There are a lot of parenting milestones in the first few years... sleeping through the night, walking, eating solid foods... moving to a big bed... and of course, potty training!
For those of us who’ve been through it, we know that a celebration of epic proportions is in order on the day we finally say our final farewell to diapers. Maybe it's not as Instagram worthy and your last trip to Europe or say, your wedding, but tossing that smelly Diaper Genie after getting your toddler 100% potty trained feels pretty similar on accomplishment scale.
But sometimes our enthusiasm can cause us to rush into it before our little ones are ready. And when that happens, we can end up setting the process back a bit. Maybe we get a little frustrated, our little one gets disheartened, and we end up calling it off rather than dealing with any more teary-eyed wake ups and wet sheets in the middle of the night.
Many toddlers simply are not developmentally ready to wake up and sense that their bladder is full, nor are the ready to hold it in for 11-12 hours. Some systems don't mature enough to stay dry all night long until closer to five or six. In fact, having nighttime accidents through the age of seven is considered normal. It seems that boys are more likely to have accidents in the night and things like heredity, anatomy or how deeply a child sleep likely have some impact on nocturnal enuresis.
So today, I’ve got some tips for you to determine whether or not your toddler’s ready to nighttime potty train, and if they are, how to maximize your chances for success without sacrificing all of the progress you’ve made with their sleep.
So, jumping right in, is your little one ready to go the night without using the potty? Notice how I phrased that kind of specifically? I’ve seen nighttime potty training approaches that involve actually going into your child’s bedroom at regular intervals during NIGHTTIME POTTY TRAINING the night, and waking them up to go to the bathroom! I say no thank you to this approach personally. I am not willing to sacrifice sleep, mine or my child's for potty training. It’s way too confusing to a toddler, to be told after all of the work they’ve done to finally start sleeping peacefully through the night, that they now have to wake up every three or four hours to go to the bathroom. If your toddler can’t get through the night without needing to pee, they’re not ready for this. Leave their diaper on at night and tackle this at a later date. My own son is almost three and a half and wears diapers to sleep. No harm in this.
If, however, your little one’s had a few nights of waking up with a dry diaper, that could mean that they’re up to the challenge. That’s really the prime indicator that this might be a good time to give it a shot. Two or three dry mornings in a week suggests that their bladder muscles have developed to the point where they can hold it for the night, so if that’s the case, maybe give it a shot?
Now, prepare yourself. the odds of starting nighttime potty training with zero accidents is slim to none. So pick a week when you don’t have a whole lot going on, get some extra sheets and PJs at the ready, and get your zen on, because the most important thing here is patience. There are going to be some accidents, and accepting that reality ahead of time will help make this process bearable for you and your little one. Keep this mindset when you’re explaining what’s going on to your toddler.
It’s great to be enthusiastic and super-positive, but don’t make it sound too monumental. We’ve got to keep in mind that this isn’t something they have control over and building up expectations on them can result in some feelings of failure and disappointment if they do have an accident in the night. This is also something to consider if you’re looking at a “reward chart” or some such thing for nights without an accident. I’m not inherently against them, but if your toddler tends to get really upset if they don’t make the grade, it might be better to let them succeed or fail without rewards and consequences.
Make sure your toddler gets on the potty right before bed, even if they say they don’t need to go. I know a lot of parents have found that a potty session 30 minutes prior to bedtime, then again right before bed, has gotten them the best results. When an accident happens, as it probably will a few times at least, try not to act too disappointed or irritated. Just take your toddler by the hand and walk them back to their room, get them cleaned up and into some fresh pajamas, and change their bed with the clean sheets you’ve prepared ahead of time.
Pro tip:Grab yourself some plastic sheeting, lay a layer of that over the mattress, then a set of bed sheets, then another layer of plastic, then another set of bed sheets. That way, if there’s an accident in the night, you just go in, strip off the top layer, and bam! There’s a clean, dry, freshly made bed waiting underneath. That’ll help get you and your little one back to bed in no time flat.
If you do have to go in during the night, keep the room as dark as possible, keep the process short, and don’t put your little one in the bath unless it’s absolutely necessary. Getting into the tub is likely to throw a wrench in your child’s sleep for the night, and they might just get it into their heads that wetting the bed gets them fifteen minutes in the bath, which, for some kids, might sound like a pretty sweet proposition.
So what happens if it doesn’t take? Well, if you’re still seeing regular accidents after a week or two, give it some consideration. Is your toddler ready and just not willing, or willing but not ready? And when you’re deciding, consider whether your own desire to see an end to diapers is weighing in on your decision, there really is no rushing this process. If they’re not ready, they’re not ready, and you’re just putting a lot of unnecessary stress on both of you by trying to get it done before its time.