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What is emotional readiness for potty training, and why is it important?

emotionalreadiness signsofreadiness Apr 04, 2023

Researching potty training your child and wondering when the heck your child is truly ready for you to start?

Timing potty training right lays the foundation for how smooth your child's potty training experience can be. If you start too early, before your child is developmentally ready they may not yet have the ability to communicate their needs, may not yet have the physical ability to control their bowel and bladder movements and may not yet quite understand what the potty is and what it's used for! 

The one of the best indicators of whether your child is ready for potty training is if your child is physiologically ready, as well as looking out for the "signs of readiness". And while some of these signs are more obvious than others, the less obvious signs are usually related to your child's emotional readiness. 

What is emotional readiness?

Emotional Readiness for potty training means your child has the social and emotional development needed to take on the complex task of potty learning. Your child will show some signs they are emotionally ready for the big transition, some of which may not be so obvious!

Desire for independence and autonomy

When learning independent bowel and bladder control, your child needs to exercise independence on so many levels. 

They need to be able to think independently, identify what an urge is and make a decision on what to do about it. It means they can go “Oh! Yes! That feeling I have is the need to pee and that means I need to go to the potty!” …. and be willing to take themselves to the toilet or potty and void.

Maybe your child is showing a desire to do things themselves without your assistance or trying to imitate your behavior. For example, it could be something as simple as having seen you open up a water bottle before and then expressing the desire to do this themselves. 

Or it could be your child engaging in independent play, like playing in their play kitchen or playing doctor with their toys. 

Social Awareness

The ability to observe behaviors of your family and other kids, and imitating these behaviors is a motivator in getting your child to start using a potty and have the desire to wear underwear. 

Similarly, when your child starts to imitate your behavior by playing in their play kitchen, pretending to play "vet" or even starting to sit on the potty and imitate your behavior are all examples of your child's developing social awareness. 

Interest in the potty or toileting process

Next, you're looking for your child to show an interest or curiosity in the toileting process or the toilet or potty itself. It could be ANYTHING from:

  • Being curious when you go to the bathroom
  • Expressing interest in the toilet, flush button, the water flushing down, toilet paper
  • Begin to start sitting on the potty, even fully clothed
  • Show in interest in staying dry and clean by expressing discomfort from wearing a wet or dirty diaper 

In short: your child needs to have interest in the potty or the process to be emotionally ready to start using one.

Now thats not to say you can't help encourage their interest and there are so many ways you can do this - for example you can do this effectively by modeling behavior , by renting out some potty themed books from the library and using play to engage your child's interest! 

Communicate their needs and follow simple directions

Your child also needs basic communication skills to express their needs, which also indicates they are developing an understanding of their body's signals and urges. 

For example, your child may communicate they are "hungry," "tired" or if they need to pee or poop, whether this is through words or actions. 

Although we as adults go into autopilot when it comes to how to respond to our bodies and use a toilet, we must not forget that to a toddler the potty process is long and complex! If you think about it, your child has to:

1. Identify an urge

2. Decide they need to use a potty

3. Push their pants down

4. Sit on the potty 

5. Relax and release

6. Pull toilet paper and wipe .... you get the point!

With this being said, its important that children understand 1-3 step directions so they are able to follow the process. For example, you want your child to be able to follow directions like "put this toy in the box" or put this top in the wash bin."

Even if your child shows all "the signs" they may not be ready at the time you choose to start potty training. 

Many of my clients will say "my child was showing ALL the signs, but she's just not getting it."

And the truth is: sometimes your child can show ALL the signs they are ready for potty training, but certain circumstances can affect a child's emotional readiness at the time you start. 

For example, changes to routine like moving to a new home, starting a new school, a new sibling or even something like moving to a new bed or dropping a daytime nap can be an emotional distraction that disrupts their sense of security, making it more challenging to focus on learning new skills like using a potty. 

Cognitive and physical growth spurts that may be difficult to identify can also affect a child's focus, interest and willingness to engage in potty learning.

Sometimes, the tears and resistance you experience during potty training can also come down to your approach which may need some rejigging.

If you found this helpful, you'll love my FREE guide '5 Surprising Signals Your Child Is Ready To Rock Potty Training' 


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