All by Themselves. Teaching Potty Independence

By Teri Brown

Toilet training your child consists of more than just teaching your child how to use the toilet or potty. There is a whole host of 'potty' etiquette that your child also needs to learn. Part of toilet training your child includes helping them get more independence by learning how to wipe themselves, wash their own hands and flush the toilet.

Catherine, is working with her son to teach him independence skills. "We still have some issues with this, but it hasn't been too bad," says Catherine.

"We've talked to our son about germs and why washing your hands is important. Our problem now is that he takes about a half hour to wash his hands every time he goes to the bathroom. He likes singing to himself in the mirror!"

Take it Slow

Dr. Marcy Axness, an early development specialist, says it's very important that we realise this sort of independence develops slowly and we shouldn't rush it.

"As with all development, it's a gradual process," she says. "The rule of thumb with all goals toward independence is this: If you fulfil a child's appropriate needs for dependence, then true independence will blossom as a result. It's when we attempt to promote premature independence in children - that our attempts tend to backfire and problems arise."

One Step at a Time

Dr. Karen Carter, a developmental paediatrician, agrees that independence with using the potty is a slow process.

"Independence is hard in most skills," says Dr. Carter. "Once the child can undress, use the toilet and dress, start to fade out the hints from Mum and Dad. I suggest making sure the child can do the whole process, including undressing, toileting, redressing, flushing and washing hands. Then, begin to leave the bathroom and decrease the amount of supervision."

For instance, Dad supervises everything until drying the hands. Then he leaves the bathroom at the beginning of the drying hands part. The child finishes that last step independently. When your child is able to successfully do this step, leave the bathroom at the rubbing hands together step. When he's successful at that, leave the child at the soap on the hands step.

"Keep leaving the child and expecting independence at different steps in the process," says Dr. Carter.

Remember, however, that wiping is something parents must be realistic about in their expectations. A little girl may be able to successfully wipe herself after urinating early on, but the young child's coordination and ability to even mentally conceptualise what he or she is aiming for has far to go before they'll be able to be effective at wiping after a bowel movement.

Parents can develop a ritual that suits them and their children, along the lines of letting Mummy have the first wipe and then having the child do it. And remember that you may be doing this step long after the other stages of independence are achieved.

For more information see Toilet Training Tips or How to Start Toilet Training.

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