It’s called potty training and it isn’t for the faint of heart. Plus, when you’re teaching a young child with different “plumbing” than your own, you may feel a bit lost at times.
That’s why we spoke to Dr. Heather Wittenberg. She knows her (stuff).
Dr. Wittenberg specializes in the development of babies, toddlers, young children… and their parents. She offers no-hype, practical advice that is rooted in science and road-tested in her own home. She speaks on behalf of the Pull-Ups® brand. The doctor dropped some knowledge so you can point your little one in the right direction the next time she wants to drop a deuce.
1. Normal is what normal is…
“A lot of parents get caught up in thinking that potty training is something to accomplish or to check off of a list,” Dr. Wittenberg said. “They start putting expectations on their kids and think at certain ages they should be at X, Y, or Z.”
“Toddlerhood is when individual differences really make their first major appearance and you start to see a ton of divergences in the ‘normal’ range. There is a huge range of ‘normal’ for potty training. But you typically start seeing interest around 18 months and if your toddler isn’t well on her way to being comfortably toilet trained by four, you’d want to call in expert help.”
Whether your girl is eager to learn or afraid to go near the toilet, just don’t push to the point of resistance. It’s a process and a chance to celebrate each tiny step. Don’t wait until they have mastered it to celebrate with them.
2. Avoid this like the plague…
Some kids have a resistance to bowel movements. “There’s a cycle of withholding in some toddlers and that includes withholding their poops,” she said.
“They’ll do this for a lot of odd and uniquely toddler-ish reasons. They may imagine that poop is a part of their own body and if they get it out they are giving up part of themselves. Others might have had a bout of constipation and it hurt so bad that just the thought of going again scares them. They don’t have the logic to think ‘This may hurt but I have to get it out’ and trying to use that rationale will not work with a toddler.”
If you see any signs of constipation, you need to go full bore on any type of dietary stuff is ok with your child and pediatrician (prunes, fiber, water). “The typical American diet is terrible for this,” Dr. Wittenberg said. “Toddlers are getting to the point where they’ll only eat chicken nuggets and buttered pasta. They aren’t eating nutritionally.”
Keeping an eye on this is important. You don’t want to enter the world of suppositories and enemas. “Toddlers understandably are terrified of those things and feel are invasive. So you need to do everything you can to avoid getting to that point.”
3. What to call her genitalia…
It’s about being natural.
“What’s important to your daughter isn’t the specific language that you choose,” Dr. Wittenberg explained. “What’s important is that you feel comfortable using it. Being natural and comfortable with whatever names and conversation you have developed over the course of your relationship will allow her to feel your comfort.”
“You’ve been changing diapers all this time,” Dr. Wittenberg explained. “You’re involved with her physical body and emotional health. The transition from changing diapers to using the potty is just a natural evolution of what you’re already doing. Her language is evolving. She can obviously understand more and put words to body parts. What it comes down to is your family’s culture, personalities, and what kind of Dad you already are. Some are technical and clinical in their body part naming – others are silly with the names.”
Dr. Wittenberg stressed, “Just because Dads are a different gender than their daughter they do not need to somehow feel inadequate or incapable of having a perfectly comfortable, relaxed conversation about all manners of the potty.”
4. Clean up
(This is a tricky one for many dads who don’t have working knowledge of the parts. So pay attention…)
“I see many Moms make the same mistakes when it comes to wiping,” Wittenberg said. “Young girls are more vulnerable to a urinary tract infection because they are taking the toilet paper, reaching under to wipe their vulva and are going too far back. She’s reaching her bum and she’s pulling forward some bacteria.”
“Just have your daughter blot, in place, a couple of times right where the pee comes out when she’s done,” Wittenberg said. “She doesn’t have to get any more aggressive than that. No vigorous wiping is needed. A couple of blots with a few squares of toilet paper is plenty for pee.”
If you’re worried about seeing “white buildup” in her privates, don’t be.
“Some parents worry about vaginal discharge (white buildup) that is normally present and healthy,” she said. “That is the vagina’s ‘self cleaning’ mode and it is something to just ignore. It isn’t something that has to be cleaned out. In fact there’s a bit of a protective function there. Dads don’t have to help her get in there and try to make it visually clean. Regular bath time helps do that.”
On the back end of things, it’s just like the boys. She should wipe back and up from the rear after poops. Your role? Spot checker to make sure it’s all clear. They didn’t tell you you’d be doing that when you became a father did they?
5. Last call!
So she’s doing great during the day but is still wet at night? You might have read some advice to cut off all liquids for a certain period of time before bed. Obviously it stands to reason that you don’t want to drink a full-sized juice a couple of hours before bed but…
“It’s actually a physical maturity issue,” Dr. Wittenberg said. “There is a hormone that is secreted in the brain that shuts off urine production. That hormone sometimes doesn’t develop in a child until 2 or 4 or even 7. It doesn’t matter what you do. Without that hormone, their body is not going to turn down urine production at night and you are going to have a wet bed or diaper. Once your child is ready to stay dry at night, the amount of liquid you give them before bed won’t be the main factor. And putting pressure on a child to stay dry at night doesn’t help.”
There you have it. For my daughter and me, there is an evening ritual of her grabbing her Pull-Ups® out of the drawer and holding it behind her back so I can guess which Disney character is on them. My best streak? 4 in a row. No cheating. It’s all part of the process.
Whatever it takes for you to become more comfortable as your girl’s caregiver, do it. Just make sure to enjoy the ride…even if it stinks from time to time.
Dr. Wittenberg is a Pull-Ups® Potty Training Partner. She believes there is no “one size fits all” answer to most challenging parenting questions, and she is committed to help find individualized, workable solutions that help make parenting easier – and more fun! She can be found via her website (www.BabyShrink.com) or Twitter (@BabyShrink). She is the author of the “Let’s Get This Potty Started” book.