Elizabeth Pantley’s Potty Training Tips, part 3, dribbles, accidents and how long should it all take?!
Having a problem potty-training your child? Expert Elizabeth Pantley answers more common questions
Q:“My four year old son came out of nappies in June last year and was brilliant – dry, dry, dry - YIPPEE. A couple of months later he started to 'dribble'. This has now been going on for about six months. He ignores the signs of needing a wee and even sometimes ignores me asking him to go or even denies he needs a wee and then a few minutes later, he will be wet. I've had days where I've had to change his pants and trousers seven times! Please, has anyone got any advice - we are finding it incredibly draining and tiring and frustrating.”
"First, rule out any medical reasons for this. It’s rare, but possible. Likely your son just isn’t willing to stop his play to use the toilet and has no problem with you changing his trousers. Get him involved and make him responsible. Show him where the clean clothes are kept and where the dirty ones are to be put. When he has an accident direct him gently to go take care of his problem. Don’t let him get on with playing until he has properly changed and put his wet clothing where they belong. When he tires of this process he’ll likely make it to the toilet on time! To make success even quicker be sure to give him some praise and encouragement when he uses the toilet on time."
Q: “Our three-year-old has been potty/toilet training for four months now and he still has accidents. Any ideas would be very helpful. We really are getting very worried about this.”
"It is perfectly normal for a newly trained child to have one or more accidents every single day. Even children who have been trained for six months or more may have an accident once a week. The best solution is to be prepared for these with proper cleaning materials, easy access to a change of clothes, and a relaxed attitude.
One approach that can help reduce the amount of accidents is for you to become familiar with your child’s signals of impending need and take your child to the potty when you suspect he needs to go. Do not ask if he has to go, since he’ll likely say no. Instead, invite him to follow you, “Let’s go to the potty,” or offer a choice, “Do you want to use your potty or the big toilet?” or simply take him by the hand and lead him to the bathroom, “Come with me, kiddo.”
There’s one last thing for you to consider. Do you give your child more attention (good or bad) when he has an accident than when he has success? Turn the tables. Clean up accidents quickly and without emotion; and at the same time provide lots of praise, hugs and attention for every productive potty visit.
Q: “Our daughter spends half her time at my house and half her time at her father’s. How should we approach toilet training?”
"The more consistent things are in both places, the easier this will be for your little one. If possible, it’s great if you could both read the same book or article about toilet training. Decide on an approach and jot down the important points.
Buy two identical potty chairs and keep them in the same place in both homes, such as beside the adult toilet. Purchase duplicate sets of training pants or underwear to be kept at both homes. If you are going to use a chart or potty book, have two of the same, and if you reward with prizes, stickers or treats do so at both places.
Of course, there are times when two parents do not communicate or agree on issues such as this. In that case be certain that the experience is pleasant and consistent in your home and be patient. Children are remarkably resilient and your child will likely master toilet training even if both situations aren’t perfectly aligned.
Q: “We have been toilet training and our toddler is just now getting it. Wouldn’t you know it; we have to go out of town for a few days for a family wedding. We’ll be driving for six hours and spending a few nights at a relative’s home. I’m so afraid our little one will forget everything!”
"Toilet training or no toilet training, life must go on! Families are busy. You could never take a whole year off life until your child was a master at independent toileting. First and foremost, take the focus off of the whole potty training issue and enjoy the occasion. Life is far too short not to take joy when it’s offered to us, and no matter what your child be eventually be fully trained and you’ll be facing the next adventure in parenting.
There are a few tips that can help you on your travels:
• Children need to use the toilet every two hours or so. Plan plenty of stops on your drive for using the bathroom and stretching those little legs.
• If your child uses a potty chair bring it along with you. It can be used in the car, on the side of the road, at an unfamiliar rest stop, and at your relative’s home.
• Keep several complete changes of clothing with you in the car in case of accidents.
• Cover his car seat with a specially made plastic car seat cover or any protective fabric.
• Maintain as much of your child’s normal potty routine as possible. When he goes, where he goes, and how he goes (do you read, sing, talk?).
• Make sure that your child has plenty of fluids and eats a normal amount of fibrous foods (fruit, vegetables, whole grains) to prevent constipation.
• Practice using new bathrooms before you go – at a neighbours, friends, restaurant or store.
• If your child says he has to use the potty, take him immediately. Politely excuse yourself and your child and whisk him away. Making him wait when he announces the need can either cause an accident or performance anxiety that could stay with him long after your trip.
• Accompany your child to every bathroom visit, if he wants you with him.
Q: “Our daughter was doing perfectly and suddenly has been having accidents again. We thought we were finished with toilet training, but now we are back at it! Help!”
"About 80 percent of parents report having to deal with toilet training setbacks, which means you are in very good company! There are about a million reasons that children who are having great success with toilet training suddenly go totally backwards. Here are a few of the more common reasons for setbacks:
• Family or home disruption: such as moving, a new baby, divorce, marriage, holidays or houseguests.
• Boredom with the toilet training routine.
• Illness or injury of the child or parent that interferes with the usual daily routine for days or weeks.
• Drastic change in routine; such as starting nursery, a sibling going off to school, an at-home parent going off to work.
• The child has mastered toiled training, but then has a number of accidents that erode confidence. Perhaps a particularly embarrassing public episode occurs, or the unthinking comments of a family member or stranger made your child feel inadequate. She may have decided it would be safer if she went back to nappies.
• Your child may have been successful at toilet training because you were very successful at reminding him to go at the right times. After a period of success you stopped reminding him, and so accidents begin to happen.
Setbacks are always temporary; otherwise we’d see six-year-olds wearing nappies! So when a setback occurs with your child, simply set yourself back, right along with your child and repeat the actions that were successful for you in the past.
For example, if her sticker poster was a hit, make a new one. If she was doing perfectly on her potty chair, but a setback occurred soon after the switch to the big toilet, go back to using the little potty. If she responded to two-hour potty reminders begin setting a timer to remind her to visit the bathroom.
Tuck your own injured pride away, since this has nothing to do with your job as a teacher nor does it mean your child has failed Potty Training 101. It just means your child is normal. Be patient, be supportive and soon your little one will be back to potty success.
Find out more
Renowned parenting expert Elizabeth Pantley is the author of a number of books including The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night, The No Cry Potty Training Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Child to Say Good-bye to Nappies and The No-Cry Discipline Solution: Gentle Ways to Encourage Good Behaviour Without Whining, Tantrums and Tears.
Toilet Star - help your your child learn to use the toilet or potty like a grown up in this innovative way. Includes charts, tips and fun!
Once Upon a Potty by Alona Frankel. There’s a boy and a girl version of this book. Cute illustrations and text which focuses on the rewards of potty training.
I Want My Potty by Tony Ross. Terrific because it doesn’t patronise, just points out that sitting in a pooey nappy is, well, ‘yuuech’
Zoe’s Potty by Dori Butler. Includes a reward chart, stickers and a booklet!
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