Perhaps nothing signals the transition from babyhood to toddlerhood quite like the act of potty training. Children feel a sense of independence and accomplishment connected with the act of using a potty and often liken it to being a “big boy” or “big girl” at their parents’ urging. In decades past, potty training used to be accomplished around the age of two years old. Children were transitioned from using cloth diapers and plastic pants to using the toilet through rigorous scheduling maintained by a stay-at-home mom and a series of many, many accidents, both public and private. However, recent years have seen the advent of disposable diapers (largely leak-free), larger-sized diapers, potty training diapers termed “pull-ups” and two-income families requiring children to attend daycare and sometimes preschool prior to learning how to use the potty on their own.
This delay in potty training has had a number of negative effects on preschools and the environment: more landfill resulting from longer use of disposable diapers and the possibility of infectious disease spread at schools through soiled and leaky diapers (Vermandale, Weyler, DeWachter, & Wyndaele, 2008). While schools used to require potty training as a prerequisite to enrolling children, many now accept toddlers prior to toilet training and take on the duty as a regular part of educating the preschool-aged child. The shift of potty training duties to childcare providers and preschool educators doesn’t relieve parents of the duty to continue educating their children at home; potty training is a twenty-four hour a day job, lasting weeks on end. In fact, research shows that even when children show signs of “readiness” for potty training such as staying dry in their diaper for hours at a time and the ability to sit still on a potty, the average duration of toilet training is from three to six months (VanDeGeyn, 2012).
Children can sometimes go days on end without accident and then inexplicably backslide to seemingly forget all the “signs” that they need to use the toilet. Parents, then, become the secondary educators, reinforcing the routines established during daytime hours and establishing nighttime routines to ensure potty training continues until their children reach a level of confidence at home, at school, and at night. Changes in routine can cause backslides and delays in training, as well. And while it may seem tempting to simply put your child back in diapers or training pants for vacations and extended periods away from home, these conveniences come at the cost of confusion to the child and extended periods of potty training well beyond the six month mark (Embrett, 2010).
For many of us, preschool prior to potty training is simply the only option available. We trust that teachers and caregivers will recognize the signs of readiness in our children and then establish a workable routine to help our babies become independent toddlers. But how do we go about supporting the routines established during preschool hours while we are away? If we aren’t there to see exactly what is happening to teach our children to use the potty, how can we possibly be successful in supporting the endeavor at home?
- The most important thing to do is to communicate with your child’s caregiver. Make certain you understand the procedures followed at the preschool or daycare center and what supports your child will be given. Find out if they look for signs of readiness for potty training, or if all children of a certain age are started on potty training regardless of outward indications. The more you know, the more you can express concerns and work together with your care provider.
- Take note of the schedule in place at the preschool. Do they take children to the potty every hour? Every two hours? Is there a regular routine for using the potty before and after naptime, and do children learn to use the potty before and/or after mealtime? Once you understand the logistics of what your child is learning at school, you can create a schedule at home to mirror it.
- Use the same incentives at home as those provided at school. If your child’s preschool gives stickers for each successful use of the potty, keep a few rolls on hand. If healthy snacks are the reward for staying dry for a certain period of time, mimic those at home. Consistency in schedule as well as incentive helps children make the connection between expectations at school and at home.
- Maintain consistency in after-school routines unrelated to potty training. Once your child’s school has started potty training and the commitment is made at home, resist the urge to head off on a family vacation or long weekend camping. It may seem restrictive to commit to three to six months at home, but routine is the magic solution for potty training woes. Achieving potty training in three months is far more likely for a child in an established routine. Deviating from the norm is a stressor certain to cause delays in potty training success.
Remember, for healthy, normally-developing children, potty training will eventually be a success and the days of dirty diapers and wet trousers will soon be a distant memory. Whether it takes a month, three months, or six months, and regardless of how many times your child reverts to wetting and soiling themselves, eventually it will all come together. After all, how many people your age do you know who were complete failures at potty training? J
Potty training resources on the web:
Potty Training 101
Mayo Clinic: How to get the job done
Healthy Children: Advice on Toilet Training
Embrett, C. (2010). Potty pitfalls. Today’s Parent, 27(5), 71-76.
VanDeGeyn, L. (2012). Life of the potty. Today’s Parent, 29(11), 90.
Vermandale, A., Weyler, J., DeWachter, S., & Wyndaele, J.-J. (2008). Toilet Training of Healthy Young Toddlers: A randomized trial between a daytime wetting alarm and timed potty training. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, 29, 191-196.