Potty training 101

Posted on 25 December 2019

When is a good time to start? Can you help? Here’s how to make potty training as pain-free as possible.

Training your toddler how to use the toilet is a huge step for you and your child. It’s an investment of time, determination and energy that will help ensure this little human develops a life skill that they will need for the rest of their life.

A 2008 study review in the peer-reviewed Paediatrics & Child Health found that for most parents, successful toilet learning is perceived as a major step in a child’s development and independence – but that opinions on how to achieve this vary widely.

Usually, children need a few things to learn how to use the potty properly: good neuromuscular development of bowel and bladder control, relevant communication capabilities and gross motor skills. However, these skills develop at different ages for different children.

This is why research into the subject is split. Research shows that in the 1940s and 50s, children were often prompted to use the potty from as young as 18 months – and newer surveys show that the average age of the toilet-trained toddler is increasing, with many or most children beginning to learn how to use the potty anywhere between 21 and 36 months old.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has settled on a period instead of an age, advising that most children will respond to guided forays into potty preparation between 18 and 24 months, provided their parents are informed that using the potty is a complex skill integrating physiological and behavioural developmental processes.

What does this mean? Your child is an individual, with unique ways of understanding their bodies, learning new skills and communicating what they know. All of these factors will affect how they take to this new challenge, and the rate at which they master it.

It also means they need help. The child-centred approach to toilet training – a method designed to individualise the process as much as possible – advocates that a child must be physiologically and psychologically ready to begin the process. It also warns that parents should be prepared to devote attention and patience to the task on a daily basis for several months.

Is your child ready to begin toilet training? If they are able to walk to and sit on a toilet, pull down their pants and pull them up again, and communicate when they need to go, the answer may well be yes. Look for other signs: is their nappy dry for up to two hours? Does your child seem interested in using the toilet?

If you feel your child is ready, help them along. The National Health Service suggests following a four-step process. First, the vocabulary you use to describe potty training is crucial. The child-oriented approach recommends choosing optimistic terminology and avoiding negative connotations. Then, practice: encourage your child to sit on the potty at regular intervals throughout the day, to help them become accustomed to the sensation, while guiding them through the function of the device. Lastly, keep your eyes peeled for signs they may need to use the toilet. Help them get to the potty as soon as possible – success in this lifelong exercise begins with one or two triumphs as a toddler.



In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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