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The acquisition of cleanliness

by Content Editor
The acquisition of cleanliness

Walking, talking, it’s not “in the bag” but almost. There is still one step to take, and not the least: throwing away the diapers.

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It’s hard to admit, but the fact is: parental impatience with potty training is justified by nasty, selfish interests! Changing clothes once a joyful ceremony, becomes a trial with a wriggling and protesting child. One would gladly remove the purchase of diapers from one’s budget and transportation from the preparations for an outing. Before disposable diapers, it was worse! Their invention paved the way for the propagation of fundamental discovery in the knowledge of child development: the acquisition of cleanliness depends above all on neurological evolution. We can (we must) accompany it. But we cannot try to hasten it.

0-18 months: the empire of sensations

Most of the time, in the newborn, urination and defecation follow the feeding or the meal mechanically. He has no control over his natural functions, which remain reflex acts. However, he shows his annoyance when his diapers are soiled. Around four months, he will also notice that something is happening inside his body. He does not learn anything from this sensation and cannot communicate it. The situation does not change much until he is 18 months old (externally, at least), when the maturation of his nervous system allows him to control his sphincters (ring muscle located around the anus and the urethra, whose function is to contract/release to close/open these orifices).

It’s time for you to offer the potty

Before, it’s useless. It’s even harmful because you’d be challenging the little one in a way that’s impossible to meet while at the same time-wasting precious time for other acquisitions. In the past, children, from 1 year old or even younger, were forced to sit on the potty for extended periods; if they succeeded, they owed everything to chance. And one cannot claim that this “training” favored the development of the “victim.” At 18 months, this becomes reasonable. But it is necessary to proceed with great gentleness because it still needs time to pass from the capacity to its rational application.

With this new mastery, the child discovers new sensations. Pleasant: he enjoys holding and expelling. He shows it by shouting “pee” and “poo,” words generally registered very early in his basic vocabulary. Pleasure accompanies each discovery and enhances it; urinating and defecating consciously are no exception to the rule.

Do not make it taboo; neither these functions nor the area in which they take place are “dirty.” Don’t make it a recurring joke, either. It is a natural function, but one that is private and given its due importance – no more, no less. This simple, relaxed approach will help him overcome more complex psychological obstacles.

18 months-2 years: Should I go? Should I not go?

Enjoying the pleasures of controlling your sphincters doesn’t make your little one so busy that he doesn’t see the messages you’re sending him with varying degrees of discretion. He understands very well what you are getting at! Only.

Young children don’t like to change their habits

The acquisition of cleanliness, he will have understood, makes him climb an important step towards the status of “big.” Of course, becoming “big” is inevitable and tempting in many ways. But it also brings with it its share of worries: it’s about venturing into the unknown. Don’t overemphasize this aspect of things. He may be tempted to stay cautiously in the world of babies – of which diapers are just one attribute.

He doesn’t know anything about his inner workings

What’s going on inside his body? He won’t become aware of bowel movements until he’s about four years old. He doesn’t even know the relationship between food and his own excrement. He does not know that he has organs at work inside himself. No need to explain it to him. For the moment, he is getting acquainted with his external envelope, his limbs and their mobility, the organs of the senses. Things that are concrete because they can be seen. The story of the journey of the food, abstract, extremely bizarre, and unappetizing, would at best leave him unmoved, at worst worry him.

Is he losing pieces of himself?

Having become aware that his stool was coming out of his body, he might fear it. Better to spare him the spectacle of his “property” disappearing into the vortex of the toilet. Later, having realized that he remained whole, he would lose this fear.

He has long perceived the attitude of his parents.

Towards natural functions. He knows it from his first months if they feel disgust, even if they try to hide it. In the same way, if they wait for cleanliness with insistent impatience, he notices it. Now, for the psychoanalysts, the stools would represent a present to the mother; and to retain them, an aggressive behavior. Freud called this period the anal stage; it is also called the “sadistic anal” stage because the pleasure aroused by the stimulation of the mucous membranes adds the satisfaction of exercising control over oneself and others.

At this age, when the famous “opposition crisis” begins

It is better not to give him a means of pressure by showing an almost obsessive concern for cleanliness. To turn it into an issue would be to risk seeing the child attach excessive importance to it. This could impact the child’s future behavior, for example, by making him/her tidier or less spontaneous.

Let him “tame” the potty

A newcomer with whom he will share many moments. However, you show him how to use it as soon as he arrives at the house. No need to explain: you sit him on it, in the toilet, bare-bottomed, once a day, and leave him there for a short while. According to your observations, choose a suitable moment (often, shortly after a meal, as the transit is fast for the little ones).

The first successes owe everything to chance!

Approve to confirm that this is the result you wanted. No congratulations or bursts of joy: it is a success, not an achievement. The first few favorable attempts give a concrete explanation to the stations on the pot. This time it really clicks.

There is still a long way to go before it becomes a habit!

The progression obeys universal laws. His successes on the pot are becoming more and more frequent. When he has forgotten himself, he will let you know without delay. In contrast to the pleasure of a clean and dry bottom, soiled diapers become quite unpleasant for him. Explain to him the solution to avoid this annoyance: this should motivate him.

Around two years old, he starts to feel a need

First a “pee,” then a “poo.” He has understood the principle of the potty and can warn you about it. But not always early enough to arrive at his destination in time! Too bad: he will do better next time. You can make it easier for him by making sure that everything is ready for him to go to the toilet and that he can pull down his pants in an instant.

2 years-4 years: the routine – or almost!

Around two and a half years old, the child asks for his potty during the day, more and more frequently before the disaster. You still have to take him to the toilet and guide him through the process.

Will he be ready for school?

This question torments many parents, who are often impatient to see their child go back to school for the first time. For children born at the end of the year, who will be just over two years old in September, this may be just about right. Potty training takes place between the ages of 2 and 3. Don’t force the issue; it won’t change anything: everyone goes at their own pace. There is no point in turning this deadline into a problem, which could degenerate into a conflict or cause the child to feel anxious about not satisfying you, which is all the more painful as it is beyond his control. If he is obviously not ready (that he feels a need in time and expresses it only rarely), it is better to postpone to the second quarter.

This can be a stimulus for him. Many children are tired of the nursery, where they are surrounded by “babies,” and are eager to go to school, where they have been praised for its many activities. However, they also have ambiguous feelings about the unknown. Some exhaust the possibility of soiling their diapers until the very last day, knowing that it will soon be forbidden. Knowing your child well, you will be able to distinguish between a little “sloppiness” and a real lack of preparation.

Your child will not be able to go to the toilet by himself until he is about three years old. In kindergarten, teachers still accompany their pupils in groups at fixed times. If a need arises unexpectedly in the classroom, they are taken to the right place at their request. But hating to be singled out, they usually take to it quickly. Teaching him to wipe himself is up to you. He manages to do it well around the age of 4. But at home, for hygienic reasons, continue to take care of it as long as he allows it.

At night, no more control!

Nighttime cleanliness always comes after daytime cleanliness and depends on neurological maturity alone. In other words, it comes in its own time, through no fault of your own. A few weeks? Several months? It’s impossible to predict. Don’t draw any conclusions about your child’s motor skills and intelligence: it’s irrelevant. However, resigning yourself to the wait does not prevent you from doing everything to encourage the transition.

In your bedtime ritual, integrate the passage to the toilet. This should become automatic, as it encourages uninterrupted nights. Preventing a thirsty person from drinking just before going to bed does not help much.

Naps are a good indicator

Does he wake up with a dry bottom? Is this happening more and more regularly? Try a nap without diapers. If you were overly optimistic, the diaper change would be less painful than in the middle of the night and for everyone.

You can’t avoid the risks! You have to decide to go without diapers at night. But in the beginning, you have no guarantee that nothing bad will happen. The situation generally stabilizes around four years, with occasional “failures” remaining commonplace until five years.

Offer him the means of his autonomy

Most little ones are woken up, either during the night or in the early hours of the morning, by a pressing desire. They appreciate being able to satisfy it without your help. Walk with him from his room to the toilet, “in the situation,” i.e., in the dark, just lit by the flashlight that you will put on his bedside table. Leave his door ajar (or reopen it when you go to bed). He should enjoy the expedition – so much so that he may come and tell you about it!

The final disappearance of the diapers is a small victory! Don’t get too caught up in the “you’re all grown up now” theme, though, or he may be tempted to back out, fearing that he’ll be asked to prove himself too much in all areas, especially if a baby has arrived in the meantime! Don’t be afraid to put the diapers back on when you’re traveling or on holiday: changes in habits can lead to bedwetting. Nothing to be ashamed of!


The development of cleanliness is primarily determined by neurological evolution. When introducing the potty, go with extreme caution because the transition from capacity to sensible practice takes time. The child discovers new sensations as a result of his unique mastery. This straightforward and uncomplicated method will aid him in overcoming more difficult psychological challenges.

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