When I tentatively began inquiring about toilet training my toddler, these are the kind of statements that I routinely heard from other mothers:

‘Prepare yourself for a week of absolute hell and after that it gets a little easier’. 

‘You’ll need to take him to the toilet at least every 20 minutes and even then, you’ll still spend most of your days cleaning up wee and poo off the floor’.

‘You have to completely dedicate yourself to the process until your toddler is toilet trained. Give it your 100% focus or it won’t work’.

So naturally, when it came time to toilet train my own child, I was so nervous that I wanted to follow my toddlers lead and just shit my pants!

Traditional toilet/potty training requires a parent to pick a start date and from that time on the child stops wearing nappies and instead wears underwear. The child is taken to the toilet or potty at regular intervals, with advice ranging from every 20 minutes to every hour. Traditional toilet training also recommends that children be enticed and encouraged to use the toilet by being given some kind of reward such as lollies or stickers. 

As I researched how to best tackle toilet training I began to feel increasingly uncomfortable. My main issues with the traditional methods were that I wasn’t 100% sure that my child was ready, and I didn’t want him to feel pressured. I was concerned that having toilet training suddenly thrust upon him and forcing him into undies would cause him distress. Also, at such a combative age, I was concerned that toilet training could easily descend into a power struggle. I didn’t want to have to coax, cajole or con him into using the toilet!

And so I decided upon a more gentle approach to toilet training. My general aim was to support and facilitate the learning process and so, in our house, we called it toilet learning.  

Toilet Learning: A Gentle Approach to Toilet Training. 

1.Set the Scene for Success

A few weeks before we actively started toilet learning, we began to set the scene for success. We talked to our toddler a lot about our bodies, as well as the how’s and why’s of toilet use. We invited him to accompany us when we went to the bathroom and we included him in all the necessary toilet learning purchases (potty, children’s toilet seat, step, etc). He picked out his own undies from the store and he decorated his own potty with stickers. 

2. The Choice is Yours 

One day when my toddler woke up, instead of changing his nappy straight away, I gave him a choice. ‘Would you like to wear your undies or a nappy’? I asked. 

I didn’t pressure him either way nor did I make a big fuss about it. I simply held out his nappy and his undies, and left it up to him. ‘Nappy’ he replied and I happily helped him into his nappy. The next time the exact same exchange took place, but on the third time he replied that he wanted to wear undies! 

I talked enthusiastically about his new dinosaur undies as I helped him put them on, but I also made a point of not making too big a deal about it. I wanted him to know that there was no right or wrong choice. 

Over the next few days he began increasingly to request to wear his undies. On the occasions he chose to wear a nappy I happily obliged. After about a week I began rephrasing the question and instead asked ‘shall we put on your undies now?’ and stopped mentioning the nappy. The majority of the time he happily chose to put on his underwear, but if he specifically asked to wear a nappy then that’s what we did. After about a fortnight, he was consistently choosing to wear underwear.

No battles, no bribes, no blackmail. The choice was completely his. 

3. Skip the Schedule

With this approach I chose not to take my child to the toilet at set intervals. 

I kept a close eye on him and if he was signalling that he needed to go (holding himself, fidgeting, etc) or if it had been a while since he had last done a wee or poo, I would simply ask if he wanted/needed to go to the toilet. If he replied no, I would accept his answer. 

At first, this often resulted in an ‘accident’ taking place within minutes of me asking the question. And when it did, I didn’t make a fuss. I would simply clean him up and reassure him that this was all part of learning. 

We also created a routine of asking him if he needed/wanted to go to the toilet when he first woke up from a sleep, before bed and after each meal. If he said no at these times, I gently encouraged him by saying ‘mummy is going to use the toilet. Would you like to have a turn too?’.

We always respected his answer and never forced him to sit on the toilet. 

4. Praise

Through this method we did not use rewards or bribes to coax toilet use, but we did offer an abundance of verbal praise. I wanted him to feel that we were celebrating his achievements throughout the learning process.  The following are examples of phrases we used:

That is great that you noticed that you were doing a wee! Next time let’s see if you can tell me before the wee comes and we can try to do it on the toilet.’

‘That was fantastic that you told mummy you needed to do a wee and tried to run to the toilet!’

‘Great job sitting on the toilet! No wees or poos this time but maybe next time!’ 

And of course, we celebrated the big successes!

‘You did a poo on the toilet! That is amazing!’

5. Be Prepared

I was told by fellow mums that it would be too stressful to leave the house for the first week of toilet training. However, the idea of being confined to my house with a rambunctious toddler for any significant amount of time was enough to make me feel incarcerated!

And so I decided to skip the confinement period and venture out with my toilet training toddler. I did however, pick my excursions very carefully. I planned play dates with friends that had children of similar ages, visited family that lived nearby, and took advantage of our local beachfront.  

I tackled each outing armed with the following:

  • Spare changes of undies and clothes
  • Nappy (in case he chose to wear this instead of undies)
  • A small towel (to stand on when changing after an accident)
  • A few small plastic bags
  • Disinfectant spray
  • Paper towels
  • Baby wipes
  • Absorbent underpad (aka bluey pad) for the carseat. 

Did I leave the house each day looking like I was about to embark on a backpacking trip around Southeast Asia? Yes. But, did I regret bringing so much stuff when the inevitable ‘accidents’ happened? No. 

Being prepared gave me the freedom to leave the house and carry on with life during the toilet learning process. 

6. Pick and Choose 

I am a strong believer that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to do things when it comes to raising children (barring anything unsafe, obviously). Every child is different and there is not going to be a ‘one size fits all’ approach to toilet learning that will work for everyone. With that in mind, I think the best plan of attack is to pick and choose the advice you want to follow. After all, it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach. 

In order to devise a toilet learning approach I felt comfortable with, I first gathered information and inspiration from respected parenting advisors such as Pink McKay, Janet Landsbury and Raising Children Network, as well as talking to the other mums in my life. 

Perhaps you have read the above advice and you think it sounds like it would be a great learning method for your child, except you think it would work better if you also incorporated a rewards sticker chart. Or perhaps you liked bits and pieces of what you have read here but you think that your child would respond better to the more traditional style of toilet training. That’s great! Pick and choose what works for you.

Only you can know what is best for your child and your family!

Love Phoebe

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