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When should toilet training begin? First, it
should not begin until your child seems to know what the potty is for and can
relate the idea to “making messes” in her clothing. For most
children, this relationship does not become clear until they are about
twenty-four months old. By that age children have enough bowel and bladder
control to participate in the toilet training process. If you wait until your
child is about thirty months old, she will probably start training herself.

Some parents have children sit on the potty
immediately after meals, as if they will eliminate the food just consumed. But
since it takes several hours for foods and liquids to pass through their
systems, it makes more sense to encourage your child to use the potty when you
use the bathroom. She likely will be willing to try to “go” while you
are in the bathroom modeling appropriate toilet behavior. Even if she does not
use the potty, she will enjoy the attention and verbal interaction.

Since people typically use the toilet
immediately before going to bed and immediately after getting up in the
morning, encourage your children to try to potty at those times. It also helps
to encourage them to sit on the potty a few minutes every four or five hours.
Once in a while, they urinate or have a bowel movement when sitting on the
potty. At such times your enthusiastic approval reinforces the behavior. If your
child wants you to look at what he has done, it is only fair to visually
inspect the product of his efforts.

In addition, consistently help your child change
clothing after each accident. Tell him calmly he has made a mess and has to put
on clean clothes. If you disapprove of the mess, so will your child.
Infrequently, children discover messing or wetting their pants is a very good
way to upset you. If this happens, simply ignore the behavior for a few days.
Even so, you have gotten into quite a bind with your child.

To summarize: The best approach to toilet
training is to make as little an issue as possible out of it, model good
bathroom behavior, mildly disapprove of accidents, encourage children to
occasionally use the potty for five minutes or so, to potty immediately before
going to bed and immediately after getting up. Beyond that, simply stay out of
it. With a little encouragement, attention, and insistence, children typically use
the bathroom most of the time when they are old enough and have developed
enough physical control to do so. If a real problem develops while you are
following these guidelines, back off and ignore it for two months or so. If
this does not solve the problem, discuss it with your family physician. The
likelihood is there is no physical difficulty but some tension or anxiety in
your relationship with your child. The physician will probably encourage you to
ignore the problem for another two or three months.

Occasional “accidents” are not uncommon
for children even of eight or nine. Usually they simply have just waited too
long and have not given themselves enough time to get to the bathroom.
Encourage them to head for the bathroom as soon as they are aware of the need
to go. The resulting “mess” encourages them to start a little sooner
next time. In general, you need only help them to clean up and encourage them
to pay more attention to the physical signals.

Bed-wetting is another difficulty of toilet
training. It is not unusual for children ten or eleven years old to have an
occasional wet night. They may have forgotten to go to the bathroom before bed,
they may be sleeping so soundly they do not wake up, they may have debated too
long about whether or not to get up and go to the bathroom, or they may have
had unusual excitement or disappointment the day before. If the problem is more
than occasional, though, it needs your attention.

Remember nighttime control is not an issue until
your child is five or six. If there is a problem, be sure your child does not
drink a lot of liquids in the two or three hours prior to going to bed.
(Emphasis here is on a lot. It is unreasonable to forbid all liquids before
bed.) Next, be sure your child tries to urinate for two minutes or so before
bed. She is most always able to do so. Finally, if there is an accident, be
sure your child (with some help from you) accepts major responsibility for
cleaning up the mess. She should take the sheets and blankets off the bed, put
them in the laundry, get dry sheets and blankets, and remake the bed. She
should also put her wet night clothes in the laundry. Since the urine should not
be let dry on her body, the bed-wetter should take a bath or shower upon
awakening. These steps most always eliminate the continual occurrence of
bed-wetting. If not, it is time to involve the family physician. It is unlikely
she will find any physical difficulties.

Very infrequently, school-aged children develop
bowel and bladder control problems as an expression of emotional tension. It is
usually a way of externalizing hostility and anger. Upset with the adults in
their world, these children are demonstrating their capacity to irritate. Do not
respond with punishment or reciprocal anger and hostility. Even in these
situations, responsibility for dealing with the “mess” should remain
with your child. This is a serious problem, and both your child and you may
need counseling and professional help. Your child of any age can develop a
physical problem with poor bowel and bladder control as a symptom. Before
deciding a problem is emotional or interpersonal, always consider the
possibility the problem is physical.

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