"Toilet Training vs. Independent Toileting"

Julie Jenkins Sathe

Just a few decades ago most children were “toilet trained” because they were home all day with one parent. The parent and child had a meshed schedule during which the parent knew the child’s expressions, sounds, patterns and habits. Parents, during the 1950s and 1960s relied on “toilet training” practices. But, toilet training was merely the parent being trained to the child’s level of ability and responding either by sending them to the bathroom or in my personal case, sitting me on a potty chair for as long as it took for me to go potty (during the Captain Kangaroo hour). Okay, too much information. Sorry.

Independent toileting skills are acquired by the child and practiced by the child until mastered….yep, by the child. Let’s face it, allowing children to develop this skill at their own pace is what is needed for their personal development. All related muscles that are required to “let go” and “hold on” to urine and BMs do not always develop simultaneously. This seems to surprise many parents, as it did me with my first child. Maturity and judgment are required for a child to determine how long it will take to make it to the bathroom and even choosing to go to the bathroom instead of continuing at whatever wonderful activity they would likely rather be doing. Let’s get real….that is judgment!

In the 1980s we saw the market swell with Pull-Up style diapers as an alternative to diapers. Pull-Ups style diapers were created and marketed by their makers to grow (get bigger and cash-in!) on larger and older children without making the child (and parent) feel like they were still being swaddled.

As a professional, I have many issues with this style of a diaper. First and foremost, because they still are made to remove wetness away from the child’s body, they do not allow the child’s senses to teach them. When children are wearing cloth (like underwear) and it gets wet, they will let their discomfort guide the. That is logical consequences. Surprising to first time buyers, the Pull-Up style diaper is actually harder for the child to manipulate with their developing fine motor skills. In my profession, I see more adults helping children with Pull-Ups than they would with either underwear or a traditional diaper.

It’s imperative that parents help children choose clothing for their Independent Toileting skills that are easy operate. This is dressing for success! Avoid: overalls, zippers or snaps at the crotch. Instead, select: skirts, elastic waist band shorts or pants. And most of all expect that they will need several clothing changes left at preschool or easily available to the child. Encourage the use of regular underwear or training underpants so that children can feel the wet or stickiness on their body. These are the signs that help them learn.

Toileting independently is a 24 hour success….or it just isn’t a success at all.  Of course accidents will almost always happen as a child’s level of judgment is developing. But, I implore parents to avoid taking half-measures. Children should not be in underpants while awake, and then changed into a diaper for naptime or bedtime. This sends mixed messages to children and encourages them to turn off their senses while sleeping. The child needs to learn wake up and go to the bathroom during nap as well as at night time at home...or at Grandma’s house. The biggest complain I hear is that parents don’t want to be inconvenienced or are worried that their child will have an accident.

If a child is developmentally ready; can get their clothes off and hold and release their urine or bowel movements…they are physically ready. The emotionally readiness sometimes is behind, but we will save that conversation. I encourage parents to allow their child to choose between underpants or no underpants at bedtime. Leave a towel on the bedside and a light on in the nearest bathroom. Children who are two to three years old can throw a towel over a wet spot, if they leave one. Chances are, they won’t.

I encourage children to use the toilet when they show interest and are developmentally ready. But, a parent’s commitment at home to toileting their child is crucial. Like so many things in life, this is just another habit to break. It will take 3 days, max!!

Children should be actively involved in changing wet/soiled clothes, wiping their own bodies and cleaning any area where they have had an accident. This is teaching logical consequences. Parents who continue to do these personal acts for their child are limiting the development of important personal skills.

Toilet training? No. Independent toileting is the real deal!

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