2. Adapt and evolve your nappy changing methods to your baby or toddler’s needs. Keep nappy changes as stress free as you can. I wrote a blog post about this before; check it out for more details.

3. Never use negative language around nappy changes, or your own OR other people’s toilet habits! Do not use words like stinky, smelly, dirty or anything similar. Even said as a joke – these words and associations can and do cause shame around toileting. They can lead to problems with toilet learning, holding on to pee and poo, or even worse, chronic constipation.

4. Let your child see you using the toilet; let using the toilet be something normal and not to be hidden or shameful. Answer any questions your child has about using the toilet.

What a child needs to be ready to use the toilet:

1. Physically ready – they must have control over muscles that allow holding and releasing of bladder and bowel movements, pulling down trousers and pants, sitting on toilet by themselves, wiping own bottom, and washing hands after.

2. Cognitively ready – The child must be mature enough to know they need to go which means; Knowing how much time they need to get to a toilet, the ability to interrupt their play or meal or whatever they are enjoying to use the toilet, understanding what going to the toilet requires of them.

3. Emotionally ready – Probably the most difficult part and the hardest to tell; this means being ok with letting go of bodily fluids and matter. Something adults probably don’t understand very well but very important to children. Their poo and wee is a part of them, it belongs to them and letting go of it can be difficult to come to terms with.

Next stage of toilet learning is looking for signs of readiness:

1. Telling you they have just done or are about to do a wee or poo.

2. Pressing legs together.

3. Touching nappy before or when doing pee or poo.

4. Wanting nappy removed as soon as they pee or poo.

5. Asking to use the toilet.

Contrary to popular belief hiding to do poo is NOT a sign of readiness – in fact studies have shown children who hide are holding onto poo and are usually constipated. Never start toilet learning with a child who is constipated. Visit your GP and sort out constipation before you even consider getting a potty.

Once you notice regular signs of readiness get a potty or a special seat to make sitting on the toilet easier. I also advise buying a stool for your child to keep them in a squatting position for complete elimination of poo. Do not make a big deal out of buying the potty, just buy it and put it in the bathroom or toilet area. Do not buy potties with flashing lights, sounds or any kind of gimmick. Just a simple, low to the floor potty that aids complete elimination.

Let your child know the potty or toilet is there and that they can use it at any time they wish.

The last and final step is the most important – WAIT!

Yes, that simple, wait. Except it’s not that simple for many parents. You must ignore the pressure from preschools, other parents, grandparents, uncle and aunties, Mary Jones down the road whose babies were using the toilet before they could walk – you know what I am talking about. Your child will tell you when they are ready. You can offer them the potty if they tell you they need to go – but if they say no, accept their answer and move on. And… wait! Again. If your child wants to use the potty regularly ask them would they like to wear underwear instead of a nappy. If they do, have them at the ready. If not keep using nappies (if you are worried about excess waste of nappies, consider using reusable nappies).

As regards use of the toilet or potty; here are my tips:

1. Never use rewards, praise or make a big deal out of a child using the potty. It only puts pressure on them to perform which can again lead to holding onto pee or poo. It can also lead to regression or anxiety around toileting.

2. Don’t call your child a “big boy” or “Big Girl” for using the toilet – and don’t associate nappies with babies and being a baby. Examples include - “Only babies wear nappies” “You’re a big boy now, you’re going to use the big boy toilet.”

3. If your child ever wants to go back to using nappies or pull ups, allow them. Or if they ask to wear underwear but you find they continually wet or dirty them, stop using them and put your child back in nappies. Explain to them that they can come back to them when they are ready to go in the toilet – but do it without judgement or expressing disappointment in their efforts.

4. Tackle day time toileting first – and only once that is sorted move to night time if you think your child is ready (consistently has dry nappies in the morning). This can take much longer than you think so please be patient and follow your child’s lead.

I have another post on troubleshooting toilet learning and the side effects of learning when not ready etc. Please check it out :) Any question, just ask...

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