Child Learning Centers have a major influence in a child’s experience of toilet training. Becoming “potty trained” is a major milestone in a child (and parent’s) life. Being able to use the toilet like all the older members of a child’s family can create a feeling of pride and accomplishment in a young child. A successful toilet training experience allows a parent and child to share the excitement of mastering a desired, complicated skill. The success can be accompanied by a special trip to the department store to purchase ‘big kid’ underwear and social recognition when parents share the child’s accomplishments with others. A conflict ridden, unsuccessful toilet training experience can create feelings disappointment, failure, shame and anger in both parent and child.
Toilet training for a child can be likened to learning to drive a car with a manual transmission in a teen or adult. There are multiple areas of awareness and skill that must be mastered in order to complete the process of mastery. These skills must then be timed and sequenced in order to seamlessly perform the skill on an ongoing basis.
A child must be sufficiently physically developed in order be able to be successful in the process. In learning to drive a ‘stick shift’ car an individual must be tall enough to reach the pedal and see over the steering wheel, must be physically able to operate the controls and mentally able to sequence and multitask. In toilet training a child generally does not have the necessary body awareness or sphincter control to complete all the elements of toilet training prior to the age of 24 months. Experts indicate that 27 months is an ideal time to begin the process with recent studies suggesting no benefit to initiating intensive toilet training prior to 27 months of age. The American Academy of Pediatrics “strongly recommends that children not be forced to start training until they are behaviorally, emotionally and developmentally ready” (American Association of Family Physicians, 2008).
Developmentally children ages 2 1/2 – 4 years are in a phase in which they are striving for independence and autonomy. Using the toilet and ‘staying dry’ during the day becomes a goal for children in this age group. In the child learning center older children are routinely taken to the bathroom rather than to the diaper changing table. When a child begins to verbalize a desire to join the bathroom group rather than the diaper table group, this is a good indication of social/emotional readiness to begin the toilet training process.
Keep it positive – Toilet training is a process that can lead to major power struggles between parent and child. A good rule of thumb is that from the moment of birth a child has control over what goes into his/her body and what comes out of it. Parents attempting to over control either of these functions are fighting a battle they can never win. In the child learning center there is generally a scheduled time about every 2 hours for a toilet training group of children to visit the bathroom at the same time younger children are having diapers changed. Children are given positive reinforcement for going into the bathroom, sitting on the toilet, flushing and hand washing afterward. In time they begin to develop the ability to relax the sphincter muscle and release urine into the toilet. Finally they learn to recognize the need to urinate and hold it until seated on the toilet.
A key to a successful process is remaining matter of fact, focus on the positive and recognize it as a process that will take some time before it becomes routine and accomplished without thought or effort. Just like driving a ‘stick shift’ car.