There are many poop-ular methods for toilet training our children. Let’s flush out the myths and aim for the proper science to help with this messy, stinky problem. Frantic dashes for privacy, constantly asking, “Do you need to go to the potty?”, and regularly finding unexpected ‘surprises’ on the floor (usually by treading in a puddle while wearing socks) – these are the things that are consigned to history once successful toilet-training is achieved. And doesn’t it sound exciting?
Myths about toilet training
These are the most common myths I encounter around toilet training:
Myth 1: Put your baby on the potty early and he’ll learn how it works
Some parents believe that if they place their child on the potty, the child will figure it out. Or if they run and put them on the potty whenever they start to pee or poo, that their child will form an association with those bodily functions and potty use. Perhaps some kind of association may form, but generally, our children need to understand their urges and have a desire to eliminate somewhere other than their pants before these strategies will work.
In addition to that understanding and desire, children need explicit training, support, choice, and a sense of autonomy and competence to toilet-train.
Myth 2: Your child should be toilet trained by age x
The truth is that toilet-training is like walking, speaking, reading, or any other skill our children need to learn. They develop at different times and in different ways. Some kids pick it up fast. Other kids take a little while longer. Some children develop early while other children develop later.
I regularly let my kids know that they can take their time with toilet-training, so long as they’ve got a handle on it by the time they are dating. So far, they’ve all worked it out with plenty of time to spare! Oh, and my earliest toilet- trainer was completely dry – night and day – by age 19 months. Our slowest was dry in the day by age 4 and was dry at night just before her 8th birthday.
It’s not a race. Don’t put pressure on the kids. They’ll work it out when they’re ready, with your support.
Myth 3: Once you start toilet-training, there’s no going back
This myth is perpetuated because of the importance of consistency in toilet-training. However, sometimes the kids simply don’t get it and don’t have the motivation to figure things out. If you try to toilet-train your child and your child has major issues and distress, or you simply don’t have the capacity to deal with the actual training process, take a break. Give it a few months and come back to it. Just remember not to make it a big deal. It is easier to shrug it off, accept it, and minimise the issue. Then, when you start again in 8 weeks, your child will be less likely to be resistant.
Myth 4: It’s just a matter of discipline
This is a troublesome myth because toilet-training can easily turn into a power struggle. Parents may tell lies to their children about the shop running out of nappies, or may offer bribes for using the potty. Some parents withhold love or threaten some form of discipline or withdrawal of privileges when a child won’t use the potty, or when he makes mistakes and has accidents.
Yet it’s often the power struggles that lead to ongoing anxiety, fear, and toileting issues. By keeping power out of toilet-training and making the process as autonomous as possible for the child, we reduce the risk of anxiety, fear, and other issues.
Myth 5: Kids need us to ‘model’ how to use the toilet
I’m not sure about you, but I hate the thought of my kids watching me use the bathroom. Besides, as a father of six daughters, if my kids used me as a model, they might be using some unorthodox urinary strategies – like standing up! While it doesn’t hurt for them to see what we do and how we do it, there is no urgent need for our kids to observe and copy. They’ll figure it out with our guidance just fine without watching it happen. If you get a bit of stage fright, don’t stress about it. Your child can learn without having a front row ticket to your own elimination moments.
Myth 6: Star charts, stickers, and celebrations are the best strategies
There’s no doubt that we should celebrate our children’s successes. But going gung-ho on rewards and prizes for toileting can actually promote pressure and anxiety. Nerves can increase rather than decrease, and children may regress. It’s far more effective to be patient and calm, supporting our children’s autonomy, rather than to rely on bribes. Then, when our children experience success, we can be excited with them.
Myth 7: My child should be toilet-trained at night and day (together)
Night-time toilet-training occurs at a different time to daytime toilet-training. It’s not just a matter of recognising urges. Night time toilet-training is also related to hormones and urine production. It may be many months or even years after daytime training is finalised before nights are dry. This is normal, and children should not be made to feel guilty or concerned about it.
So what are your options?
I have really whizzed through these ideas, trying not to get too bogged down in detail.
If you're after more information about the different approaches to toilet training, when the right time to start is and how to deal with some of the common issues, you may find my toilet training guide “Toilet Training: Easy as One, Two, Wee?” useful. It is available in ebook format to download straight away. And at only 20 pages long, it won't take you more than 3o minutes to read.
It really is the no-mess, no-fuss, fast-flowing alternative to get your kids going at the right time in the right place and the right way.
Toilet Training: Easy as One, Two, Wee?
eBook $9.99 inc. GST