Tuesday 20 May 2014

The art of Toilet Training

Toilet training - SIT!
Babies and toddlers are things of wonder and delight but hidden within the unremitting joy lies a biological imperative that cannot be denied; what goes in, must come out. 

Sadly, regardless of how besotted with your offspring that you may be, what comes out is never cute, never cuddly and, whilst it might cause your face to form all sorts of odd expressions, a wistful smile is unlikely to be amongst them.

Early questions tend to be “Oh my God! Is it supposed to be that colour?” Followed by multiple variations on the theme “You don’t seriously expect me to deal with that do you?” All in all, I think it’s safe to say that most parents are fairly anxious for their little one to master the art of the toilet as soon as possible.

Of course, there are other reasons behind this desire; disposable nappies are pretty expensive at the best of times and cause untold damage to the environment, whilst the traditional towelling nappies leave your washing machine running at maximum and the entire house smelling of stuff you’d much rather it didn’t smell of. 

There are alternatives. If you can afford them they do disposable nappies that don’t have a half life akin to Plutonium and, if you are really hard-core, you can go for a pot of moss and quick reactions!

Apparently this was the option taken by a friend-of-a-friend. By all accounts, it relies on an almost zealous regard for the environment, a good watch and a very keen eye on your child’s facial expressions. I have great admiration for this approach but I strongly suspect I’d have needed waders and a nose clip before entering the family home if we’d ever attempted it.

Of course what this method really relies on is toilet timing, whereby you get your child into a routine and take them to the loo just before they need to go – with luck. This approach used to be very popular when nappies needed to be washed by hand but went into decline upon the arrival of disposable nappies – why would that be I wonder? As a result of this relatively recent change you get a huge variation in advice these days; some say you should get your child using a potty almost from the word go, others say that you should let them lead the way and avoid putting them under any undue pressure to ‘perform’.

Part of the reason why the advice differs so much is because they are often addressing two different phenomena. Toilet timing is just getting your child sat on a potty at the right time of the day and really just needs attentive parents, a settled routine, a good watch and a lot of luck. However, toilet training relies on your child recognising when the 'urge' is upon them so they know when to go to the toilet themselves. You could start 'timing' from an early age, if the desire takes you, but genuine toilet training requires your child to develop sufficiently to be able to recognise when a 'movement' is about to happen and it's pretty pointless starting this before the age of two simply because most children don't have the prerequisite neural development in place till then.

In the end we opted for quiet encouragement, whilst remaining as relaxed and sanguine about it as we could, mainly because putting our child under pressure seemed a bit pointless but also because I have never, ever, met an able bodied adult who failed to learn how to go to the loo - so I couldn’t see much point in making a huge issue out of it. 

Alas, the UK tabloids see things differently and have been beating the toilet training drum lately because some children are turning up to school, aged 4, and still not toilet trained. I grant you that this seems to be taking 'sanguine' a little too far but I still believe that you have to let the child take the lead on this and that being 'pushy' is only going to back fire farther down the line.

As it was Marty seemed more than happy to maintain the status quo, ominously so. We started trying to persuade him on the joys of sitting on a toilet at about the age of about eighteen months. We even bought him his own little loo, complete with a flush button that sang dubious faecal and urinary related songs along the lines of “We’re all going to the loo tomorrow, loo tomorrow, loo tomorrow....” Sadly he wasn’t impressed.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Marty ‘enjoyed’ pooing in his pants, but I got the impression that there was a certain element of satisfaction, after all he didn’t have to stop playing; he could just pause, do the business and get right back to his toys.

Whilst dealing with the aftermath was less than amusing there was actually a lot of fun to be had just watching him ‘go through the motions’ - so to speak. He’d stop what he was doing, take on a misty eyed expression as he looked off into the middle distance, slowly turn red in the face and then, suddenly, out of the blue, he became an absolute dead ringer for Martin Clunes! I should have taken a video of it!

Anyway, amusement aside, by the time he reached two I must confess that I was starting to get a little worried. Potty training appeared to revolve around the adage “You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink”; try as we might Marty just wasn’t the least bit interested in sitting on the loo to do his business. Six months later and nothing had changed, then one day the conversation turned to Nursery.

One of his friends had started nursery already and Marty had been invited to a party held there. Boy was he impressed! Not only was the place filled with little boys and girls but they served up cake on demand and it was crammed to the rafters with toys the likes of which he had barely dreamed of. Would he shut up about this place? He would not.

Of course, for the parents, the approach of nursery is a real worry when your child is stubbornly refusing to engage in toilet training. Fortunately, nursery was also the solution. One day, with no expectation of success, I told Marty that they wouldn’t let him into nursery if he couldn’t go to the toilet ‘like a big boy’. At the time this news seemed to barely register but about an hour later he asked to go to the toilet for a wee and by the next day he was perched on the loo doing a number two!

And that was that! He’s been pretty much perfect ever since! Yes, there have been occasions when we’ve had to isolate a corner of the house and wheel out the pressure hose but they have been very few and far between.

Of course a little boy cannot just sit down and have a wee for any length of time. Within a week I had my own quiet moment disturbed by a little voice behind me whispering “Oooh daddy! That’s a clever wee!” and since then he has insisted on standing up to the toilet to do his business. Sadly, he's not satisfied with this and we have been anxiously attempting to convince him that his dream of the 'standing-poo' is just that, an unattainable dream.

Within a few short weeks he was so confident in his new found ability that he started giving little kids a hard time every time we saw one; “Daddy, I wee in the toilet!” He proclaimed, pointing in the direction of the smaller child, “But babies, babies wee everywhere!” To which I could but nod sagely in agreement.

One thing I have learnt during this process is how wholly unaware women are to the art form that is urination! To females the wee seems to be a mundane bodily function, whereas for us males it is an ever evolving art. How high, how far and how long are competitions that boys engage in until well into their dotage.

A typical example of this is the “The Butchers Shop” in Johannesburg. Ask a woman and she’ll just tell you that they do the best steaks this side of Pluto, and right they are. However, if you ask a bloke, whilst they might mention in passing that the food is pretty darn good, what they will really focus on are the gents urinals; they fill them with crushed ice and leave it to their male patrons to produce whatever work of urinary art they are capable of. Marvellous stuff!