Monday, October 1, 2012

When is it time for "Potty Time"?

Last summer I was spending a little time writing answers to a few questions on a parenting discussion board.  One of the questions that was asked, was from a family that was having trouble getting their child to sleep through nap without taking his diaper off and getting poop all over himself, the bed, the blankets, etc.  The question was "How do I get him to keep his diaper on?"  In a nutshell, my response was "Don't.  Potty train instead". I then wrote a description about how to go about  doing that training.  What came as a shock to me was that many of the comment responses seemed to think keeping the diaper on was a great idea and potty training too hard and offered up suggestions like "put the diaper on backwards so it is harder for the child to take it off",  "use duct-tape" (on the diaper, not the kid),  and even "we put our kid's on backwards, used duct-tape and returned to using those pajama sleeping bags for awhile.  They were a little small but she curls up anyway". 

Frankly, I found the idea that a child should stay in his or her own waste when it is clearly making them uncomfortable AND when they are old enough to communicate they don't like it and get it off themselves horrifying.

Recently while at the home of the little guy we care for frequently, I saw his parents have acquired "The Everything Guide to Potty Training".  It is not one I've read, but from what I know of these two parents, and the "Everything Guides" series.  It was probably a good choice.  I know there are a plethora of books out there and a huge variety of methods from which to choose, but it occurred to me that a I hadn't written anything about potty training yet.  Since I spent a couple of years of my life potty training about 30 children (most of them boys) at a daycare, this is definitely something with which I have some experience.  Perhaps, I thought, something I can share might help some of you out.

Many parents (and the daycare I worked for) are very concerned about potty training just the right way.  Many of the books in that "plethora" also make sure to tell you their way is the best way or even the only way.  I'd like to point out that perhaps we put far too high a price on making sure we potty train just the right way at just the right time.  The Reality is that there are many different ways to potty train, because most of them work equally well depending upon the family and child being "trained".

The first critical question is usually about when to start, but even that depends highly upon the child and the family AND what you mean by the word "start".  The way I see it, potty training really spirals on itself from an earlier age than most of us consider it to.  In my mind there are really three different "starts" to the whole affair anyway. 

These "starts" are:
  1. Getting comfortable with the potty, potty procedures, and the language of the potty.
  2. The start for the parents.
  3. Starting to train in earnest (traditionally viewed as the "potty training").
For more information on each "start"

If you are wondering about whether it is time to get started potty training in earnest, here are a few of the key signs that your child is ready.  It is important your child is doing most or all of these things before beginning training in earnest.

Your child is ready if he or she can:
  1. demonstrate that he or she is uncomfortable in the dirty diaper and notices when a diaper is wet or dirty.
  2. comfortably sit on a potty (even if it is a training potty, smaller potty like at day cares, or one of those special seats that sits on top of a larger potty seat but has a smaller opening for smaller bottoms.
  3. pull pants up and down reasonably well independently.
  4. communicate about going potty.  This communication can come in the form of words in any language or hand signs. 
On a side note, there is also a method of potty training that insists kids can be potty trained almost immediately.  In this method parents and caretakers are tuned in enough to know the faces and movements a child makes just before going potty well enough to hold the child over the toilet before he or she is actually going potty.  Most of us parents are used to recognizing "the face" that goes with our child's bowel movements, but this training includes pee too.  This method requires constant vigilance and if you and all of your children's caretakers are ready for it, more power to you - just know that when accidents happen, it isn't really the child getting the training, it is the caretakers. 

This brings me to the second part of deciding if your child is ready.  That is to decide if the care takers are truly ready. There will be accidents, you will be a little more tethered to home again for a while, potty training will require your time, attention, patience, discipline and diligence.

There are a few "windows" that happen in children's lives when for some reason potty training is easier than at other points (some of which even come later).  There are developmental stages where they are so busy with their play, that even kids who are already potty trained will backslide a little.  This means that potty training really is a process that extends further than most of us think.  So my take on the matter is that it is important for you to be ready when these windows appear so you can take full advantage of them before they are gone. 

Most girls potty train in earnest sometime between 18 months and 30 months (or by about 2 1/2 years).  For boys this average lags by a few months and is closer to being between 2 and 3 years of age.  Some kids are ready earlier and some kids wait till they are a little older.  Please don't stress about age.  One of the things I hated about my job at the preschool was the idea that all kids HAD to potty train before they turned three.  This age boundary was set by the school because it was a convenient way to separate the kids into age groups and have the three's classes run without the need for changing supplies on hand in those classrooms.  It really had nothing to do with deciding what was developmentally appropriate for each individual child.  For the families with kids in the Two's classes that were past 2 1/2 in the spring and not yet potty trained, this meant a lot of pressure.  For some of the kids, when the administrators started ramping up the pressure, it meant they balked and back-slid.  All of a sudden even being in the bathroom was uncomfortable.  For some kids, it needs to be the child's idea to potty train.  In my book, be ready, start training (language and procedure), but don't really start in earnest until THE CHILD is ready.  If your child doesn't want to potty train, and it can wait, please let training in earnest wait and simply begin to introduce aspects of potty procedures and language only.   

My answer to those parents with the kid who won't keep his diaper on during nap?  Start potty training.  Spend some time before nap allowing him the opportunity to try to go potty in the potty.  Then, allow him to get up during nap to use the potty if he needs too.  Tell him to get you first because then you can help remove the diaper if he has already gone so it doesn't get everywhere, but let him see the poo poo get dumped out of the diaper, into the potty and flushed.  Yes, this will interrupt and even change his sleep patterns a little, but, when you've gotta go, you've gotta go.  How well is he going to sleep uncomfortable and lying in his own filth anyway?

If you are interested in beginning the process of helping your child get comfortable with the potty and potty training in earnest, Click Here

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