There is no such thing as a “right age” to potty train your child. Whether you decide to go nappy-free at 18 months or four years, the best decision is whatever suits you and your child. Postponing it for too long, however, can limit your child’s independence. When you decide to turn nappies into history, these tips may come in handy.
Over time, the age to potty train shifted from eighteen months to three years, and sometimes even later in Western cultures. Australian toddlers seem to be following the same tendency.
When is best to potty train?
A matter of convenience versus childhood development
The factors that establish the potty training age now seem to be related more to convenience, lifestyle, the environment in which families live and the parents’ attitude, rather than early childhood development (on which the “signs of readiness” are based).
There are varying perspectives on these “signs of readiness”. Their importance is ignored in the communities where babies are potty trained by their first or second year.
- On one hand, there are the parents who wait for these signs to show up before starting to potty train their children,. This can sometimes take a long time to be noticeable in toddlers.
- Other parents feel like these signs may be irrelevant in their toddler case if the child displays an uncooperative attitude towards toilet training.
In spite of the varied developmental experts’ opinions, it’s still unknown how specifically babies/toddlers achieve bladder and bowel control.
Back when nappies were more difficult to manage, parents were motivated to put in a bit more time and effort into potty training their toddlers from an early age (two or three, although three was considered to be late).
The laid-back, let-them-train-themselves approach trending today has resulted in more three and four-year-olds still in their daytime nappies (or “pull-ups”).
However, delays in potty training can translate into:
- Prolonged financial costs
- An increased number of disposables and human waste
- Limiting your toddler’s independence
- Being inconvenient and messy (even though it may not seem like it at the moment)
- Placing limitations on the toddler’s enjoyment in activities like swimming, pre-school and outings
How can you potty train your child?
The intention is not to encourage a rigid and invariable approach to potty training, but to raise awareness on the subtle changes in our culture that often result in delayed training.
As a parent, you are entitled to know there are a variety of methods you can try. Most healthy toddlers are capable of being out of nappies in the daytime by age three, with some consistent guidance.
However, we can’t deny the fact that there are a small number of toddlers who resist potty training despite their parents’ best efforts.
Tip: Day potty training comes before night training.
Attention: The suggestions presented here are related to daytime training. Most children who are out of day nappies between the age of two and three will manage to be dry overnight by the ages of three or four. There’s a small number of children that continue wetting the bed until the age of seven/eight or even longer, which is a separate issue that needs to be addressed by a specialised professional.
Become familiar with the potty
This method will dramatically decrease the use of nappies. It involves familiarising your baby/toddler with bladder control by holding them over a pot at regular intervals, starting from the moment they can sit up.
If you want to implement the nappy-free approach, you and your spouse need to be united in this decision. Arm yourselves with a lot of commitment and tolerance for messy moments.
Tip: To bring messy moments to a minimum, you can adjust your home and lifestyle to fit the nappy-free approach.
The nappy-free method can be efficient and rewarding if it’s embraced with a relaxed attitude (rather than competitive) and for the right reasons (because suits your family rather than trying to impress other parents).
Exercise potty training early
More along the lines of “conditioning” than “training”, this method involves placing your toddler on a pot to “catch” their pee and poo. Starting with the age of fifteen months (or even sooner) your toddler can learn to pee and poo by association, only when they feel the potty under their bottom.
If you decide to try this method, keep in mind that it works on some children but it may not work on others. Remember that parental attitude is essential here.
With this approach you can provide consistent guidance and support to your toddler, encouraging them to complete the process in a timely manner.
Start introducing your toddler to potty training by discussing about it and reading books on toileting. You can start doing this when your toddler is around the age of twelve months.
Once your child is familiarised with the process, you can start sitting them on a pot/toilet seat adapter before bath time, or at other set times of the day. The recommended age is anytime from eighteen months onwards, but you can be flexible about it. If your child displays a cooperating attitude, you can increase the number of times they sit on the pot.
Leave your child out of nappies as often as possible. Especially outdoors, where you can easily clean up. A good idea is to try re-usable toweling training pants, as your toddler is more aware of what’s happening in training pants.
It’s okay to go in and out of nappies depending on the day’s activities. Since your child does not have full control over their bowels and bladder yet, messy “accidents” can occur often. Prepare yourself to be tolerant of these accidents and use nappies whenever needed.
Bonus tip: Rewards (as in treats and praise) can also help, but be careful not to exaggerate.
Don’t blame yourself if your toddler displays a non-cooperative attitude about the whole potty training experience. Be flexible and postpone potty training if you see that your child is not ready to adopt it yet.
The child-centred method
This approach involves waiting for your toddler to be ready to cooperate, which may not happen up until the age of three or four.
At this age your child can decide if they are ready to use the pot or the toilet, so you can explain to them what to do and how to use it.
Share potty training experiences with other parents and carers at your local playgroup
Just like you, other parents and carers are also going through the potty training experience. Sharing thoughts and ideas about it at playgroup sessions can be reassuring for you, as you can understand what works and what doesn’t with other children. It can also show you that each child’s acceptance of using the potty comes at a different age.
Parents and carers who attend playgroup create a support community where you feel encouraged to open up about topics like this and discuss potential solutions with other parents and carers. If you want to join a playgroup in your area you can find one here.
If there is no playgroup in your area, you can learn how to start one here.