Going potty: Top tips to successfully potty train your toddler
The golden rule for successful potty training is that it's all about the timing, writes Andrea Mara
There are many experts and many parents suggesting many, many different methods for potty training. The advice can be confusing and conflicting - pull-ups or straight to pants, staying home or going out, offering rewards or steering clear, giving high praise or staying low key.
But the one steadfast rule in the whole process is timing. Potty training will not work if your child is not ready. On that, every expert agrees.
It sounds simple, doesn't it? Yet so many of us get that part wrong.
With my first child, I spotted the signs, I took some deep breaths, bought a pack of big-girl pants, and we went for it. It all progressed seamlessly, and I followed the same process with my second.
So with my third, it should have been, well, child's play really. But no. I made the mistake lots of parents make - I gave into peer pressure. And it wasn't even pressure - it was an off-the-cuff question about when I might train him. I should have ignored it, but instead, I started the very next day. And it was a complete disaster, because he wasn't ready at all.
Much as it is logical, waiting for the right time is often easier said than done. A comment from a family member, a suggestion from a pre-school teacher, a new baby on the way, or nappy-apathy, can send any parent running for the potty and the pants.
If you're potty training for any of those reasons, it's a good idea to step back and think it through. Certainly, pressure from others, deliberate or unintentional, isn't a good reason to start toilet training. Likewise, stories of babies who were trained at a very young age should be ignored. All children are different, and there's no one correct age for potty training.
Starting because there's a new baby on the way is another common decision-making factor. Many parents want to avoid having "two in nappies". But on the flip side, searching for public bathrooms and cleaning up accidents while out and about with a toddler and a newborn might not be ideal either.
Parenting coach Aoife Lee agrees. "Without a doubt, timing is key. Regardless of whether your child is two or three-and-a-half, they are all individuals and respond differently when it comes to potty training. The less pressure we put ourselves under, the more manageable the experience for both parent and child."
So what exactly are the signs that your child is ready for potty training?
"The typical signs of a potty-ready child are that they can communicate with you, and use regular language to express their interest in the toilet - like telling you when feeling the sensation to go," says Lee, founder of parentsupport.ie. "When a child can understand and follow simple instructions, when he is content taking off his own clothes, when he shows an interest in siblings going to the toilet, or when his nappy is relatively dry since the last nappy change - these are all signs."
In my own case, none of these signs was in place, but we ploughed ahead anyway. And the next mistake we made was continuing with potty training even when it was very clear that we had jumped the gun.
Lee has first-hand experience of this. "Don't feel defeated if you have started and believe that they are genuinely not ready," she stresses. "We had three attempts with my youngest girl - we got there in the end!"
At the time, I didn't stop and turn back, but I also didn't put any pressure on my son - I knew I'd made a mistake, so took a very relaxed approach.
And our story had a happy ending. Four months after the initial failed attempt, my little boy stood up one afternoon and announced that he needed to go to the toilet. And off he went. He was finally physiologically ready, and after that, it was relatively plain sailing.
So, just wait for the right time, and a process that took me four months will take you four days. It really is all about the timing.
Tips for successful potty training
Have a potty in the bathroom prior to starting, so when they are getting ready for bed, they can have a try.
Allow yourself a few activity-free days so you can dedicate your time without pressure.
Buy some "big boy pants" and start chatting about them.
Give praise, and be specific. For example: "You're a great boy for sitting on the potty and doing your wee," rather than just "You're a great boy."
Be prepared for accidents - it's part of the process.
Little boys may take their time with standing versus sitting - don't worry, they will do this eventually.
Children may avoid using the toilet at the beginning (opting for potty instead), but this will come when they are ready.
Start with short journeys as you venture out of the house, and to avoid confusion, don't use pull-ups when you do go out.
Frozen ice-cubes with food colouring can be great fun when the boys start learning how to aim into the toilet!