"Is he still in nappies?".
Questions like these from well-meaning friends or relatives can put pressure on families with pre-schoolers to get on with toilet training. With summer around the corner and the expense of nappies straining the Christmas budget, many parents are starting to wonder hopefully whether their child is ready.
SKIP parenting advisor Vicky Ellison says that learning to use the toilet can be one of the most challenging developmental milestones of all for children and their parents. So while you might be ready, she stresses how important it is to make sure your child is too.
Children are all different, and the age they are ready to learn to use the toilet varies widely. It could be any time from 18 months to four years. One US paediatric urologist recently claimed that few children develop the necessary connections in their brain that give them control over their bowel and bladder before three.
Trying too early may backfire and make the process stressful and too drawn out to continue. In fact many parents find the later they leave it, the easier it is.
So, before you splash out on those Dora or Spiderman undies for Christmas, here are three signs that your child might be ready, and six tips to make learning to use the toilet go more smoothly.
Are they ready?
1. Are they dry for long periods and have a dirty nappy at regular times of the day?
2. Are they interested in your using the toilet and/or wanting to copy others?
3. Do they let you know when they are wet or dirty?
Tips for success
1. Make sure everyone is ready. While summer can be a good time to start, try to avoid times when there is other stress (Christmas, new baby, having people to stay or travelling).
2. Sometimes a potty can be less scary than the toilet to start with - or try an insert with a step stool to make it more comfortable for them.
3. Keep an eye out for signs they need to go (jiggling, clutching, hiding), as well as taking them to the potty at regular times.
4. Dress for success - elastic waists are easier to pull up and down.
5. Don't leave them on the potty for ages until they do something, but give them lots of praise when they do.
6. Try to keep calm when there are accidents - there may be quite a few before they get the hang of it.
Don't expect too much, too soon...
- Learning to use the toilet is a complicated process - often they'll be going really well and then seem to go backwards in their progress. It's all a normal part of the learning process.
- Try not feel pressured by other people's comments. Each child learns how to use the toilet in their own time.
- Getting cross will make your child tense and stressed, which could delay their learning. So try to stay calm and patient and avoid power struggles.
- Staying dry at night often takes longer - be prepared to fork out for night nappies for another year or so.
SKIP's Out of nappies, onto the toilet contains more tips for recognising when children are ready, how to deal with pressure from family and friends in the meantime and strategies for keeping calm and dealing with the inevitable accidents. Order your free copy at www.skip.org.nz
SKIP (Strategies with Kids, Information for Parents works with New Zealand communities to support positive parenting. Our aim is that children are safe and nurtured so they can grow into happy capable adults.