Most children are toilet trained around the age of two, through often it’s prudent to start boys later. This is because the connection between the brain, which recognises that the bladder is full, and the muscles that cause the bladder to contract, is related to the child developmental stage. It has nothing to do with parenting or intellect. Boys are sometimes a bit more relaxed about reaching this milestone, so don’t be tempted to compare them to their older sisters.
It’s much more significant if the child is already toilet trained and then starts to wet or soil themselves. This could be due to a medical problem like constipation or a urinary tract infection. It could also be due to an emotional problem, like anxiety. Anxiety could arise from the act of elimination itself, for instance if the child has an ‘accident’ and then the parent reacts with anger, or the child develops a fear of the toilet. It could also arise from something relatively benign, like the arrival of a new sibling, or something much more worrying like sexual abuse.
If the child is bedwetting after the age of six, this can still be normal. It can help for the child to know, for instance, that their Uncle Matt had a similar problem but grew out of it, as it tends to be familial. Quite a number of children wet the bed until the age fifteen and even later. Your GP can help with this if it becomes a problem for the child. Most advice about toilet training is given with the idea of patience and calmness on the part of the parent, as frustration and anger over the child’s slow progress is unhelpful and will tend to exacerbate the problem.
Written by Dr Alanna Horadam