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How to know when to start potty training

I recently entered the world of potty training and boy, was I unprepared. Having successfully used the potty a few times, at 23 months my daughter was showing positive signs that she was ready to ditch her nappies. A month later, the potty training was postponed when her baby brother arrived. Fast forward a few months and I felt ready to tackle this critical milestone again. But in that short time my co-operative little girl had jumped feet first into the terrible twos and all my attempts to encourage her to sit on the potty were met with an emphatic “no”.

I tried everything but she only sensed my growing frustration and wielded her newfound power accordingly. The only logical thing to do was to put those nappies back on.

After a week back in nappies, she insisted on wearing panties again. Her school friends were potty training and she wanted in on the action. I dutifully helped her back into her panties and asked her to sit on the potty. Again, no!

Out of despair I asked her teacher if she would put her on the potty once a day. She agreed and later reported that she had sat on the potty without a fuss. After a few days, her teacher said she had successfully made a wee in the potty. Soon she was coming home from school in panties. But she still wasn’t cooperating at home, so it was time to get creative. I filled a jar with sweets for rewards and bought her a well-illustrated potty-training book. The bribery worked; we were finally making progress.

Like potty training, the timing needs to be just right when it comes to making the move to a big bed, find out more here.

Timing with potty training is everything

According to Sister Jenni Johnson of Berea Baby Clinic, Durban, potty training is all about timing. She recommends delaying potty training four to six months after a sibling’s birth where there is a two-year age gap. “A little bit of bribery can be useful and in this case following through with the support of the teacher was a good thing,” she adds.

Kristy Greener, a Durban-based clinical psychologist, says that while my daughter was ready to be potty trained at 23 months, her brother’s birth caused her to regress. Greener says: “When a new sibling is born, it disrupts the family’s routine and they have to get used to sharing Mom and Dad with this new person. They need a lot of reassurance and encouragement.”

Catherine L’Hoste, a clinical psychologist from Cape Town, echoes Kristy’s theory.  “She is probably feeling insecure and is likely to be testing where the boundaries are and whether you still love her if she doesn’t do as you ask. It’s less about a power struggle and more about her checking out how the world works and where she fits in with a new baby around.”

All-round readiness

A child needs to be physically, cognitively and emotionally ready to use the potty. “The emotional readiness is often the last to come. A child needs to feel ready to let go of the familiarity and comfort of using nappies, and venture into new territory,” says L’Hoste.

In the case of resistant potty users, all three practitioners urge parents to wait until the child is ready and when they are, to make as little fuss as possible.

“Wait for the signs before you begin; if there are no signs try again at two years and four months,” says Johnson. “Don’t worry if your child is not ready, it doesn’t matter if he or she has to stay in nappies until nearer the age of three.”

Greener says: “There’s no prize for the youngest potty-trained child. Waiting until the child is a little older can make it a much simpler process.”

My daughter still gets distracted and forgets to do her business in the potty, but every day is better than the last.  I have set aside lots of one-on-one time for us, which has helped significantly.

Also read our article on how to deal with the challenges of bedwetting.

Signs your child is ready for potty training

These are important signs and levels of ability that will indicate if your toddler is ready for potty training.

By Gina Ford, Potty Training in One Week

1. He is over 18 months old.

2. His nappy is frequently dry when you get him from his lunchtime nap. A dry nappy a couple of hours since his last nappy change would also be an indication that he is getting some bladder control.

3. He is aware that he is doing a poo, i.e. going very quiet and showing signs of concentration, or points to his nappy and says poo or pee-pee when he has done one.

4. He can understand and follow simple instructions, i.e. “go and fetch your red ball” or “put your toy in the box”.

5. He is eager to participate in taking off his own clothes, i.e. shoes, socks and shorts, and understands what pulling his shorts up and down mean.

6. He can point to the different parts of his body when you name them, for example, “where’s your belly button?” or “where’s your nose?”

7. He has the ability to sit still and occupy himself or concentrate for five to 10 minutes with a toy, book or watching a video.

Melanie Rosettenstein