Cheri M. Gioe, Merrill, Thomas A.
When toddlers finally learn to use the toilet, it is cause for celebration. But tackling this issue can be frustrating for children, parents and child-care providers, says LSU AgCenter child-care associate Cheri Gioe.
"First and foremost, toilet training should be thought of as a learning process," Gioe says. "In many instances, the process of children learning to use the toilet is referred to as toilet learning.
"Like many other things we learn, toilet learning does not happen overnight or even in one day," she continues, stressing, "Children, as they develop, gradually learn their body and its functions, and toilet learning begins to emerge."
According to experts, somewhere between 18 months and 3 years of age, toilet learning occurs. While waiting for that to occur, it is important that child-care providers, other caregivers and family members all have the same expectations for a child learning to use the toilet, Gioe stresses.
"The first issues families and caregivers must agree on is when the child is ready and what strategies they use to guide the child through the experience," she says.
Some signs that indicate a child may be ready to begin the toilet learning process are:
–The child is able to follow simple directions.
–The child shows a natural interest in the toilet and using it.
–The child points to wet or soiled clothing and asks to be changed.
–The child uses words describing bodily functions.
–The child expresses words for using the toilet. For example, "I go potty!"
–The child stays dry for extended periods, especially through the night.
–The child can pull pants and underwear up and down with no assistance.
"When you are beginning the toilet learning process, experts agree that is a good idea to use a potty chair for a brief period," Gioe says. "Children should be allowed to sit on the chair for extended periods and then praised once they have used it."
To help with the process of toilet learning, Gioe also offers these suggestions:
–Make toileting a clean and easygoing experience. Treat accidents casually. Do not associate toileting accidents with physical punishment or scolding.
–Read children’s books about toileting to children. Some titles to keep in mind are "Once Upon a Potty" by Alona Frankel, "No More Diapers" by J.G. Brooks, "Going to the Potty" by Fred Rogers and "KoKo Bear’s New Potty" by Vicki Lansky.
–Model what should happen when children use the toilet. Parents should allow children in the bathroom to observe their toilet routines. Children learn best through modeling. Men should model using the toilet for male children, and women should model it for female children.
–Be sure to maintain the same toilet routine.
–Children need to be taught the proper words associated with using the toilet including the proper names of body parts.
–Acknowledge when children are going to the bathroom as it is occurring.
–Refrain from using disposable toilet-training diapers. These diapers keep children from experiencing the wet sensation they would have otherwise. This wet sensation, while uncomfortable, will not harm the child but rather encourage him or her to use the toilet. In addition, parents and caregivers should ensure that children have easy-to-remove clothing on at all times during this process.
–Assist children in cleaning themselves after using the toilet.
–In the child-care setting, it often is difficult to work with an entire class at one time. Caregivers may request to work with small groups of one to three children at a time.
Gioe also says it is important to remember that bedwetting is common for young children – even during and after the toilet-training process.
"It is OK to keep children in diapers at night as long as you practice the same routine," she says. "Nighttime control can take many months to several years for children to conquer, so parents may also want to make certain mattresses are protected."
The LSU AgCenter expert says the most important thing you can do for children during the toilet learning process is to have patience.
"Forcing children to use the toilet before they are ready may result in physical and emotional harm," Gioe cautions. "Children can develop urinary tract infections and impacted bowels or develop emotions such as anger and frustration when forced into trying to use the toilet before they are truly ready."
The LSU AgCenter’s "Be Child Care Aware!" educational program is designed to educate parents and child-care providers about quality child care. It is funded, in part, through a contract with the Louisiana Department of Social Services’ Office of Family Support.