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ABC of Toilet Training

Most parents eagerly anticipate toilet training as a milestone in their child's development -- if for no other reason than that it means an end to changing nappies. But few mums and dads are prepared for how long it can take. Yes, some children get it within a few days. But many more take several months. You and your child have a better chance of success if you know the basics of training and can make the process clear to your child.

A -- Assess your child's readiness

Most people begin training when their child is about two, but some kids may not be ready until well into their fourth year. Watch for the right signs, such as imitating others' bathroom habits, and don't pressure your child to start before he's ready. It's worth running through a basic checklist to see if he is ready.

B -- Buy the right equipment

First and foremost, this means investing in a child-sized potty or a special seat to attach to your regular toilet. Whichever you choose, make sure your child can stabilise himself with his feet so he can push when he's having a bowel movement. You may also want to pick up an explanatory picture book or video for your child to help him get interested in training.

C -- Create a routine

Sit your child fully clothed on the potty seat once a day -- after breakfast, before his bath, or whenever else he's likely to have a bowel movement. This allows him to get used to the potty and accept it as part of his routine. If he doesn't want to sit on it, that's okay. Never restrain him or physically force him to sit there. And especially don't push the issue if he seems scared.
In both cases, it's better to put the potty away, or at least aside, for a few weeks or a month and then try again. If he's willing to sit there, fine. But at this stage, don't even try to explain why he should use it; you just want him to get used to the thing. Make sure it's always in a convenient place -- since it's portable, your child's potty can be used in the garden or the playroom.

D -- Ditch the nappy

Sit your child on the potty seat without a nappy. Again, let him get used to what it feels like to sit there this way. At this point you can start explaining that this is what Mummy and Daddy (and any older siblings) do every day. That is, undressing before you sit down to go to the bathroom is the grownup thing to do.
If he gets the idea and produces something, that's fine. But don't push him to perform. Again, wait until he's ready and demonstrates a clear interest in using the toilet on his own.

E -- Explain the process

It may help to show your child where his bowel movements go. The next time he goes in his nappy, take him to his potty, sit him down, and empty the nappy beneath him into the bowl. This will help him make the connection between sitting and producing. After you've emptied his potty into the big toilet, let him flush it if he wants to (but don't make him do it if he's scared) so he can see where it goes. Teach him to dress himself and wash his hands when he's done.

F -- Foster independence

Encourage your child to use his potty whenever he feels the urge to go. But make sure he knows that he can tell you, too, and that you'll take him to the bathroom whenever he wants you to. If you can, let him run around sometimes without a nappy (or any clothing below the waist), with the potty nearby. Tell him he can use it whenever he wants to and remind him occasionally that it's there if he needs it.

G -- Grab some training pants

You may like to try using training pants. Some children like them and they help, others just think of them as a slightly different type of nappy and they defeat the object of the exercise. Some children are encouraged by having real underwear instead.

H -- Handle setbacks gracefully

Virtually every child will have several accidents before being completely trained during the day and at night. Don't get angry or punish your child; after all, it's only recently that his muscles have developed sufficiently to allow him to hold his bladder and rectum closed at all. Mastering the process will take time. When he has an accident, calmly clean it up and suggest that next time he try using his potty instead.

I -- Introduce night training

Even when your child is consistently clean and dry all day, it may take him several more months or years to master night training, so don't throw away his nappies just yet. At this age, his body is still too immature to reliably wake him up in the middle of the night just to go to the bathroom. You can help cut down on wet nights by not letting him drink too much before bedtime and telling him that if he does wake up in the middle of the night he can call to you to help him get to the toilet. You can also try leaving his potty near the bed in case he wants to use it.

J -- Jump for joy -- you're done!

Believe it or not, when your child is ready to learn this new grown-up skill, he will. And if you wait until he's really ready to start, the process shouldn't be too painful for either of you. He will eventually be trained, and you won't have to think about it again -- at least, not until the next baby...


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