Yes, I really mean it. You don’t need to potty train your child. Not in 3 days; not in 3 weeks; not ever.
“How come?” I hear you thinking. “I get that I shouldn’t pressurise my child to be dry. But surely at some point I need to do training?”
Of course your child will need to learn how to use the potty or the toilet. But she does not need to be trained. She will become clean and dry of her own accord, when the time is right.
So how does this work?
You see, we tend to regard toilet-learning as an outer process. We think it is about things that we can see, such as potties, poos, pees and pants. This makes us think that we have to “train” children to manage these outer things. We come up with books to clarify these steps to children. And stickers to motivate them.
What we often forget is that toilet-learning is not an outer but an inner process. Children have to turn their attention inwards, in order to become aware of their urges – and to control them.
For children to be able to notice and control their urges, the parts of the brain that control the sphincters have to be sufficiently mature. This maturity of the nervous system is a prerequisite for active, voluntary sphincter control.
In addition, it’s very important that children are sufficient emotionally mature and that they want to exercise this control.
Because, when children transition to the potty, they actually make a sacrifice. They have to give up:
- being able to satisfy their urges immediately;
- being able to continue playing without interruption;
- the intimate, one-to- one attention adults give them at nappy change time;
- even their own bodily products, which they see flushed down the toilet. Children experience this as a loss.
It is important to recognise that it’s hard for children to give up all these things.
So, if not by training, how can we support children to use the potty? The best thing you can do is wait until your child shows a genuine interest in the toilet and an awareness of their own bodily processes. Your child might pause while weeing, for example, or go into a corner to do a poo. At this point you can introduce him to the potty and tell him what it’s for.
Then wait again. Until your child tells you he wants to use it. Or takes you by the hand and leads you to it. When your child does choose to use the potty, guide him in all the little skills that go with using the toilet – such as washing his hands afterwards. Remember that the transition to pants could take a long time. Or it might not, depending on your child. The journey from the first pee in the potty to wearing pants full-time can take from one day to over a year. And it’s helpful to know that this journey is often not linear. It can be a joyful time of trying a bit, forgetting about it, trying again, having a bit of success, getting motivated, preferring nappies again for a while and, finally, deciding that pants are the thing.
During this process your child is gauging how it feels to do it like a grown up. She is working out how ready she is, both emotionally and physically, to make the transition. You, as the adult, accompany the process. You are there as a witness and a guide.
Your child is in charge and you go with the flow. With this approach your child gains confidence in his ability to be in touch with his needs and in control of his development.
It’s the journey – not just the destination – that’s important.
Toilet learning becomes for your child much more than just the acquisition of a skill. It is a step on the journey to becoming who he or she wants to be.
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