Why your potty training method isn’t working

You will have heard of the 3-day method, the naked method, the child-led method etc. Although many of these approaches have their merits, there is one essential thing missing from nearly every single one: clinical evidence. You wouldn’t give medicine to your child that wasn’t tested properly or shown to be effective, so why would you rely on anything less than the best when it comes to the biggest milestone of childhood after walking?

The 3 day method

Potty training involves mastering more than 40 skills as documented in the research literature. Is it reasonable to expect your child to learn all these in a matter of days? The main reason the 3 day method often fails to work for children is that it puts a huge pressure on them in a short space of time and can cause resistance and potty refusal.

The naked method

The idea of this is to reduce the barriers to getting wee and poo in the potty. It’s a popular method and usually involves a short period of intensive learning similar to the three day method. Some children really struggle with the instant transition from full time nappies to being naked, and you get a lot of accidents with this method as the child learns.

The child-orientated method

This is the one where you look for ‘signs of readiness’ and basically wait for your child to initiate potty training. If there is any resistance to the process, the advice is to wait and try again later. This is by far the most popular approach in western societies but given that readiness is a myth, it often results in later potty training which can be bad for bowel and bladder health (as well as the financial and environmental impact of using nappies for longer).

the problem

All these three methods put the emphasis on the child to engage, co-operate and ‘get with the programme’. Although they do this in different ways, they all miss the point – that the learning process has to be two-way. A partnership between the parent/caregiver and child. These methods all put pressure on the child and expect the child to make the switch from nappies to no nappies without any prior experience or practice – a very steep learning curve, changing what has been their whole way of life up until this point.

What the research suggests

  • Stop using nappies earlier – ideally between 18-24 months and no later than 30 months if possible.
  • Use the potty regularly, from infancy, if possible, to develop good bowel and bladder health. Do this before your child stops using nappies.
  • Teach your child toileting skills such as using the potty, flushing poo away, self-care and hygiene skills before you stop using nappies,  to give them plenty of time to understand what will be expected and practise these skills,
  • Teach your child to recognise their body signals before you stop using nappies. This is key as the basis for successful potty training is good body awareness.
  • Help your child learn skills gradually, as you go along, so that they are prepared to make the transition to no nappies when the time comes. This gives them a gentle journey towards independence and reduces the pressure for them to learn over 40 skills in a matter of days.
  • The idea of readiness is not based on good research evidence, is confusing for parents and often results in delayed potty training which can increase the risk of bowel and bladder disorders in childhood.

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