Toilet training is an important developmental milestone for children and is one of the first steps to becoming more self-sufficient. However, toilet training can be challenging for both children and their families.
The following tips from a physical therapist will help your child create good, lasting habits and avoid future bowel and bladder problems.
1. Wait for it!
Bowel and bladder development occurs around 18 months of age. Starting toilet training too early can create frustration and lead to poor habits or avoidance of toilet training altogether. It can also lead to bowel and bladder problems such as urinary incontinence, bedwetting, urinary tract infections, and constipation.
Watch for signs of mental and physical readiness in your child. The following questions can help you determine whether or not your child is ready for successful toilet training:
- Are they interested in and asking questions about toileting?
- Can they sense when they need to go?
- Can they get to and from the toilet?
- Can they get onto and off of the toilet?
- Can they help with dressing?
2. Use positive reinforcement.
Praising and rewarding your child during this phase is very important. It will keep the interest of the child and encourages them to continue with training. Negative reinforcement or punishment can create anxiety in the child, which can lead to a tightening of muscles involved with voiding and create an inability to pass urine and stool.
Consider a reward system based on earning; each success, e.g., sticker, gummi bears, money is a small step toward a larger reward.
3. Maintain a healthy diet.
Many children struggle with urinary urgency, frequency, and constipation. These symptoms often relate to an improper diet. Avoid foods and beverages that are high in salt, sugar, caffeine, and carbonation or that are acidic in content, which can create irritation in the bladder and contribute to urgency and frequent urination. Proper water and fiber intake are also essential for stool regularity and consistency. Softer stools are easier to pass and will decrease constipation.
4. Use proper toileting posture.
Proper posture while sitting on the toilet is vital during toilet training because it helps to relax the pelvic floor muscles. The pelvic floor muscles are a group of muscles that attach to the bottom of your pelvis and help with bowel and bladder control. When the pelvic floor is contracted, urine and stool are held within the body. When the pelvic floor relaxes, urine and stool can pass outside the body.
Sit with the feet flat on a surface (no tippy toes!), knees higher than the hips, leaning forward with a straight back. Many times, training the child on an adult-sized toilet with a toilet ring can avoid aversion to toilets in the future. A footstool is a great way to keep the knees up and feet supported!
5. Establish a bedtime routine.
If bedwetting is an issue for your child, there are two important things to remember:
- Constipation is one of the leading contributors to bedwetting. See #3 about maintaining a healthy diet.
- A proper bedtime routine allows the body to regulate other systems to ensure appropriate sleeping patterns. First, establish a bedtime and stick to it. Second, follow a prebedtime pattern that you and your child enjoy. For example, incorporate bath or storytime into your child's routine. Be sure to avoid or limit fluids before bedtime and empty the bladder just before bed. Bedwetting is often self-limiting, meaning that eventually, your child will grow out of it.
Help is out there!
Some children continue to have issues with urinary urgency, frequency, incontinence, recurrent infection, and constipation, even as they get older. These issues may be related to improper toilet training, learned habits, or perhaps a medical abnormality. If you are concerned that your child's bowel and bladder control is not where it should be, discuss this with their pediatrician. A referral to a medical specialist may be required, or the child may benefit from treatment by a pelvic floor physical therapist.
Physical therapists are movement experts who improve quality of life through hands-on care, patient education, and prescribed movement. You can contact a physical therapist directly for an evaluation. To locate a physical therapist in your area, visit Find a PT.