By Michelle Rodriguez, Groove Contributor
Urologist and super-mom, Lauren B. Schulz, DO, addresses your concerns and questions about potty training!
Q: Is there a recommended time to start potty training? Are there signals to know when a child is ready to start potty training?
A: Children are curious creatures, and they learn by example. In our home we allow our son to spend time in the bathroom with us and we talk about using the bathroom. He started taking an interest when seeing his dad go to the bathroom, he also tried to sit on the toilet. For us, the interest in what was happening was the first signal that we were ready to explore potty training.
We added an attachment to the toilet seat that fits his adorable little behind and added a step stool so he can climb up to sit and support his legs while seated. We also bought a smaller mobile potty for him.
There is no recommended time to start potty training and each child is different. Many nursery and preschool programs require your child to be potty trained before starting, so that is something important to check on. Over 80% of children are out of diapers by 3.5 years of age.
Signs they may be ready include:
- The Ability to follow instructions- simple things like can you get your sneakers or can you put the toy back on the shelf
- The Ability to understand basic ideas (clean,dirty, wet,dry, sit/stand)
- The Ability to communicate their needs to you verbally or with actions nesting behavior is a subtle sign- this is where they enjoy tidying up and putting things back in their places
Set them up for success. Teach them the words for their body parts and for urine and bowel movements. Avoid trying to potty train at transition points or times when major changes are taking place like the addition of a new sibling, the loss of a family member, switching from a crib to a toddler bed, a new move or school, etc.
Q: Are there recommended practices to start potty training?
A: Keep it fun! Watch for signs that they may need to go to the bathroom like a favorite spot to poop in or when you see them making poop faces, offer the bathroom. Sometimes my son was agreeable to walking to the bathroom, and other times he would say no. If he said no we never pushed it. Forcing using the potty is not productive and may form a negative relationship with the toilet for your child. Just keep offering. When we were in between diaper changes, before bathtime or after we always offer an opportunity to use the potty.
I really enjoyed the Oh Crap! Potty training book. It makes sense. The process is broken into blocks. The first requires the child being naked from the waist down. This helps to remind them about using the potty. They will start to say they want to use the potty or you may suggest it and escort them. After they have mastered this, its time to wear clothes and continue to have them request the bathroom and you offer it. The last block entails small outings while your child is wearing underwear. Please remember to update your diaper bag, have lots of changes of clothes, small plastic bags to place soiled clothing in, etc.
Some families find a reward chart with stickers very motivational and fun, and I see no harm in it. Avoid punishment and avoid too much praise as this can be a set up to make the child feel bad if they are not successful.
Q: There are mixed reviews about potty training pants. Is this too much like a diaper and could it hinder the potty training process?
A: Training pants are a fun idea for the children. My son enjoys being able to pull his diaper down when he goes into the bathroom, and when he is finished (with help) he pulls it back up. While you are in the introduction phase and the idea of using the potty is new its a great way to make it fun and interesting. I will say that once you commit to trying a method like Oh Crap, the training pants use should cease.
Q: Are there potty training methods that could put a child’s urinary health at risk?
A: The big concern is to not create a dysfunctional voider. We don’t want children holding in their bowel movements or urine for too long; it can lead to problems like incomplete emptying, pain or infections. It's about maintaining some control or fear associated with the bathroom. Using the potty should bring about feelings of pride, so it's very important to praise your children when it works but not punish them or scold them for accidents. They will happen, and it's really ok! Let your child be in control of their body- let them decide if they want to use the potty or diapers. Avoid the power struggle!
If a child goes through potty training and still has an accident in public or frequently wets the bed, is something wrong? Absolutely not. Children can get distracted easily. Please do not get angry or upset with your child if an accident happens, reinforce and encourage your child to let you know when they need to use the bathroom. If you note it has been a little while since the last bathroom visit, it is a good idea to remind them or escort them to the bathroom. Boys tend to potty train overnight later than girls.
Q: You are a mother yourself. In what ways has your professional background influenced practices at home with your child?
A: We see the sequelae of shame around private parts and bodily functions and the long-lasting effects that can have on a person, so we make sure to keep open communication, let our son be involved in small decision-making processes to encourage independence and really just create a supportive environment and give him the tools for success.
[This interview has been condensed. You can learn more about Dr. Lauren Schulz and her work here.]