Is My Kid Ok?: Potty training.


Q: Our daughter is 18 months old. Several family members have asked when her father and I are going to start her potty training, but I just dread it. Right now we are going through a lot in our jobs. My mother helps us with child care, but I want to be available to do the training myself. I expect to be home more often in a couple of months.

Is it a mistake to want to wait until I am more available and less stressed? Sometimes I feel guilty about this!

A: No it is not a mistake to wait until you are more available and less stressed! Recognizing our limitations and choosing appropriate times for beginning new tasks are important skills necessary for a balanced life.

It is also important to realize that few children will be ready for potty training by 18 months of age, and most children will start at a later time. More important than worrying about the age of your child when beginning this developmental task is figuring out the readiness of your child and family.

It is good to know that your mother is available and that you also want to be as involved as you can be while limiting the stress for both of you. Noticing your child's readiness and picking a time when there are few major changes occurring in the family's life will increase the likelihood of an uncomplicated start.

You may want to watch for and support pre-toilet training skills, which are building blocks for later success.

Does your child walk well? Is she able to pull down loose pants? Does she have words for urination and bowl movements, and does she let you know when she is using her diaper? Does she have words to communicate her basic experiences related to eating and elimination, and is she able to follow simple instructions?

When you can answer yes to the questions above — and you are in as low stress time as you are likely to have for this important step in your child's life — you may be ready to begin the toilet-training process.

You may wish to purchase or borrow a child's potty for her use. Introducing her to the chair, encouraging her to sit for a while, showing her a short picture book and praising her for sitting, are all first steps. If she happens to use the potty, that's even better, but not necessary at the beginning of this process. Please keep these sessions short and pleasant!

Even if she does not deposit a small present in the potty, she can be praised for sitting briefly.

If your child indicates she has to go to the bathroom but has already soiled her pants or diaper, you can dump the solid contents in the potty and let her sit briefly while praising her for sitting and providing help with cleanup.

Some children like to help with flushing the potty contents down the big toilet, while others may be afraid of it. You can respect your child's feelings and allow them to be as involved or distant from flushing as works for them. Some preschoolers may become intrigued by the big toilet and want to experiment with flushing all kinds of things down it, while others may sometimes prefer to sit on it with help. The bathroom can be an interesting place for children. Close supervision and minimal pressure are the way to go!

If you observe you or your child getting frustrated with the process, or it just does not seem to be working for you at this time, it's OK to put the potty away and start over when you both feel more comfortable.

Once your child is dry most of the day, you may begin to focus on her nighttime elimination habits. Children may have nighttime accidents for quite a while after they are potty trained during the day, simply because they sleep much longer than they are accustomed to holding urine in their bladder.

Having patience with your child and yourself, allowing her to help with changing her clothes and putting soiled linens in the hamper, while thanking her for doing a good job of cleanup, can help your child build resilience and self-confidence. Preschool children are often eager to help and feel quite competent when given the feedback that they are doing good work!

As children's bodies mature they usually make progress in letting you know ahead of time that the big event is coming! When the two of you are ready, you can reach out for support to family, friends and your child's pediatrician or primary care physician.

Submit your questions via e-mail to clearpixel.gif Donna Hood is a licensed professional counselor in private practice with Moses Cone.
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