In addition to making progress with my toddler on sleeping through the night, we are making progress with potty training. We call it “toilet learning” because our informal method has nothing to do with “training” in the traditional sense. We don’t take our toddler to the bathroom on a set schedule (that’s too much work and a lot of pressure for everyone.) We try very hard to keep it an upbeat, positive process. We do not do elimination communication (EC) although the idea intrigues me and my American friend living in Shanghai swears she is going to set up seminars on EC in the United States after watching how the Chinese handle their diaper-free babies.
So what do we do about doo-doo (sorry, couldn’t help myself!)? I’m far from an expert but I am happy with how toilet learning has gone with my three children. For what my thoughts are worth, here they are.
Somewhere between Toilet Training and Elimination Communication
1. Be respectful of diapering needs. Whether we use cloth diapers or disposables, we change her the second she needs changing. One would hope all parents do this but I suspect it’s not always the case. The only exception to this rule is when my daughter is soundly sleeping. I figure if she is still sleeping then she is not uncomfortable and the diaper change can wait until she wakes.
2. Give the child the words to discuss toileting. I don’t care what words you use: wet, dirty, pee, poo, poop, wee-wee, tinkle — get over any squeamishness about toilet words and talk to your baby about toileting. So many times I think parents underestimate babies and think that because a baby cannot talk, she cannot learn to understand words. How else will a child learn if you do not teach her? You have a captive audience during diaper changes, you might as well use the time to say, “Oh, you went pee-pee. Let me change your diaper! That’s better! Now you are nice and dry!”
3. Learn to identify your child’s communication that he or she needs to be changed. If you work on steps one and two, eventually you will learn to recognize your child’s attempts to tell you he or she needs to be changed before you smell or feel or hear the evidence. Your child might learn a sign (patting the diaper is the cue around here), or use a word (my 18-month-old says “poop” whether her diaper is wet or dirty).
4. Let your child run around diaper-free at home. I realize that I’m offering this advice in the middle of a cold winter for most readers and hence it’s not too practical for some families at this time. We happen to live in California and we have slate floors, so we can give our child diaper-free time quite often. Others can wait until summer and let the child run around bare-bottomed outside. The brave among you can even let the child “help” with cleanup (teaching even more responsibility for toileting, not punishing the child for making a mess). When my daughter makes a puddle on the floor, she runs to get a towel to lay on top of the puddle. I then calmly clean both her and the puddle. Again there is much exclaiming over “oh, you went pee-pee! Soon you can go pee-pee in the potty!” It might feel strange to be cheering your child on for making a mess on the floor, but the point is to teach your child to recognize the signs that she has to go and to make the connection between having that feeling and what happens afterward.5. Introduce the potty or toddler toilet seat. We have a few potties and one seat that we put on top of the regular toilet seat. At first these are play toys rather than “toilet training” items. We let the toddler sit on them at will, fully clothed or diaper off, as she desires. My little monkey decided she prefers the toddler toilet seat on the regular toilet, and she climbs up there without even using a step stool! We cheer any progress, including just sitting on the seat. “Wow, you are up on the toilet! Isn’t this exciting?” My daughter is 18 months old and just yesterday she had her first real poo on the potty, and we waved bye-bye to it as she flushed the toilet. She was so proud! (Note how we do not offer rewards beyond the praise for her accomplishment.)
6. Don’t make it a battle for control. While some people have their children sit on the potty regularly or at key times during the day (such as after eating when a child is likely to eliminate), we let the child lead the way. No pressure! It’s all fun! If I can anticipate signs that she feels a need to go, I do ask her if she wants to sit on the toilet, but it is always her decision. Too many times I have seen toilet training turn into a battle for control. The child feels out of control in that arena or another arena in life (food or clothing come to mind) and then controls the one thing he can control — whether or not he uses the toilet. In the worst case scenario, this spirals into withholding elimination, which leads to constipation, which leads to more withholding when elimination becomes painful.
I know we are a long way off from being completely diaper-free during the day and even farther off from being diaper-free at night. I see this as a long process but one that is relatively painless when it is kept positive. Using these informal steps, my girls have transitioned to underwear by the age of two and three months or two-and-a-half. (See, I’m not kidding about not putting on any pressure, and it being a long process for us). The “easy way” in my mind does not mean the fastest way or the least messy way. It’s an investment of time that respectfully helps my child learn to use the toilet.
What has worked for you when it comes to teaching your child to use the toilet?