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Why 'toddler led toileting'?

Updated: Feb 26

If you are reading this you are probably a child centred parent following a ‘gentle parenting’ or ‘positive parenting’ or ‘responsive parenting’ approach, or whatever similar style that focuses on your child’s developmental stage and how you can support them, guide them and generally help your little person with their next stage in life.

You may have already done responsive feeding in the early days, ‘baby led feeding’, you possibly did baby led weaning, with a focus on starting solids as a physiological development stage, rather than parent led. And perhaps you eschewed sleeping training for a more nurturing approach.

No judgement here on any of this. As an exhausted first-time parent I did the cry it out method of sleep training because that is the only thing the health visitor suggested, apart from drugs. My eldest two had purees at four months, as was the guidance in the late nineties. We can only do the best with the information, and support, we have at the time, and when we know more, we do better.

Maybe you didn’t always do baby-led things, but I am betting you followed baby led walking. Is baby led walking a thing? Well we all do it. We just don’t call it that.

We don’t train our babies to walk. We don’t force their legs to go one after the other. We don’t choose a date and on that date start forcing them to walk. We don’t expect them to be walking in x days, or by x months. We accept that children walk at different ages. We might encourage them. We might make sure the clothes they are wearing makes it easier for them to cruise around the furniture. We might buy them a push along trolley that can support them as they make their first steps, but we follow their lead, respond to their cues, and go at their pace.

A child starting to walk is just as labour saving to parents as them coming out of nappies, yet for starting toileting society gives us timetables, judgements, and unhelpful psychological advice based on authoritarian approach to parenting.

With term 'potty training', the focus is on the action of the parent, not the developmental milestone of starting toileting, which is the action of the child. Training is something we do with animals, not children, especially not a normal physiological development.

A potty training approach will work for many children. However, it is based on a behaviour modification approach, which can have physical and psychological consequences.

Common features of behaviour modification based potty ‘training’:

  • Parent choses the time to start,

  • Once no nappy, always no nappy

  • Encourage to sit on the potty frequently

  • Time limited (in a day, in a week)

  • Space limited (e.g. spend all day in kitchen)

  • Praise/reward/stickers

  • Threaten/admonish/criticise

Different potty training approaches may include a combination of these.

With these approaches you are following the approach, not the child. This is parent led toileting rather than toddler led.

Five principles of toddler led toileting

  • It is a developmental stage, just like walking.

  • It is a normal bodily function that everyone does.

  • Keeping our emotions out of the process helps.

  • A positive relationship with our body is important.

  • Every child is different. They will do it in their own time, at their own pace.

Having a positive, responsive, child-led approach to starting toileting has many benefits.

Baby led, toddler led, child centred life is easier. It means less stress for the parent and less stress for the child. It is more rewarding for parent and child, and it enhances the life long relationship.

"We are just at the beginning of this journey and loving the advice to spend lots of time nappy free when you can. We did this yesterday and had lots of accidents but at the end of the day, without prompting E sat on the potty and did a poo."

As a parent you are supporting baby’s own development, in their own time. The child learns that her/his parents will listen, respond, and give them autonomy to be themselves. A child centred approach takes into account individual differences. It means supporting and guiding, not training.

A child centred approach that is responsive to the individual child also supports their whole development, and their mental health. This approach is part of an ongoing relationship with your child.

“Relationships are central to the healthy social and emotional development of all infants.” Building Great Britons Report, HMG, 2015

Starting toileting is not a box tick for parents to say they have got their child through the next hurdle. It is a physiological, cognitive, and psychological developmental stage that children need our support. We support our children through learning to walk, and supporting them while they learn to coordinate themselves to use a potty or toilet should be no different.

You can download a top tips sheet from my Toddler Led Toileting page.

Or, if this feels like the right approach for you, there is a self-led, instant access Toddler Led Toileting e-course for parents, taking you step by step through the process, from how to prepare, when and how to start, going out and about, poos, night time, and a useful problem busting section. There's also a section on individual differences.

Or sign up for practitioner Toddler Led Toileting Facilitator training, boost your knowledge and confidence, and have everything you need to offer workshops and 1-1 support to families in your area.

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