How do you know when your child needs to go?
There are three ways to approach this. The first is to recognise your child's signs of discomfort (signals). The second is to use timing: in relation to other things (after a nap, after a feed, at convenient times) or relative to the last catch (or miss). The last is to get them to tell you using signs. Most people end up using a combination of all three.
Recognising a signal can be perfectly straight forward or nigh on impossible - all babies are different (as are their parents).
I'll list some common signals here, but don't worry if none of them sound familiar. Signal clarity changes with age, developmental milestones, state of health and current activity - which covers just about everything!
For example, it can be much easier to read a baby's signals when they are being worn in a sling than when they are rolling around the floor...
All ages: breathing. I realise that I listen to my children's breathing patterns all the time. If they breathe in then pause - that's concentration, and that can mean many things but sometimes requires a potty. (I don't really set out to do that, but it just happens that I do...)
Newborns: cry or other vocalisation, if lying on stomach - pull knees up underneath themselves to relieve pressure on the bladder, a facial expression of concentration (little 'o' shaped mouth for example), squeeze knees together when being carried in the 'tummy-to-mummy' position in a sling or wrap.
Rollers: may also pause activity for a moment of concentration
Crawlers: pause may be more pronounced and be accompanied by eye contact with you (presumably because they are expecting you to react).
Toddlers: pulling of pants, grabbing / pointing to crotch or other deliberate sign (of your teaching or their own invention), crouching, again the concentration. As they get older the deliberate communication becomes more obvious (though may start off being a little late!) - fetching the potty, calling, trying to take off their own soggy trousers...
To recognise your own baby's signals you need to be watching and listening to them before, during and after they wee or poo and you need to know exactly when the event occurs.
Depending on the age and mobility of your baby, you might want to leave them with a bare bottom for a while (offer 'nappy free time') or take off their nappy but leave them in something fairly absorbent but obviously wet (like pants with a booster pad or jogging bottoms) or leave them in their cloth nappy but remove the waterproof cover and keep checking it. You could leave them in a disposable but check it every few minutes (pinch it between your finger and thumb to see if it's squishy) or just after you think you've spotted a signal - but that makes it much more difficult to spot the wee as it is happening.
When you witness a wee, you have a few options: draw attention to it by explaining what is happening and what you'd like to happen ('Oh, you're doing a wee. We can try to do that on the potty, then your trousers won't get all soggy'), make your cue sound, or spring into action to sit them on the potty before they've finished.
If this is the first time you are going for a catch then the easiest approach is to use timing.
There are several times of day when a catch is more likely.
On waking: first thing in the morning or immediately after a nap (can be tricky if your groggy baby isn't used to / doesn't want to be pottied).
After a feed: milk or solids - taking in sustenance gets the bowels moving. For young babies (up to a 12 months or so) drinking or sucking can also trigger an immediate wee.
In relaxing situations: hands in that nice warm washing up water, sitting in a warm bath or hearing running water.
You might already know a good time of day to try. If your baby always has a morning bowel movement, for example.
Simply offer an opportunity ('pottytunity') a reasonable time after the last known event.
To know when to offer you need to know roughly how long your baby goes between wees when left to their own devices. For mine, that started off at birth at around an hour and built up to sometimes two or three hours by eighteen months.
However, I always halved the interval after a miss because I don't think my girls fully emptied their bladders unless they were on the potty / being held in position. So one miss lead to many more misses unless I shortened the interval to get a catch - then we were back on track.
Then there is timing based on daily events that have nothing to do with your child's digestion.
Just before you leave the house, before you get in the car, when you arrive at play group, before bed, at nappy changes - whenever it would be convenient to buy yourself some time.
I used to reserve the running of taps for just before we went on car journeys.
Even now, if my toddler is unwilling to sit on the potty I take her outside because I know she'll always try for me there.
Wouldn't it be easier if your baby simply told you when they needed to wee or poo?
If you use a deliberate sign every time you say 'potty', you lay a solid foundation for this communication.
Baby sign language is remarkable. My young toddlers regularly used around 60 signs and I can't imagine how conversations would have taken place without it!
You can start signing early (at 6 months or younger) or wait until your baby can wave goodbye, or toddle about. It really doesn't matter. Starting later isn't problem - your 15 month old will pick up the signs much more quickly than an 8 month old and you'll be up and running in no time.
All of my toddlers signed "potty" using the Born Ready Chest Slap. Follow the link to watch a quick video demonstration of that and alternative signs from the major sign languages.
If your toddler is starting to talk and you're wondering whether signing is worth it, I suggest you give it a go and find out. My kids used a mixture of signing and speech for a long time. They were frequently misunderstood when they first started talking but could fall back on sign language to help out. Watch this video on starting signing with a toddler to get you all fired up and raring to get started.
Signals or Timing?
Or a combination of both?
Three weeks old, 'poo face' (mouth forms the small 'oh' shape of concentration) - recognise the signals!
Eleven months, after dinner - use timing.
Create your own personal cheat sheet.
I'll guide you through your options as if you were at one of my workshops.