For a long time now, my mother and I have spent numerous heated moments arguing about potty-training. She is frankly appalled that my 2.5 year-old still poos in his nappy. She believes that he is intelligent enough to sit on a toilet to poo, and should be encouraged to do so at every opportunity, with a particular emphasis on post-meal times.
Mum also believes that as soon as a baby gains back-control, they should be placed on a potty to eliminate after each meal. Indeed, I have intermittently taken on my mum’s advice and attempted this many times with my eldest when he was as young as 5 months old. Unsurprisingly, it sometimes worked. Yes, unsurprisingly; if you dangle a baby over the potty, he will inevitably and eventually poo and/or wee into it.
Fast-forward many months, and my then baby is now a busy and active 29-month-old toddler with a younger brother. He still wears nappies. Mr C and I have been discussing the toilet with him for an age, as well as demonstrating the art of eliminating on a toilet (in our previous home, the bathroom door was never shut). We’ve placed him on the potty, on the toilet (with toddler seat in place) post meals, when he’s about to poo, when he’s consented to sitting on there, when he hasn’t consented to sitting on there… You name it, we’ve tried it. He has had many successes, producing a lovely little turd into the loo. But for every success, there have been umpteen non-successes.
I say ‘success’, but were they really successes? I’m unsure whether borderline forcing a young child to sit on a toilet after he’s eaten something and managing to catch a poo is a success. We’ve actually gone from him in blissful ignorance as a 5-month being dangled over a potty to a very aware 2-year old who has turned into a tearful, screaming, terrified little boy at the mere prospect of being placed on the toilet. We’ve always displayed much kindness, encouragement and support to him whenever we have facilitated him using the loo.
The final time I encouraged him to use the loo was a little while back. He had disappeared into the corner of the room and had that look on his face. I knew he wanted to go. So I said to him that we will go upstairs and go to the loo in the loo. He followed me up the stairs, but once his nappy was off and he was sitting on the toilet, he was taken over by fear and anxiety. He sat there saying ‘no, no, no’ quietly to himself, but then this escalated to screaming. I suggested he try the potty instead, which he agreed to do. But once he was on the potty, the same terror took over. Every time he was about to poo, he held onto it with all his might, tears streaming down his face as he did so. And actually, I could see that he was holding his urine as well. He did not want to eliminate anything into that potty.
Since that evening, I vowed that I would not attempt to sit him on the toilet until he told me that he wanted to do so. I was so alarmed by his emotional response, and by the fact that he was not only holding his poo, but his urine as well. Coming from a medical background, I am all too aware of the problems that holding can cause, and really did not want to contribute to this in my son.
Despite this, mum still stands by her method of potty-training, and has suggested that I need to get him used to the idea of sitting on the toilet. She is concerned that he is going to join a large number of children who begin school sans continence. She has placed him on the loo on many occasions, stayed with him, left him alone with a book etc. Frequently, he’ll do a poo, but then half an hour later he does the rest of it once his nappy is back on. This doesn’t sound effective to me and is probably also a symptom of holding.
Mum argues that my brother and I were potty-trained from the age of 6 months, and she had no problems with our toilet habits. Incidentally, I remember pooing myself when I was very young, whilst playing under the dining table. I remember being rather uncomfortable, but not knowing exactly what needed to happen to relieve the discomfort. I know that it was definitely before I was six-years-old, but really I have no idea how old I was. So maybe potty-training didn’t go that smoothly after all?
With all of these anecdotes in mind, I am still none the wiser about what is the right and wrong approach. The media will have you believe that we (modern parents) are lazy. (Apologies for the Daily Mail link). We don’t take the time to teach our kids life skills and we leave everything up to schools. Conversely, there is much literature out there that suggests that children will usually potty-train themselves eventually with much encouragement and good parental influence.
One article that stood out for me was this one by Dr Steve Hodges, a paediatric urologist. If you’re about to embark on potty-training, or are in the midst, please read it. He makes some excellent points, which in my view dispel some of the nonsense rationale to potty-train early. He explains why it is pointless for western cultures to compare themselves to the third-world and some of the health consequences of potty training too early.
And I guess that last paragraph could sum up my conclusion on potty-training. Although there is no part of me that ever intends on leaving it up to school to potty-train my children, I do believe that my eldest will be capable of deciding when he is ready to eliminate in the toilet. I have no way of predicting if this will be the case, or if indeed I’m approaching this in the correct manner. But I do believe that this has got to be a better option than having my 2-year-old screaming in terror whilst being made to poo and consequently not thoroughly opening his bowels in the process.
As always, I would be absolutely delighted to hear your thoughts on this.
Till next time.