“Potty-training” sounds like a program for apprentice plumbers, not babies.
The baby-biz lingo, “toilet learning,” conjures images of skipped classes, Fonzie jackets and smokin’ in the boys’ room.
For toddlers and the bathrooms that await them, the key word is “readiness.” Most children are not ready to learn this complex process until about halfway between their second and third birthdays.
There are plenty of parents who insist (hope?) otherwise. And sure, some tots will offload cargo if you help them pull up to the dock at just the right moment. But that doesn’t mean the kids are “trained” — it means their parents are.
Developmental milestones for learning to use the bathroom.
Children will reliably, independently, and hygienically use the room with a potty when they are ready in every developmental domain. The following questions will help you decide when to teach your child about using the bathroom.
Emotional development – Whose idea is this?
Starting at around 12-14 months of age, your child is in the throes of the normal stage of negativism. His strong feelings of independence and his love of saying “no” might embroil you in more power struggles than potty trips if you pressure him. When your child starts to dislike the feeling of being wet or soiled, you’ll have yourself a partnership.
Social development – Does your child care about potty training as much as you do?
After negativism passes, and your child becomes more cooperative, he will want to comply with more of your requests. He will have discovered that he wants to grow up, have different clothing, and leave babyhood behind. Your toddler will want to be more like the bigger people who are his role models. It is healthy and normal for him to observe that older family members use the bathroom.
Cognitive development – How many details can your toddler manage at once?
Using the bathroom is quite a process. It involves recognizing the need, responding in a timely manner, asking for help at first, disrobing, and then relaxing one’s body while balancing on a chair with a hole in it. Let him practice as much as he wants to. Let him practice with clothes on, with clothes off. Let him sit there and settle in while thumbing through a book. These activities will help him get more familiar with the details of going to the bathroom.
Language development – Does your child have the expressive language skills to ask for the help he needs?
It’s a good development when your child increasingly wants to stop wetting and soiling a diaper to that he can be clean and dry. It’s an even more promising development when he tells you so. Be sure to teach him the words that are acceptable to your family (and/or his caregivers) for these body functions. Alerting you to the fact that he is having a bowel movement is one of the first steps of taking responsibility for body functions. He’ll soon be ready for more complex responsibilities.
Motor development – Is your child’s body ready to “hold it” until he can get to the bathroom?
The sphincter muscles that allow for bladder and bowel control have some of the last nerves in the body to finish developing. Even if your child understands the process of going to the bathroom, is highly motivated to go, and desperately wants big boy underwear, if he cannot control his muscles yet, he will not have consistent success. What he needs instead is non-shaming help in cleaning himself, along with encouragement for trying again next time.
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