Saying goodbye to nappies can be a drawn-out affair, but there are simple ways early years settings and parents can work together to cope with the challenges, says Sarah Ockwell-Smith…
The average child will get through five thousand nappies by the time they are toilet trained! It’s no surprise, then, that parents are often keen to get their offspring to say goodbye to their potty as soon as possible. The average age a child attains daytime dryness is two years and eight months, but night-time dryness takes far longer and it is normal for a child to be in nappies at night until the age of seven. It is important, however, to understand that these are just averages. Some toddlers will be ready to start toilet training earlier, while others will not be ready until after their third birthday. One of the most important things early years practitioners can do to aid the toilet learning process is to reassure parents of this wide range of normality – another is helping parents to understand that if toilet training is undertaken at a time dictated by the child, it is likely to be easier. Far too many over-eager parents struggle with soggy pants and constant changing of bed sheets needlessly.
Helping parents to recognise when their toddler is ready to begin toilet training can be incredibly helpful. There are a number of signs to be aware of – watch out for toddlers:
● passing the age of 18 months – before this it is unlikely that toddlers are physically developed enough to control their bladder and bowels;
● beginning to poo only in the daytime;
● becoming aware of toileting;
● asking to have their nappy changed;
● telling parents when they need to go to the toilet;
● asking to wear pants instead of a nappy;
● asking to use the potty or toilet;
● being interested in other family members using the toilet.
As early years practitioners, you may be one of the first to notice these signs, sometimes before parents have. If you do notice a child exhibiting one or more of these signs and the parent has yet to start toilet training, it can be very helpful to chat with the parent and suggest their child is showing some signs of toilet training readiness that they may not have spotted.
Allowing toddlers as much control as possible over toilet training is perhaps the key to success. This can be achieved by parents:
● letting the toddler choose his own potty;
● letting the toddler choose where in the house the potty should go;
● letting the toddler choose his new big boy pants;
● selecting storybooks that talk about potty training.
A lovely way to incorporate all of these is for parents to go on a special toilet training shopping trip to buy all of the above. Throughout the trip, the parent should chat excitedly about the new stage in the child’s life.
It is also important that both parents and early years settings normalise the toileting process as much as possible. A great tip for early years practitioners is to share books about potty training and simplified explanations of the digestive and excretory system during story time. In addition, talk about visiting the toilet or using the potty and make sure that the child understands any rules or processes you have in place in your setting. Using pictorial instructions here can be very helpful.
When potty training it is vital that parents never go out without lots of spare underwear and a new set of clean clothing. Reminding parents of this and encouraging them to bring spares in to your setting can be very helpful, as it saves the toddler the potential embarrassment of wearing nursery spares. If the toddler is toilet training at home it can be easier to leave them naked from the waist down, for easier and most importantly quicker access. Toddlers are not known for giving much warning of their impending toilet needs. At your setting, encourage children to think about going to the toilet before beginning a new activity, engaging with a new toy or playing outside. Otherwise they quickly become too engrossed and often miss their bodies’ cues until it is too late! Watch out for any signs children may show when they need the toilet and if you, or parents, spot these signs, you should always ask, “Do you think it may be time to use the potty?” instead of telling them that they need to go. The former invites a learning opportunity, whereas the latter doesn’t.
It is important to never tell children off for any accidents they may have. This is especially true for parents, who can take accidents and set-backs rather personally. It is really important to remind parents that the child is still learning and is only very small. When an accident happens, let the toddler know that it’s okay. Empathy is a far more constructive way of dealing with accidents than chastising. Any cleaning up after an accident should be done in a very matter-of-fact fashion and ideally nobody will show irritation over having to clean up.
It is common for toddlers to have issues with poo, and these can have either a physical or psychological cause. In terms of physical comfort, it is very important that a child is able to poo (on a potty or a toilet) with their feet resting flat on the ground or a step. Humans are meant to poo while in a squatting position, with feet firmly on the floor. This position allows the muscles around the anus to loosen allowing for the easy passage of poo. For children, sitting on toilets with legs dangling from a toilet seat can cause the anal muscles to tighten making it harder to poo.
Constipation, and related memories and fears, can make many toddlers reluctant to use the toilet. They will often hold in their poo for as long as possible; however, this then leads to even more constipation. Looking at the child’s diet and fluid intake is a good place to start. Many, though, will need a far more psychological approach. The wonderful story Poo Goes to Pooland really helps young children who are fearful of pooing.
Above all else, though, remember to remind parents that their child is normal. It is very unlikely that there are any greater issues at play, and for most the key to successful toilet training is simply patience and time!
Sarah Ockwell-Smith is a parenting expert and author, and the founder of Gentle Parenting.