For children, potty training is about training both the nervous system and the muscles around the bladder and intestines when it's time to learn how to stay dry. For you as a parent, it's about learning to read your child's signals and allowing your child to take as long as they need to learn.
Paediatric nurses now advise parents to start potty training when both the parents and the child are motivated, and ideally before the child has started to go. The Swedish National Manual of Child Health Care, developed by the county councils and regions, provides the following potty training guidelines as of 05 March 2015:
• Be aware of when it's time to go, e.g. after waking up and mealtimes.
• Letting your child sit on the potty when they show signs of wanting to wee or poo, and turn it into a nice time.
• Letting your child go without a nappy sometimes.
• Having a positive attitude and relaxed approach!
• Your paediatric nurse should talk to you about this at your baby's ten-month visit or earlier.
Potty training – read your child's signals
Every child is different, and this is part of the child's development. It's said that a three-month-old baby wees more than once an hour. A three-year-old child wees about once every two hours, although obviously this varies from one child to the next.
Here is some advice on how to teach your child to use the potty or the toilet
• Initially, you have the best chance of succeeding in using the potty right after your child has been eating or sleeping. Take off their nappy right after they've woken up, and sit and read a story while your child sits on the potty. NB: A bare bottom and a potty nearby are the first steps toward saying goodbye to nappies.
• Learn to read your child's signals. Some children take on a particular facial expression or move in a way that indicates they are weeing or pooing. For example, they may stand up in the middle of a game, or withdraw to wee and/or poo.
• Show your child the potty and let them try sitting on it. Give them a book to look through while they do so. There are also plenty of good children's books about going to the toilet. If nothing happens, it doesn't matter. Only when they've left something in the potty a few times do children make the connection between their body's signals and the potty. Be alert to and try to read your child's body language. Sometimes you need to hurry to the potty if you recognise the signals! Obviously, this comes before step 1.
• The next stage is to ask at regular intervals: “Do you need the potty?” It's important not to sound too determined. If the answer is yes, be ready to act quickly. It's one thing for children to notice they need to wee, but another thing entirely to hold it in until they've got their trousers down and are sitting on the potty. But they'll learn eventually. As time goes on, you will be able to rely more and more on your child telling you when it's time. And remember to “hurry slowly”, so your kid can keep up at their own rate without feeling as if they're being pushed.
Advice and tips for succeeding with potty training
• Relax and don't get too caught up in potty training. It'll work out eventually.
• There are lots of options for choosing a potty, including different shapes and sizes. Choose one that's sturdy and not too low. You may want to take your child along and help you choose
• Never scold your child. Repeated little accidents are completely natural. This process requires maturity and training, which takes time. Give them loads of praise when it goes well.
• Show them the way. Leave the door open when you go to the toilet so your child can see how to go to the toilet.
• Make sure it's easy to get to the potty, so your child can get it out quickly.
• Buy a potty for a favourite doll or teddy, and place it next to your child's potty. It makes everything more fun, and they can wee and poo together.
When potty training doesn't work
If potty training doesn't work, the best advice is to take it easy, put a nappy on and try again when your child wants to. Let your child stay in nappies for a while if they are refusing to use the toilet or potty. Don't make a big thing out of it. Potty training should always take place when the child is motivated. Saying goodbye to nappies and pressuring your child often has the opposite effect.
If potty training fails…
• Take a break and try again after a while. Don't put pressure on either yourself or your child.
• Children often don't want to poo in the potty initially. This may be because they are having trouble finding the right muscles to press when they are sitting down. Regardless of the reason, never shame your child; instead encourage them to sit on the potty or toilet. If you turn it into something natural, you'll succeed eventually.
• The odd accident now and then is inevitable. Avoid remarking on the wet trousers, but tell your child they'll soon be able to get to the toilet in time.
• Sometimes you can see a child is so desperate for the toilet that they can't sit still, and yet they still can't go to the toilet! But it's common for children not to realise or acknowledge that they need to wee until it's too late. They may be so caught up in a game that they choose to ignore it. If that's the case, you can suggest that maybe it's time to go to the toilet.
You may also be interested in our article Dry through the night.