Toilet learning is one of those things that can go very smoothly or very badly. A lot depends on the type of expectations and help children get from adults. Sometime during the two-year-old year, children transition from diapers/pull-ups to big boy/big girl pants. This will successfully take place and become a proud, new habit through the consistent responses of teachers, parents, and any other regular caregivers (nanny, grandma, etc.). Before getting a child started on this major lifestyle change, first think it all the way through, and then get everyone’s cooperation on the details; you’ll need it!
Children demonstrate a “readiness” for transitioning out of diapers and into pants in several ways. When parents see indicators of independence, they should offer aid and encouragement. It’s very important to take advantage of this window-of-opportunity. Ignoring a child’s signs of readiness may result in reducing their personal motivation and lengthening the eventual learning process.
Signs of Readiness
- Can stay dry for a couple of hours at a time, good demonstrating sphincter control.
- Recognizes feeling of needing “to go” and tells a teacher or parents before or afterwards.
- Has enough fine motor strength to be able to pull pants down and up. Depending on what she/he is wearing, she/her may need help with undressing and dressing.
- Is physically able and happy to climb onto the toilet or potty chair.
- Shows interest in wearing panties or big boy underwear.
Set the Stage for Success
- Dress children in clothes they can manage by themselves, during the learning period. Purchase a good supply of elastic-waist pants and a dozen colorful, new underwear.
- Maintain an extra clothes supply at child care.
- For now, avoid dressing children in: overalls, tight jeans, tights, heavy skirts, and pants with snaps, stiff buttons, or belts.
Avoid Daytime Diapers
- Diapers and toilet learning don’t mix. Children need too much adult help to get them off. It involves you too much (this should be their accomplishment, not yours, right?) and gives them a mixed message, confusing the child about your expectations of their readiness and capabilities.
- Once you have started toilet learning, resist the urge to put the child in a diaper during the day; use pull ups if you are not going to be near a toilet. Only use diapers at nighttime.
Manage the Logistics
- Try to reduce trips during the first month of toilet learning. Stay near familiar territory.
- When away from home, stake out the nearest toileting opportunity; you’ll be surprised how many public places have bathrooms you can use in an emergency.
- When traveling by car, have a portable potty chair in the trunk and/or plan to stop for bathroom breaks every couple of hours.
- Praise the child for “staying dry” when they succeed in making it to the potty in time.
- Encourage them to “check to see if something is ready to come out” every couple of hours.
- Be optimistic and upbeat, even after inevitable accidents.
Remember, this type of lifestyle change is a big one and it will take a fair amount of practice to learn all the many skills involved. In toilet learning, the child must: recognize the urge to “go”, stop his play, hold it in, move quickly and get his body to the right location, use his finger and hand muscles to remove his clothing, climb onto the potty/toilet, and then finally…let go. Congratulations!
By Lisa Poelle, M.A.