You know your child needs to go to the toilet; you watch them hopping from foot to foot, squeezing their legs together and making strange squirming faces. You ask them if they need to go? “NO!” they emphatically reply! Then two minutes later, a puddle appears on floor. Or, they run and mid dash, they have an accident. Why does this happen? and what can you do to stop it?
Firstly, I’d like you to ask yourself a question. Do you ever push yourself and wait for longer than you should before you go to the toilet? Perhaps you’re engrossed in a TV show, or want to get to the end of the chapter in the book you’re reading. Perhaps you’re waiting to get through a meeting, or to finish a conversation you’re enjoying. Have you ever waited a bit too long? Perhaps you had a little leak, or perhaps you gave yourself stomach cramps from holding on for too long?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of those points, I’d like you to imagine what life is like for a toddler just starting out with potty training. The world is a fascinating and fun place for young children. Going to the toilet is something that takes them away from this engagement with the world and their favourite activities. It’s understandable they leave it until the very last minute. Actually, the accidents that happen here are really important, because – in time – they teach the child how long they can leave it for before they go. The difference between ourselves as adults and young children, is that we’ve learned what our “point of no return is” and we’re pretty reliable at predicting it. LIke you, I know when I can read one more page, or watch to the advert break and NOT wet myself, because of all the practice I had when I was a kid. This is something that will absolutely come in time. Until then, use those accidents as a learning opportunity “Oh no, you were so engrossed in your puzzle, could you feel your body telling you that your wee was urgent?” “next time, do you think you could recognise that feeling and know that you can’t wait anymore?”
What should you do? Actually I’m going to answer this with what you should NOT do! and that’s over-prompt! Young children get very frustrated with over-prompting, because they want (or should I say need!) more control over the process. On the one hand you’re encouraging them to listen to their body’s cues and go when they need to go and on the other you’re encouraging them to go before they feel they’re ready. Now – you and I know that they need to head to the potty before the last minute dash, but the child doesn’t yet. They currently thinks they’re going at the right time – when they REALLY feel they need to go. In time, they will learn that actually they need to go a little sooner than waiting for that last minute. They will soon learn the subtleties of listening for that gently ringing bell, rather than waiting for the blaring siren. That is something they really do need to learn for themselves though. As the weeks and months pass you’ll find children will start to take themselves off a little (and I mean a little!) sooner each time. As I’ve mentioned, over-prompting can really backfire though, so try to bite your tongue if you can and show your children a little more trust and faith.
For more on potty training – including signs of readiness, how to prepare practically and emotionally, common hiccups along with way and how to copy with them, check out my gentle potty training book in the UK HERE, Australia and New Zealand HERE, the USA HERE, Canada HERE and the rest of the world HERE.