Generally speaking children can show signs of being ready to toilet train from 14 months to 3 years. Yes, a massive age range! We need to remember that every child is different, and siblings can differ greatly as to when they are fully toilet trained.
How do you know when they are ready? Raising Children Network, a partnership of Australia’s leading early childhood agencies, explain some signs of readiness:
- is walking and can sit for short periods of time
- is becoming generally more independent when it comes to completing tasks
- is becoming interested in watching others go to the toilet
- has dry nappies for up to two hours – this shows he’s able to store wee in his bladder
- tells you when he does a poo or wee in his nappy – if he can tell you before it happens, he’s ready for toilet training
- begins to dislike wearing a nappy, perhaps trying to pull it off when it’s wet or soiled
- has regular, soft, formed bowel movements
- can pull his pants up and down
- can follow simple instructions, such as ‘Give the ball to daddy’
- shows understanding about things having their place around the home.
The thing to remember with these lists is that not all points have to apply to your child. Maybe none do! But you may still feel they are ready. When I think about my children, only three of the above points applied: walking, interest in watching us go to the toilet and announcing they did a poo. They certainly didn’t tell me before they did a poo or wee – that came during the training process.
There’s been some controversy over this approach to wait for the child to exhibit clear signs before commencing training. “Let the child decide” is the modern mainstream approach that has been around since the 1960s. This is being challenged the health professionals and parenting experts.
Robin Barker, author of Baby Love, says that this approach combined with the use of disposables has meant children stay in nappies for over double the time they used to prior to the 1960s. And that parents let their children get to three or four in the hope that their children will be out of nappies in a matter of days. She believes the lengthening average time to toilet train is also due to disposable nappies keeping moisture away from their skin, meaning toddlers don’t know what it feels like to be wet. And that the marketing techniques of the disposable nappy manufacturers have a lot to do with it, suggesting “They double their profits to keep children in nappies for twice as long”. She believes “there is a window of opportunity between 18 months and two years where a lot of toddlers start to show an interest and then that fizzles out.”
Anna Christie, author of Toilet Training of Infants and Children in Australia: 2010, released by the University of NSW, also believes training should start well before two years old. She spent two years reviewing scientific literature about toilet training and interviewing Australian parents about their methods.
Another Option There is a movement towards EC, or Elimination Communication, where mothers are using the same methods as women around the world who cannot afford nappies. The process involves the parent watching the infant (from as early as birth) for signs, such as facial expressions, noises or squirming, and then ”holding them out” – taking the child to a potty, sink or outside. When they successfully ”catch” an elimination, the parent signals encouragement, and eventually the child can be “cue-ed” to eliminate when at an appropriate potty place.
There is agreement across all approaches though that when the child shows emotional distress it is time to stop and try a different technique.
Potty or Toilet? If your child starts training younger than most a toilet may not be ideal due to the height, and the width of the seat. You can invest in a child’s toilet seat attachment and there are some great quality ones recommended to me like Lupi Lu Toilet Training Seat (available at Kids Depot ). Some children will find toilets a little scary initially (they are pretty noisy!) so may prefer a potty to start with.
We’ve used the potty in the initial stages for portability around the house, to catch wee’s and poo’s in time and because it’s easier on us than having to pop them up on the toilet and hold them there many times a day.
How to Start
- Introduce them to the idea through books or a dvd, these are usually available through your local library.
- Choose a start day, perhaps when you have no plans to leave the house.
- Explain the process to them. You will be surprised how much they take in!
- Stop using nappies (except at night and during daytime sleeps).
- Begin using underpants or training pants, this helps her understand the feeling of wetness.
- You can even let your child choose some underpants, which can be an exciting step for him/her.
- If you know your child will poo at certain times of the day, for example, first thing in the morning, and after eating, try putting her on the potty at this time.
- Dress your child in clothes that are easy to take off – for example, trousers with elastic waistbands. In warmer weather, you might like to leave her in underpants when at home.
- If your child doesn’t cooperate or seem interested, just wait until he’s willing to try again.
- Give your child positive praise for her efforts (even if progress is slow), and lots of praise when she’s successful.
- Look out for signs that your child needs to go to the toilet so you can prompt them – some cues include changes in posture, passing wind and going quiet.
- At different stages throughout the day (but not too often), you might ask your child if he needs to go to the toilet. Gentle reminders are enough – it’s best if your child doesn’t feel pressured.
And the important one:
- Toilet training may take days or months!
Even more important is – stay calm. Accident after accident may fray your nerves but it is a learning process that requires patience. Parents seem to worry a lot about mess but really on hard floors it’s not too tricky to clean a toddler sized accident and there are always carpet cleaners to use if necessary.
In our household we put the potty out in the living area, whisked off those nappies, ask repeatedly if he needed to poo and wee while pointing out the potty to him. Poo’s were sorted early, it was the wee’s that took some time to master. For other children it can be the other way around. We certainly showed excitement after the first poo and wee, and that wasn’t forced positive praise – it was pure excitement from us!
Handy Training Pants The Raising Parenting Network confirm that children are more likely to understand toilet use if they are no longer wearing a nappy, which is pretty much a portable loo! Disposable pull-ups are not going to cut it as they are too similar to nappies. The Raising Parents Network recommend training pants, which can be described as absorbent underwear.
The cost of disposable training pants or “Pull-ups” is around 80 cents to $2 per change depending on brand. One change at 80 cents per day at least for 3 months will cost $72. More expensive pull-ups, more changes per day, and more time required to toilet train will double or triple this cost.
- Look and feel like underwear boosting their confidence that they are transitioning into big kids underwear.
- Can save parents hundreds of dollars over the toilet training journey
- Unlike underwear will hold one wee and poo to prevent major mess, particularly handy when out and about
- Children can feel wetness unlike disposable trainers so become more aware of the outcome of their bodily functions
- Many brands of trainers are made by cloth nappy companies so are made ethically from natural fibres
- Have an environmental benefit of reducing landfill
- Means avoiding the chemicals used in disposable training pants
Each pair of trainers cost around $20-$25 but you have them for each child’s toilet training period and therefore are likely to save hundreds of dollars.
Sources: Oz Baby Trends, Raising Children Network and The nappy wars: when to toilet train? , Emily Dunn, The Sydney Morning Herald, June 9, 2011.