When are Children Ready for Toilet Mastery?
When a child’s needs have been adequately met during his first year (fed when he is hungry, provided a regular sleep schedule, cleaned up when his diaper is dirty), he is then ready to take on more of this self-care himself.
Therefore, in their child’s second year, parents should be alert to signs that he is moving in this direction and help him as he takes the steps towards mastery of eating, sleeping, and toileting.
Evidence that he is ready to feed himself is hard to miss: He grabs for the spoon, he puts things in his mouth, and Mom is ready with Cheerios and easily-managed finger foods to help him move ahead in this progression toward self care.
And so it goes for toileting: Near the end of the second year, parents should start watching for signs that the child knows when he is urinating or having a bowel movement and help him accomplish toilet mastery.
Why Do Parents Miss the Signals that the Child is Ready for the Potty?
Two things cause parents problems these days. First is the recent trend toward putting infants on the potty whenever the caregiver sees signs that the baby is about to urinate or have a bowel movement. Of course, this is ecologically correct (less waste in landfills) and saves money in diapers, but exactly who is mastering what?
Parents are the ones who are trained and must be constantly vigilant. No mastery has actually come from the child.
A second problem is the phenomenon of larger and larger (and more and more absorbent) disposable diapers and pull-ups on store shelves.
Seeing these lulls parents into assuming that toilet mastery comes much later than the latter part of the second year. So they are not on the lookout for signs that their child is ready to take this step toward using the potty instead of pull-ups.
What’s Wrong With Waiting Until the Child is 3?
When a child is not helped to move along in this phase of meeting his own needs at the developmentally correct time, the accomplishment of this step when the child is older will be much more difficult.
By the time a child is 3, he is aware that there are other children even younger than he who are using the bathroom, and may wonder if there is something wrong with him when he has not achieved this mastery. Then he may not even want to try, for fear of having this suspicion verified — that there really is something wrong with him.
Another issue here is a child’s pride of mastery. We all recognize the toddler’s movement towards independence – that wonderful demand of “me do it” that signals his growing feeling of being a separate person.
Taking away the opportunity for this big developmental step of toilet mastery is stealing a vital feeling of accomplishment. A child who has experienced this sense of competence as a toddler will have the confidence to try new things and expect success in the many tasks he will face throughout his school career and after.
What are the Signs that the Child is Ready for Toilet Mastery?
Just as parents recognize the child’s behavior that alerts them to stop spoon-feeding and let the child eat independently and enthusiastically, now is the time to look for signs that he is ready for the potty.
Does he know when he is urinating and having a BM? Is he asking to be changed? Is he beginning to identify with the parents’ pleasure of seeing him clean and dry? Does he dislike getting his hands messy? Does he want to be a big boy and do everything the big people do? And does he resist passively lying down for diaper changes?
These are all signs that it’s time for the training pants (not pull-ups; they absorb the urine and deprive the child of that uncomfortable feeling that we want him to reject).
What gets in the way of parents helping with this?
Helping a child achieve these all-important self-masteries can take time and effort as well as provoke feelings of frustration and even anger at the inevitable messes that occur. Parents can sometimes ignore signals, delay helping their child take this step in self-care, reassuring themselves that “no child ever graduated from high school wearing diapers.”
But perhaps they are avoiding what they fear could be occasions for conflict. Maybe they need to keep their child dependent on them, dreading this ultimate step towards independence and the loss of the closeness they had with their baby.
Another more practical problem is parents’ busy schedules. It is so much quicker to get to work in the morning or to get in and out of the grocery store if you don’t have to stop whatever you are doing to find the restroom for your toddler.
What Difference Does it Make When He is Trained?
First, it is so much easier when he is ready and eager to become a big boy who doesn’t need diapers anymore. Then he will be proud to be doing something on his own and it will be his accomplishment.
As he gets older, there can be battles of will with parents and it can become more about the battle than the toileting. Parents need to find the part of the child that wants to grow and be partners with his efforts – not take it on as their job.
When the time is right for him, not just when it’s convenient for the parents, accomplishing these steps towards self-care promote a child’s self-esteem immeasurably; they contribute to his growing sense of competence which will stand him in good stead in all his school years and throughout life.
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