Living in the age that we do now should make parenting easier than for our ancestors, right? There are so many modern conveniences, and so many fabulous and innovative solutions available to us. But are they helping or hindering when it comes to potty learning?
Our ancestors parented as animals still do – valuing instinct, and responding to infants’ needs in line with their natural development. Because, unlike animals, human infants are pretty helpless at first. They cannot feed themselves, protect themselves from the elements or move away from predators. In terms of potty learning, our ancestors helped their infants to wee and poo in the place assigned for weeing and pooing – often digging a hole in the ground – until they were mobile and able to do this independently – around 9-12 months of age.
As we became “civilised” enough to create dwellings, potty learning didn’t change much. We had designated outdoor spaces for our toilets, then introduced a convenient chamber pot to use inside and empty out. The invention of the indoor flushing toilet didn’t even change potty learning – infants were simply held over the chamber pot until they were capable of using one unaided – around 12 months of age.
Disposable nappies were invented in line with our busy, modern lives. We need to work to be able to afford to stay in our modern dwellings and it feels unthinkable to give children the freedom to learn to wee or poo the way our ancestors did. We worked hard for our carpets and our mattresses and our sofas and our clothing. We must protect them at all costs from wee and poo!
When conveniences become inconvenient
The downside of course to this is that disposable nappies do make potty learning harder.
They protect our precious clothes and soft furnishings from wee and poo but they also wick away moisture instantly, dulling children’s awareness of what their body is doing. As a result, modern children learn all manner of amazing things, far more than our ancestors could ever have dreamed of – but they do not learn what it feels like to need to wee and poo and what they must do when they feel those feelings – get to the place we go potty.
By using disposable nappies we deny our children this opportunity to learn until we eventually decide to intervene and finally let go of nappies. Year after year this is happening later and later with potty skills not being introduced until children are as old as 3 or 4 and many parents come to me for consultations because they now have school-aged children who are refusing to engage with potty training.
What is the problem with delaying learning potty skills?
One consequence of our busy modern lives is that there are now 40 skills involved in becoming toilet independent and we now expect children to suddenly pay attention and learn them all at once, whilst simultaneously unlearning what we unwittingly taught them – that it’s normal to ignore their body completely and wear a mobile toilet.
This lack of having the opportunity to practice potty learning from birth, gently and in line with their natural development makes space for children to experience fear, confusion and frustration with potty training and the experience of trying to teach it in such a challenging way can be upsetting for parents and children alike.
We now also have the benefit of multiple research studies that demonstrate the impact of delayed potty learning on bladder and bowel health and various issues with continence.
I’m not suggesting that parents stop using nappies. We don’t have the luxury of returning to a simpler, more instinctive, and natural way of life. But I am definitely suggesting that being aware from an early stage that the way modern parents approach potty learning is so much harder than it needs to be, and there IS another way.
What can modern parents do to make potty learning easier?
– Introduce the potty as early as possible, even if it is just some of the time.
Making using the potty part of the daily routine will give your child opportunities to learn and to practice those 40 skills in an unhurried, gentle way.
In my book The Baby Pottying Guide I explain everything from how to hold a baby over a potty/toilet to how to identify their potty signals/timing
– Use nappy cloths to help them to understand their body signals
By simply inserting a cloth into your disposable nappy, you can give your child the opportunity to connect to what their body is doing. Being aware that they have weed is the first step to being aware of when they will need to wee. Having this awareness and the opportunity to practise using the potty is everything they need to succeed.
Learn more about nappy cloths, including how to make or buy your own.