Toilet training

In the past many parents started toilet training their children much earlier than they do today. Some claimed success. Young babies may urinate or pass a motion when put on the pot, but this is simply luck, or an automatic response to the feel of the pot, or good judgment on the mother’s part.

Some time later (in his second year) a child recognizes when he wants to urinate or defecate, but toilet training is unlikely to be immediately successful if started much before his second birthday. Although some children are willing to use the pot several months earlier, they usually have too li’tle bowel and bladder control to get to the pot in time; they begin to pass urine or a motion almost as soon as they are aware of the urge to do so. A child of this age can be offered the pot if he seems interested in the idea. No pressure should be put on him, however: he will see no point, at first, in putting his urine and faeces in the pot rather than in his nappy. If adults make too much of their wish for him to be clean and dry, he will sense its importance to them, and this may eventually proceed to a stage of obstinacy, a very difficult one. His new sense of autonomy may also make him use wetting a nappy as an attention-grabber. Even when a child happily abandons his nappies during the day, he is unlikely to be totally reliable and dry until he is perhaps two-and-a-half or three. His bladder capacity is still limited and he gets little warning of impending urination or defecation. When he is successful in his attempts to use the pot, he can be praised quietly, although if too much is made of success or failure he may come to believe that toilet training is too difficult. He may then turn against the pot and ask to be put back in nappies so that from his point of view at least, he can do exactly what is expected of him all the time.

Children are usually clean and dry during the day long before they are able to sleep through the night without needing to urinate. As many as one in five eight-year-olds still wets the bed occasionally. For a toilet-trained child, a wet bed may seem traumatic; to him, bedwetting is a sign that he is still a baby, or that there is something wrong with him. He needs to be reassured and told that it does not matter rather than developing a feeling of guilt.


Personal hygiene means nothing to a pre-nursery-school child. He does not see the need to be clean. In fact, he may like to be dirty, and playing with fluids, food, mud and even his excrement plays a special role in his development. Because he is highly mobile, crawling round the floor, he gets much dirtier than he did as a baby. He is also now less amenable to the idea of being washed and may object when someone tries to wash him. This problem can usually be solved by a daily bath. Nearly all toddlers love bathtime -provided it is made enjoyable, they are given toys to play with, and are allowed to splash a little. A baby’s bubble bath adds to the fun and helps to soak away the dirt, so that very little washing is required. In between baths, the child can be kept clean by a quick wipe with a damp flannel.

Some dentists advise to begin cleaning baby’s first teeth immediately after they have come through. Although this might seem somewhat exaggerated, it is advisable to let them brush their teeth from childhood onwards. While they are still enthusiastic to learn how to brush their teeth – and this is eminently the case at the toddler’s age – parents should take advantage of it. Demonstrating first and then having them do it themselves with a special children’s toothbrush, which they were allowed to choose for themselves, will prove brushing teeth a pleasant event. Provided the child takes flouride tablets to prevent tooth decay, a toothpaste containing flouride is unnecessary.