Cultural norms of toilet training vary significantly. In Australia it is common to commence toilet training in a child’s second or third year. In some Asian nations, toilet training is routinely achieved in the first 12 months.
The focus of this information sheet is starting early toilet training i.e. by 12 months. For those families who regard this as unrealistic, please stop reading at this point.
The underlying assumption of early training is that bladder and bowel function are trainable. We all know this to be true but as an Australian culture it is our normal expectation to commence this at a later age. Interestingly it is easier when commenced early, as a rebellious toddler is more challenging to toilet train than an easy going six-month old who can’t march away in protest. In addition of course, there are the added environmental benefits of fewer nappies and generally improved hygiene.
So how can we commence toilet training at what seems an impossibly early age?
1. Commence as soon as the child can sit.
This can be something around six months of age for many children. It does feel early to start with, but this is the easiest time to start toilet training, and if the child has just started sitting upright, they will often quite enjoy sitting on their little throne anyway.
2. It is helpful if the child is eating good volumes of solid food.
My personal favourite is Weet-Bix at breakfast after four months of age. There are significant advantages in Weet-Bix but in the context of toilet training the large volume of fibre plays a positive role in producing a regular, soft and easily passed bowel action.
The bulk of a solid meal will also stimulate the bowels to contract relatively regularly after some meal times. This brings a degree of predictability to the toilet routine, and makes it easier to judge when to sit your child on the potty.
3. Line the bottom of your potty with toilet paper and have it set up ready to go.
You never know when opportunity might strike! And having the potty lined with toilet paper makes it much easier to clean by just tipping the contents straight into your own toilet.
4. Place your child on the potty whenever they start straining, or after solid meals.
If you are lucky then your baby might poo at regular times, and so you can just start placing them on the potty at around that time e.g, if your child routinely poos first thing after breakfast, then place them on the potty immediately after breakfast.
If however there isn’t much predictability to start with, place them on the potty immediately after eating each solid meal. Their bowels are more likely to contract at this time in response to a full tummy.
Be prepared when starting to also need to sometimes place your child on the potty as soon as they start straining at any time. Most parents recognise the halted expression of their child quietly pooing in their nappy, so when you see that start, quickly place them on the potty instead. This is initially a mad rush, and there may often be some frantic ‘half poos’ done on the potty, but the important thing is that an association between the potty and passing stool starts to be made.
5. Keep them on the potty for around 3 – 5 minutes.
If your child poos immediately, then reward them with praise immediately. But if they do not bring the magic straight away, leave them there for 3 – 5 minutes. You could read a brief storybook to them, or simply interact with them warmly. This makes sitting on the toilet a pleasant rather than upsetting experience.
It is similarly important to not keep them there too long, in order to prevent the whole thing becoming frustrating for parent and child.
6. Make a sound when the baby wees or poos.
While this isn’t essential, many parents from Asian cultures will make a little noise once the child is on the potty, (my son and his partner use a ‘Sssssss’ noise). It does not matter what noise you make, as long as it’s something that isn’t used in normal conversation or play. The point of it is to build a psychological association or ‘Pavlovian Response’ to sitting on the potty, the sound, and doing a poo. In the months to come, your child will often automatically strain to poo if they are on the potty and hear that sound. This makes things really easy, especially if you are out in a shopping centre etc., with limited time.
In the case of our grandson, he is now placed on the potty shortly after breakfast, his parents will make his “toilet noise” and he routinely begins to push down. It has taken two or three months but the large majority of his bowel actions now occur on the potty.
7. Once you start toilet training, make every effort to be consistent.
Just like with sleep training, consistency is key. It is quite disruptive to the child’s learning if you start the toilet training for a week or two or three and then stop for some weeks and then start again. This leads to a significant delay in making progress.
So if your family would like to have your child toilet trained early, I commend the above concept. I have seen it work in my own children, our new grandson and in families whom I care for with an Asian background when the practice is more commonplace.
Best wishes and sleep well
Dr Brian Symon