Development FAQ: 24+ months – Potty Training

When we go out during potty training, do you advise using pull-up nappies?

  • No – it’s tempting to use these because they are similar to pants but to your child they will seem like a nappy again. It will confuse him and potty training will take much longer. The absorbency of the pull-ups means your child will be less aware of when he is wet.
  • Try to plan potty training when you can just be at home. It seems restricting but one week staying home near the potty will ensure you and your child succeed and you can then go out and about as normal, taking the potty with you or using the loo wherever you go.
  • During the fist few days at home put your child in a short t-shirt and into pants which can easily be pulled up and down. Tracksuit bottoms and skirts for girls care ideal clothing to wear in the early days. Avoid poppers, buttons or braces. And remember that once you give up the nappy, don’t go back as this is the main reason for potty training failing.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Potty Training

My son is nearly three and has been using the big toilet for quite a while now. I’ve been trying to get him to stand up and wee but he only wants to do it sitting down. What can I do?

  • You might have more success if daddy shows him how this is done. If he’s been watching only you he could be confused. When he’s with other boys at nursery school or during visits, encourage him to watch them wee standing up and make a big fuss of him being grown up.
  • You might need to put a small step by the loo so he can reach and aim properly. Hold him carefully under the arms until he learns to balance on his own.
  • A trick that has worked for me is getting boys to try and pee into a disposable plastic cup over the loo. This helps them get used to it. Encouraging him to make a nice splashing noise can help too.
  • Ask daddy to show him how to hold his willy up and aim, then how to shake the drips off afterwards.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Potty Training

My son was quickly and easily potty trained at 2 years and 8 months. I’d like to get him out of nappies at night-time but they seem to be sodden in the morning when he gets up. How long will this go on for?

  • It sounds as if he might be drinking too much in the evening. Try to give him his biggest drink before 6pm with a small drink before bedtime if needed, so he can have a final wee before going to bed.
  • If he still has a lunchtime sleep, keep him in nappies until you find they are consistently dry for two weeks. Tackle this first.
  • I usually wait until a child is at least three years old before removing a nappy at night-time. If you find his nappy is dry or slightly damp in the mornings for a few weeks you can try to abandon them. You might find he starts to wake in the night needing a wee. You can leave the potty in his room and put in a very dim night-light so he can get to out of bed and use the potty by himself. Wait until he’s at least three before you do this as it could lead to disturbed sleep and night wakings.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Potty Training

My daughter is two and a half and is showing all the signs of being ready to potty train. I’m very keen to do it. I work three days a week and my mother looks after Emily. I have heard my mother telling Emily how horrid and disgusting her dirty nappies are and I think Emily has become anxious now as she often cries when she has done a poo.

Your mother’s generation tended to potty train much sooner than your generation. This was because terry nappies were much more of an ordeal to clean that our modern, disposable nappies. Possibly your mum thinks Emily should have been out of nappies long ago and is registering her disapproval with your daughter. I think it’s very important to avoid anxiety about pooing as it will make potty training much more difficult and could even lead to long-term problems. Try and explain this to your mother and ask her to stop using words like ‘horrible’ and ‘disgusting’. Get her involved with helping you follow my programme. If you begin training on the first day you are home, you would have four good days at it before you have to go to work and the majority of the training would be done. Many mums who leave it until their child is older find it can take just a few days.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Potty Training

My son is 2 years and 3 months and seems ready to potty train. I’m expecting a new baby in a few weeks’ time. Should I try to potty train before the baby arrives?

The arrival of a new baby is one of the biggest upheavals possible in a toddler’s life and it could affect his behaviour in any number of ways. I would advise you forget about potty training for a little while and focus on helping your son adjust to his new brother or sister. It would be worse for him to be trained now and then possibly regress and need nappies again. This would feel like a failure to him and would make training later a lot harder. When you feel things have settled down at home then you can begin in earnest. In the meantime, you can keep the potty around and encourage him to sit on it in the morning before he gets dressed and again in the evening before his bath. Don’t force the issue though, let him take the lead.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Other

Teeth Grinding: My little boy, who is just three, started nursery in September, and although he is quite shy and has never spent much time apart from me before, he has adapted really well. He goes to school readily, and seems to be making friends and settling in. His teachers tell me that he is quiet but always participates in play and doesn’t appear to have any concerns. However about six weeks ago he began to grind his teeth while he slept. It happened once or twice in the first week, but now he grinds his teeth most nights. My husband and I are concerned since we have read that it is an indication of stress, and that it can cause damage to his teeth.

Teeth grinding or bruxism, as it known by health professionals, is very common in a child of this age. It occurs when a child clenches his jaw tightly and then grinds his top set against his lower set of teeth. 30% of under-fives regularly grind their teeth.

There can be several causes:

  • For some children it is a natural part of their development.
  • It might occur when a child’s teeth are not properly aligned.
  • It is sometimes a response to pain particularly if a child is suffering from earache or teething.
  • On occasions it can be caused by stress.

In extreme cases it can lead to damage to teeth. It can also lead to jaw-ache and headaches. Most children who teeth grind do so at night so it is difficult to address the physical action since it is happening subconsciously.

It does seem likely that your little boy has began to grind his teeth as a result of starting nursery. Going to nursery is a big step for most two and three year olds, and it sounds as though this is the first time your child has spent any regular time away from you. It is his first experience of independence, and although it seems as though your son has adjusted well, he is still adapting to this new experience.

  • Try to help your son relax socially by encouraging a closer friendship outside nursery with one or two other children with whom he plays at school. Perhaps there is another mother you like with a child in the same class? Consider making a regularly weekly date to do something together with your children outside nursery. Your son will benefit from a closer friend, and this might help his confidence at school.
  • Talk to him to see if there is any aspect of nursery about which he feels particularly anxious.
  • Concentrate on making sure that the time your son spends with you after nursery is relaxed and happy.
  • Try to ensure that his bedtime routine is consistent and peaceful.
  • Give your son plenty of praise and encouragement.
  • Don’t try to wake your son at night if he is grinding his teeth, since this could exacerbate the problem.
  • Make regular appointments to visit the dentist, and ask the dentist to keep a special eye on any negative effect the teeth-grinding might have. It is possible that your son might be encouraged to wear a mouth guard at night in order to protect his teeth.
  • Try not to worry too much. The most likely outcome is that once your son becomes more confident at nursery, this habit will begin to diminish. The vast majority of children grow out of teeth-grinding with no ill-effects. For further advice and reassurance discuss the matter with your GP or health visitor.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Other

Night time waking at 25mths. Is it due to recent potty training or new baby brother?

My 25 month old toddler has always been an excellent sleeper. Luca slept from 7-7 since he was 11 weeks old, with a 1-3 pm nap after lunch. He attends nursery from 9-5 each day which he loves. Since his baby brother arrived 4 months ago, he has had sleep difficulties. This problem has only occurred occasionally until this week when he has had difficulties sleeping every night. We began potty training 7 days ago and it has been a huge success. However, the nights are disturbed for the whole family as he will call or scream for Mama incessantly either just after being put down (now closer to 8pm) for up to 1 hour, or at 5am for up to 2 hours or at night (12 or 1) for up to 2 hours. On the few occasions where I went in to check him, there was never anything wrong. I wonder if he is being woken by his own need to wee and his confusion about wearing his nappy at night. Please help.

The reality about his baby brother being very much part of the family is now beginning to register with Luca. As his sleep problems have only started since his brother’s arrival, it is more likely that this is the cause for for his waking and unsettled bedtimes. It is good that he has taken to potty training so well but I would doubt his need to wee is waking him. As these events begin as soon as Luca is put down, it is more likely his concern regards the changes in his life.

Older siblings especially those around this age often become aware that the baby may be still downstairs and receiving attention after they are in bed. To help with this, make a special issue of them helping to put the baby to bed. This includes giving the baby a goodnight kiss on the head and being beside you as you tuck the baby up. Finding a special or favourite toy to put at the end of the baby’s cot is the older siblings job. Then quietly bid the baby goodnight, turn off the light and leave the room together. There have been occasions when you might need to go back into the baby’s room and take him back out to finish a feed or wind him as soon as the older child is busy listening to stories in bed. But in the older child’s mind the baby has gone to bed before him. Luca may have heard his brother crying in the night whilst in a light sleep and begun to realise that the baby gets more attention in the night, although by now we would like to assume that his brother is sleeping between 11pm and 7am.

Giving Luca more individual time at the end of the day may help. Although I appreciate getting two boys of this age to bed is not easy, Luca must have plenty of one-to-one attention which he had without question before his brother’s arrival. Possibly start your whole routine a little earlier so there is no rush to put him down and he can enjoy plenty of cuddles and stories after his brother has gone down to sleep.

Put him in his nappy just as he gets into bed so he has the chance to have a final wee before going to sleep. If he still has a large drink of milk around bedtime, consider giving it to him slightly earlier, possibly before his bath so you know he will not be disturbed by a need to wee before he falls asleep.
When Luca does wake in the night, I suggest you leave him 10-15 minutes and then go in using a very quiet calm voice and the saying the same words every time: “Luca it’s night time; everyone is sleeping; see you in the morning”. Then leave before any discussion can take place. You may have to repeat this a few times to begin with but he will know that all is well with everyone and be reassured. At 5am you may just change it to “It’s not daytime yet Luca; go back to sleep” and again leave without discussion. If Luca realises that he is not missing out on anything, he should get back to his old sleeping habits within a few weeks. Often the reality that a new sibling is here to stay is not realised for the first few months but once the excitement has worn off, he will realize what it means to him.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Other

Up until recently, my three-year-old daughter has always gone to bed very happily. However, over the last few weeks, things have suddenly changed and she becomes very anxious and tearful as soon as we say it is time to turn the light out and go to sleep. She cries and clings to me or my husband, saying that the monsters will come if she is on her own in the dark, and we have resorted to lying in bed with her, with the light on, until she falls asleep. I know this is a bad habit to have got into, but when we leave the room she starts to become hysterical, and I don’t want her to become overtired.

There hasn’t been a scary situation which might have triggered this fear, and I really don’t know why she has become like this, or what to do to improve the situation.

It is not unusual for children of this age to develop a fear of the dark. They are at a stage in their little lives where their horizons are broadening, and they are beginning to get a sense of life outside a very familiar world. Each day, your daughter is dealing with new experiences – possibly she has started nursery recently, and is meeting a variety of new children and situations. A child of this age will have an active imagination, and is not always able to distinguish between reality and fantasy. The most mild experience – a story book, another child’s response to something or perhaps an image on television can generate little fears. Believing that a monster is hiding in the room, waiting to spring once the light goes out, is not uncommon.

Very sensibly, you have realized the need to address this fear. If you do not respond to it your daughter’s fear may linger and continue to disrupt her bedtime routine and sleeping habits.
There are many ways that you can help your daughter to overcome this fear of monsters in the dark:

  • The first step to help your daughter to overcome her irrational fear is to accept her feelings as real and respond to them sensitively. Don’t ridicule or dismiss your daughter’s feelings, or become frustrated and angry with her. This will only serve to increase her anxiety levels.
  • Don’t make a big deal or fuss about your daughter’s fear in front of her or other people, in case she feels more anxious about it.
  • Talk to your daughter. Ask her to tell you about her fears and what exactly makes her afraid.
  • Reassure her that she is safe; explain there are no such things as monsters. Don’t try to reassure your daughter by checking in the cupboard or under the bed as this may suggest that you believe monsters could be there.

There are also lots of practical ways to deal with your daughter’s fear:

  • Establish a bedtime routine that is relaxing and enjoyable. Your daughter will derive tremendous security from a predictable bedtime routine. Try to avoid over-stimulating her before she goes to bed. A consistently calm and gentle approach will reduce anxiety. Some children love having a special comforter – a soft toy who acts as a companion, and friend to a sensitive child can be invaluable (providing you always keep a spare in the cupboard).
  • Buy a small nightlight to fit in your daughter’s room, or let some light from the hallway filter into her room.
  • Consider putting a lamp (with a low wattage bulb) by her bedside so she can switch on the light herself. This will give her some control over the situation, which should help to reduce her fear.
  • Children can easily be frightened by news footage, films or scary books so ensure that your daughter does not have access to anything inappropriate.
  • Is there a picture or toy in your daughter’s bedroom that may cast a shadow or look creepy in the half-light? If so then move it, or if this is not possible, show your daughter what it is that is making the unusual shape.
  • Make sure your daughter has plenty of physical exercise during the day, as this will help to reduce her stress and anxiety levels at bedtime.

Once you have talked with your daughter and taken the steps above to help reduce the level of her fear, the fears should start to subside. If your daughter still wants you to lie with her whilst she goes to sleep, you need to gradually alter this habit. Start by saying you will sit on her bed for three minutes. After three days, move to sit on a chair by the door. Next reduce this to two minutes, and then one minute. With this gradual withdrawal, your daughter should gradually be gaining in confidence and will soon happily settle herself to sleep as she used to do. If she does fuss when you leave the room, calmly tell her you will come to check on her in two minutes, after which time return and say goodnight. Repeat this as necessary, telling her gently ‘Time to go to sleep now, night-night’.

If your daughter is still finding this hard to manage, you could introduce a simple reward system, such as stickers or stamps on a wall chart to help reinforce any positive behaviour. She can choose a sticker for every occasion she doesn’t cry or call out for you to stay with her. This will allow your daughter to see how well she is doing, with all the stickers she receives.

If your daughter’s fear of the dark continues or worsens, or if other things or events start to trigger bouts of anxiety, you may like to seek professional help from a behavioural psychologist. Children can be taught how to manage their own anxiety, and parents can learn helping strategies.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Starting Nursery

How can I get my 2.3-year-old son to stay without me at nursery?

I am about to have my second child by C-section in two weeks. I have been trying to get my 2.3-year-old son to go to a playschool to help him socialise with other kids and to give me some breathing space. I thought he would be settled by now, but I’m afraid I’ve made a pigs ear of things and am starting to panic and getting myself very worked up.

Initially I took my son with me to have a look at the school and we both took to it and its staff straight away. I have afternoons booked for him from 12:30 to 6pm. I don’t intend leaving him there the full time but even 2 or 3 hours would be great.

My brother called in to the school while he was minding my son to pass on a message for me, and when he was asked if he would like to leave him for a little while, he did. My husband and I were not pleased with him doing this, but he went back after 15 minutes. Unfortunately my son had missed him and was crying when he returned.

I have gone to the school on several occasions with my son. I tried sitting with him, telling him I’m just going to the toilet and will be back in a minute, not saying anything and slipping out of the room. I just seem to be causing him and myself to get very upset.

When he’s there he does enjoy himself, he even forgets to keep checking if I’m there or not. But the moment he realises I’m gone he panics.

I’m at the end of my tether and am starting to question whether I am doing the right thing by sending him there. We live in a large new estate; I don’t have any friends or family around, but I desperately want my son to be happy and make friends.

He never seems to have any problems talking or mixing with people in general and he never kicks up a fuss when he goes to stay with nannies or friends of mine.

I really would appreciate any advice you can give me. I’ve spoken to the staff in the school and they’ve tried to reassure me that the kids who were crying last week, having been left, are settled in now. Am I just being too soft?

A child of your son’s age needs to be introduced to the idea of being at nursery without you, gradually. Despite the rather unfortunate start he has had, it does not mean that he won’t eventually settle in enough to be left for several hours. It is always upsetting to see a child cry and be distressed when he realizes he has been left which is why you must always tell him you are going and not just slip away. He will become anxious and untrusting if he thinks you are suddenly going to disappear. It far better to cope with the inevitable tears on the parting by helping him to learn how to cope with the separation. Many children find the actual moment of saying goodbye very hard but learn to trust, you will return and begin to settle in and enjoy themselves as they become more familiar with the surroundings and staff.

Begin by taking your son back and staying together for about half an hour. Do this, if you can, before your baby is born. Try to visit at least every other day, at different times in the afternoon so he becomes familiar with the different activities held throughout the time. Talk to him about what you have seem when you come home and try to find one or two simple books about pre-school: “Spot Goes to School “ by Eric Hill is just one example of the many you can find.

Once he has been several times with you, talk to him about how the other children are there on their own. Tell him that you are going to take him to school, stay with him for a short while and then go out for 15-20 minutes. The actual length of time will mean nothing to him but he must know that you are going to leave him. Assure him you will come back. Give him something small such as a special key ring which belongs to you and tell him he is going to keep it safe for you, in his pocket, until you return.

Your attitude is very important; although inside you may not feel like it, you must remain smiling and positive about the whole experience as he will quickly pick up any signs of you being upset. Make a point of talking to a member of staff and telling her in front of your son that you are going to leave him and that he is keeping something safe for you. This will help the staff more when they are with him should he be upset. Remember they are used to settling children in and will know the best approach with the different ways children do react to their parents leaving.

Settle him into an activity and then tell him “ I am leaving now but I will be back in 15 minutes”. He may cry straight away. Make sure there is a member of staff he is familiar nearby with who will take him from you. Say goodbye, kiss him and leave. The longer you prolong the parting the harder it will be for both of you. It is hard enough to walk away from your own child but if you really want him to become settled and happy at preschool you must. Try not to wait outside and listen. It would be better to go for a short walk and if you really feel upset wondering how he is coping, ring the school after 10 minutes and see how he is. The majority of children who cry when first left do quite quickly calm down and begin to join in again. He may be a little subdued for a while but the staff will help him.

When you return after 20 minutes or so try not to swamp him and ask “did you miss me?” Ask him has he had fun and what has he been doing. Ask the staff as well to reassure yourself. Once you have left him for the first time you will need to lengthen the time you leave him and lessen the amount of time you spend settling him. As with most things with small children it is better that you do this gradually rather than expecting him to adjust to longer separations straight away.

Try to always say the same things when you leave and keep letting him look after something of yours. Dealt with sensitivity there is no reason why your son should not begin to look forward to his times at pre-school.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Starting Nursery

My 3 year old daughter has been a very contented child. We have recently moved from London to Wales and placed her into a nursery full time. Previously she was cared for by a nanny and went to playgroup. Initially she enjoyed her nursery but she has been ill and now cries a great deal when there. Should I continue to console her endlessly or begin to be a bit firmer?

In the past year she has also had to get used to a new sister [11mths now]. She will begin to attend school in the afternoons from September which is why we felt full time nursery would help. We are now considering whether to have a nanny two days a week to make this change more gradual.

Despite being upset at nursery my daughter continues to eat and sleep well, but I am concerned that our content and confident three year old is now emotional and oversensitive because of all the changes she has had recently.

It may take a time to allow your daughter to adapt to all the changes she has experienced recently.

This kind of reaction you describe is not uncommon with young children who seem, initially, to adapt well but then may regress after illness or when the reality of having to go daily to nursery sets in. If your daughter was beginning to settle down in the nursery and make friends before being absent when she was unwell she now needs to get used to the whole situation again.

Talk to the nursery staff and see if they can see any reason why your daughter has begun to be so upset. If she has a key worker then make sure you have plenty of positive communication with that person. If your daughter sees how well you get on with the people who care for her in the day she should feel more secure when left with them.

The atmosphere of a nursery can be more formal than that of a playgroup where it is easy to get involved. To help your daughter settle better it may help if you are able to spend a few minutes at drop off and pick up looking at any art or craft projects she has been working on, or just helping her to find a toy or friend she wants to be with. Acquaint yourself with how she spends each day so you can comment about nursery routines when you are at home together.

Keep talking to your daughter generally about what she does at nursery rather than asking her directly why she is upset. Be sympathetic to her but also talk to her about all the fun things she does whilst at nursery. If she senses that you view her time there in a positive way she is more likely to settle down again. It can be easy to go on making excuses for your child’s reactions rather than showing her a way to get over them and begin to enjoy herself again. If your daughter gets distressed when getting ready for nursery, talk to her in a reassuring but bright way about the day ahead. Wonder aloud about all the things she may be able to do. Concentrate on the things you know she does enjoy and build on these. Hearing your positive attitude may help her get used to the moment of separating from you which can be hard for small children no matter how confident they are.

Some children of this age may want to talk about their day once nursery has finished, others may not. Your daughter may prefer just to play once she is home again so don’t push her to talk to you about her day if she is reluctant. She may be willing to open up a little at bedtime if you make time to have chat before she settles down to sleep. Try to keep the conversation general, about the things she has enjoyed doing, rather than asking too many specific questions. This is where being in touch with her key worker really helps as, when you are with your daughter, you can refer to what the key worker has told you about her day.

Until she settles down at nursery again your daughter may need a lot of physical reassurance in the form of hugs and cuddles when home. Along with these have plenty of talk in her hearing about how well she does cope with nursery. For instance, if she manages to go into nursery without too much fuss, tell her father when she is listening. Finding reasons for praising your daughter will give her some more self confidence. Comment how helpful she is with her baby sister or in putting her toys away. Positive praise is one of the best ways to help a child of this age through a difficult phase. Make sure any discussions you have with your partner about her tears and upset are held when she is not around.

If you do decide to have a nanny care for your two daughters two days a week realise that your older daughter will have another change to get used to, although within the confines of her home it may be easier for her. Having someone to care for just her and her sister may help her regain her confidence again once she is used to the person.

Encourage your nanny to help prepare your daughter for school. Getting her used to the idea can start now. There are many charming story books dealing with this time in a child’s life which you can start to read to her. If her new school is nearby try to pass by when the children are out at play. Most schools will encourage you to meet up with other new parents and children which will help her become familiar with both the buildings and other faces. If possible, try to arrange a few play dates through the holidays so she does not forget whom she has met. Even children who are settled and happy at nursery may find the change to school a big step. The more your daughter is prepared the easier it should be for her.