There is no one way to go about toilet training, as with many parenting topics, what you do, what will work, what will be the best outcome for your child depends very much on your child and your own parenting views.
Here are a few ideas that might help you.
Stay Positive. This cannot be emphasised enough – toileting, or “toilet training” – should not be a source of shame, punishment, anger, or disgust from the parent. If you are getting frustrated and fed up take a breath (or maybe hold your breath) and think about the long term impacts of how your little person may feel about themselves and their bodies of something as basic as eliminating waste becomes a source of deep shame. Try to offer them reassurance that it’s okay that they’ve had an accident and that they’ll get there. If your child is over 4 and still having ongoing toileting issues and/or you have any concerns at any stage with toileting, or you are starting to feel overwhelmed and need some support or further information, it’s a good idea to speak to your family doctor or a children’s health nurse, for more information on normal child behaviour or to discuss the possibility of underlying reasons.
Start Young. With emphasis on the “toilet” and not the “training”, it can be helpful to get your baby or toddler familiar with toileting as early as you can. Having a potty, or a toddler toilet seat attachment for your regular toilet, and allow them to sit and think and become comfortable with the whole experience you may find that when it comes to “toilet training” later on, they are already familiar with sitting on and possibly using a toilet.
Readiness. You may want to wait until your child can take off their own pants, communicate that they need to go to the toilet, can hold on for periods of time, and have communicated an interest in or desire to use a toilet or go nappy-free.
If at first you don’t succeed – Give up – and try again later. Try not to view toilet training as a runaway freight train, that once you jump on it you must ride it out to completion. It’s okay to have a go, see what happens, maybe your child indicated they wanted to use the toilet, or started routinely taking their pants off, and then changed their mind. That’s okay. For some the path to toileting is not a straight line. Also if one approach doesn’t work for your child you might want to try something different.
Watch. You know that starry face they make while they focus on what’s going on at the other end? Maybe they scrunch their face up, or squint, or go a bit red in the cheeks, or they squat in a quiet corner for some privacy? Or they might grab themselves and dance and jiggle from foot to foot. Your little person may have a sign that says they are about to go – ask them if they’d like to sit on the toilet if you suspect they are thinking about it – even once they’ve been toilet trained for weeks, months, or years, sometimes children get busy and forget to go to the toilet.
Frequency. If your child can consciously release wee when they are sitting on the toilet, but aren’t holding between times, try asking them to sit on the potty or toilet as often as they would normally wee, rather than expecting them to hold it – this isn’t just a learnt skill but can be physically impossible for them know how to hold. So this may mean offering them the toilet every 15 minutes. They may not want to go every time, and don’t force them, but offer frequently.
Tools. There are some things that might help you with your child’s toileting journey. You may want a potty, or a toddler toilet seat insert, a step up for the toilet, a ping-pong ball in the toilet for little boys to take aim at, you may want to create positive association with special toileting toy, book, song, story to try to keep your child on the toilet for a few minutes.
Rewards chart. A rewards chart may give that little bit of incentive for a child who has shown they can hold between toileting, can use a toilet, can take off their own pants and initiates going to the toilet occasionally, but perhaps doesn’t really mind wetting and soiling themselves and possibly just needs a reason to want to do it. The thing to be wary of with a rewards chart is – while it’s a positive reinforcement there is still the negative of being deprived of a treat, sticker, toy or praise if they have an accident and also that there’s no guarantee that in a couple of days, weeks, or months when they are toileting consistently and you stop the reward chart that they won’t then revert back to having frequent accidents. However – for some children reward charts, or even just a sticker for each time they’ve sat on a toilet, may be very useful – just be mindful.
Night Nappies. Night time is almost a totally different ball game, as they aren’t consciously wetting at night, it may be better to wait until they are consistently having dry nappies overnight. OR if they’ve asked for no nappies at night to allow them and see what happens. Though you may want to put a mattress protector on. A good trick for night time toilet training is putting a waterproof mattress cover on, followed by a sheet, and blankets, followed by another waterproof cover and another set of sheets and blankets, so if they do have an accident in the night you can change them, strip off the first layer and they can go straight back into a dry bed without you having to make up a new bed so everyone can get back to sleep sooner and without too much fuss. Also remember to leave a light or lamp on so they can find their way to the toilet in the night.
Accidents and regression. Some toddlers or children may toilet train easily and then have a few days or weeks where they start having frequent accidents, try not to despair as this may pass, it may be a change has triggered the regression – moving, changing rooms at kindy, a new baby, or some other change. It may be seemingly for no reason. Still try to stay positive and if you are concerned see a health professional. Also keep in mind that accidents still happened right up to primary school age, if it’s happening occasionally talk to your child about going before they are busting.