Put your hand up if you’ve ever changed a toddler’s nappy. While your toddler only has two arms and two legs, changing their nappy can feel like trying to get a wild octopus dressed. First, we need to catch our child, (no mean feat, toddlers are FAST!) Then we need to convince them that it’s nappy change time, wrangle a wriggling child who would rather be ANYWHERE but stuck on their back, and then…we need to change that nappy.
It makes sense why, as parents, we might want to fast forward to that next stage. We are so excited by the freedom for us and our little ones, but the biggest mistake we can make when it comes to potty training is rushing a child who isn’t ready yet.
We might even interpret some of the challenges around nappy changing as a sign our child is ‘ready’ for potty training, and while it can be the case, we want to really make sure, because us being too eager to jump into potty training, without having our child showing lots of signs of being completely ready, can lead to problems.
When children get ‘rushed’ before they are ready for toilet training it can lead to a situation where everyone gets stressed out, and our child can wind up either taking much longer to train or even developing a fear of the potty, which can really have everyone wishing they had just waited a little longer.
What pressures can lead to us rushing or mistiming potty training?
Parents may mistime potty training for three main reasons:
1. Feeling external pressure of a deadline like a baby being on the way or a child starting pre-school.
2. Getting tired of nappy change time. Let’s be honest, changing that nappy can get a little ‘old’ for everyone and when neither we or our toddlers are having a good time we may think the answer is potty training.
3. Being unaware of the signs of readiness and not realising we want to see all three signs (physical, cognitive, and emotional) to begin the process.
So, how do you know if a child is ready for potty training or learning?
Children may be ready to learn about and use a potty from around two years old, with some children being ready from as young as 18 months. However, the average age for successful potty training is around 2.5-3 years when children tend to have a better grasp of language and awareness of their bodies.
There are a number of signs of readiness that can be broken down into three main areas:
1. Physical: Your child is walking and can pull up their pants or get them down. Other good signs of physical readiness might be a child with a dry pull-up or nappy for up to two hours, or a child who poos in the same place every day. (My kids loved their toy kitchen). All of this demonstrates some awareness and physical readiness.
2. Cognitive: We are looking for signs our child can follow instructions (such as “Can you pass me the red truck?”). Or maybe they are increasingly wanting that wet nappy off straight away. Maybe your child is telling you when they do go, but this isn’t essential. Ideally, we want children to know what it ‘feels like’ when they ‘need to do a poo or a wee’.
3. Emotional: We need to know children are ready to ‘let go’ of a situation they are used to (which is using nappies and pull-ups), comfortable with tackling a new stage in development, and coping when accidents happen. The emotional readiness factor usually comes last and is the most powerful. When we mistime emotional readiness it can delay toilet learning, and in some cases, lead to severe constipation.
Not all these signs need to be present for your child to be ready. However, a general trend will let you know it’s time to start.
What else can we do to make sure the potty-training journey is a success in the lead-up?
Think of the lead-up to toilet training as the time to talk more to your child about using a potty, talking about how you use the toilet and how you know when you need to go. Kids are visual learners, so it helps to read books on the subject, making sure that this talk is free from pressure at our end.
We want to send a message that we know our child has ‘got this’ and they will use the potty or toilet when they are ready. This confidence in our child sets up a fantastic connection so that when we do begin toilet training, they know we are on their team, this support and connection helps the journey.
As toddlers begin to indicate they want more independence or resist nappy change time we can start to embrace that. We can offer our toddlers an alternative to a traditional nappy such as a nappy pant with an easy-up design, we loved Rascal + Friends premium nappy pants for this! We can start to change our toddlers more often in a standing-up position. This is more like how things work once we are toilet training while embracing their growing independence.
When it’s time:
Making sure your child is ready physically, cognitively, AND emotionally will also help you avoid the pressure to start too soon for a preschool or a sibling’s arrival. Picking a time that is free from too much external change, where our child is emotionally settled is the best bet.
Once you think it’s time, and your child feels ready, it’s about trusting the process, accepting a bit of mess and in a real sense – being ready to stay at home for a few days while everyone gets the hang of it.
Potty training really can be an exciting stage in our child’s development, and in our relationship with them if we just wait for our child to be ready.