One, Two, Wee!

Toilet training is often a time of great anxiety for parents and their toddlers
By Donna Cobban

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During my fairly short stint of mothering thus far there are two issues that win hands down in the amount of attention and unsolicited advice that they garner – teething and toilet training. My son has always done things in his own time. He was a late walker and talker and so I presumed he would be late to use the toilet too. “Bribe him,” suggested well-meaning friends. “Give him a star chart,” another advised. I resisted both – something in me thought that the skills needed to get to the toilet and pull your pants down, sit or stand, aim and succeed was pressure enough without adding dangling carrots and after-the-act stars to the
whole fiasco.
I bought a potty – he seemed too large for it, so I bought an inside lid for the toilet seat to stop him falling through. But the seat wobbled and he hated it. I bought another potty that looked larger, but it turned out to be an illusion. Then I became cross that potties are not penis-friendly – who thought to put that massive thing in the front that crushes the family jewels? My final purchase was a small stool that allowed him to rest his feet on something firm while he perched himself precariously over the toilet seat – and that sealed the deal. He had just turned three by the time he was toilet trained and I was none the wiser as to why it happened when it did.
To pee or not to pee
Dr Christopher Green, paediatrician and author of Toddler Taming (Vermilion), says, “No child can be trained until the appropriate nerve pathways have sufficiently matured, a process that is completely outside the influence of even the most brilliant parent or doctor.” He goes on to say, “Once sufficiently matured, the process is controlled by the child’s will to comply or his determination to defy, which in turn is dependent on the child’s temperament, as well as the skill and cunning of the trainer.”
Jann Watlington, of the Parent Centre in Cape Town, points to some distinctive signs that will indicate your child may be ready to start toilet training. “Signs may include tugging at their nappy, hiding behind the couch or requesting that the nappy be removed.” Peer pressure from other parents and family needs to be strongly avoided as “long-term emotional damage can occur if a child is forced when he is not ready”. Parents must not be bound by any training programme, book, ideal or idea, she advises. Instead, just do what is best for you and your family.
Tips to get the show on the road
Robin Barker, author of the popular The Mighty Toddler (Struik) suggests “dimming the attention down” when you change a nappy as “some toddlers resist potty training because they like the attention they get at nappy-change time”. Nadia Evans, a consultant at the Johannesburg Parent and Child Counselling Centre, advocates for time spent just sitting on the potty – with clothes on if need be and in front of the television if that helps – just to get your child used to the idea. “Whenever your child shows signs of needing to urinate or have a bowel movement, you should ask him if he wants to use the potty or take him to the toilet and explain to him what you want him to do.” However, she quickly cautions that you should only keep him seated for a few minutes at a time. “Don’t insist, and be prepared to delay training if the child shows resistance. Until he is going in the potty, you can try to empty his dirty nappies into his potty chair to help demonstrate what you want him to do.”
When to back off
Some experts believe “control over your bodily functions” is one of the most important phases your child will go through – mess it up for them and they might be messed up for life, seems to be the general message. Doctors sometimes get concerned when they hear of a dry child regressing and starting to wet their bed. The general consensus here, says Green, is that there is either an infection or emotional trauma present. With regards to the latter, he believes it may well be the cause but in most cases, he doubts “whether even Sherlock Holmes could find the real trigger”. Watlington suggests you consider the following questions when toilet training shows no immediate progress.
  • Is your child just not ready?
  • Perhaps there is a new baby on the way?
  • Has Mom recently returned to work?
  • Have punitive, harsh potty-training techniques, characterised by blaming, shaming or shouting, been used?
  • Is there any family stress, such as marital problems?
  • Have either of the parents not been ready or been inconsistent with training?
Fouzia Ryklief, a manager at the Parent Centre in Cape Town, says, “Toilet training is an individual process and it is important not to give this process too much emphasis in front of the child. An extreme critical reaction or exaggerated praise can create too much performance anxiety for the child (and this can continue into adulthood). Instead, try a simple ‘good job’ or ‘well done’ when there is success.”
Girls versus boys
According to Evans, the only real difference between boys and girls is that “generally” girls sit on the potty or seat, and boys stand. “Copying the same sex parent will help, but if your child desires to do the ‘opposite’ to what is considered ‘normal’, so what? It’s not a train smash.”
Elimination communication (EC)
This is the practice of potty training right from birth, through the use of observation and timing. The infant is moved to an appropriate place (hopefully the toilet, if it is near enough) in which to urinate and defecate once the signals and cues are in place. While this technique is practised in many cultures, and is perhaps the answer to nappy-laden landfills and expensive child-rearing, Watlington says EC is not recommended. “There is so much going on during the infant’s early development that needs constant attention – the focus is on bonding and building trust through consistent care and response to the baby’s physical and emotional needs.”
Some insights from parents who have been there
  • Get a better, more comfortable potty.
  • Try not to force the issue. If “Captain Underpants” is adamant that there is not a wee on board, even if I am sure there is, I accept (his word).
  • Get the sturdy children’s toilet seat; not a loose-fitting one, which slips around and can be alarming.
  • Expect the occasional accident and have a ready supply of spare clothing and undies available.
  • Buy a seat together. Let the child choose (for standing, this allows a better aim and for sitting, there is less chance of dangling legs and slipping into the toilet bowl).
  • Don’t rush it. Let them page through a book while they wait.
Fun and helpful books to get you through the wet times
  • Boys’ Potty Time and Girls’ Potty Time (Dorling Kindersley) come with special reward stickers. They also have a potty-shaped cover to get your toddler in the mood.
  • Potty Time by David Bedford (Penguin Group).


Anonymous wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

My son turned 4 on 17 October, and he is potty trained, but only during the day. It’s the night time that is the problem. He has the occasional accident at school during sleep time. It seems he just does not wake up. I have started telling him he must wake up and wee in the toilet, but he does it once or twice and doesn’t do it anymore. He is slightly behind in his development and speech, but I am working on those issues with professionals. I don't know if this has something to do with it? I just feel like a bad parent and that everyone is judging me :-(

admin wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

If you're doing everything you can to help your child, you are certainly not a bad parent. We recommend that you chat to your doctor or the professionals that are helping with his developmental challenges.

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