Putting the Tot on the Pot: Potty Training in a Rented Home

Potty-training has a more filthy and frightful reputation than most other childhood transitions, even more than weaning a baby onto food. Potty training is unpredicatable, can be lengthy, and can produce “surprises” and regression for months after – oh, goody. As I’m writing for people like me, who move often – from every six months up to every two years – I know well the feeling, always in the background, that messes must be rectified quickly and completely, or they will cost, and so potty training in a rented home can be a particular anxiety for the parent, let alone a child!

Nevertheless, it’s spring, and if you have a toddler, you may still be thinking about potty-training, not least because parents around you, in their own houses or in secure tenancies, will probably be discussing potty training their child. Eighteen months and into the Terrible Twos seems to be the socially-acceptable window, driven by factors such as the countdowns to a new baby or to starting preschool. People are also subject to social and familial pressure, sometimes quite severe, and this can be a real problem for you in short-term or insecure tenancies.

The first questions, though, are WHEN and WHETHER. Don’t let pressure from others get to you. It really is important to get the timing right, or, if it is wrong but unavoidable, to get your nerves in a state when you can deal with it all.

WHETHER is a question I don’t think people ask very often. They think, “Of course it’s not a question of whether to potty train a child. They all have to learn! S/he can’t be the only one still in nappies. How humiliating/ awkward/ expensive!”

Nevertheless, there are plenty of factors which can cause problems for a child learning to control his or her bodily functions, and the two-year check could be a good time to discuss those. Any additional physical or psychological needs can turn an attempt to potty-train into extra problems for the child’s self-confidence, and also a strain on your relationship with the child. Any history of urinary tract problems in a child should also prompt caution in teaching bladder control: excessive pressure on the bladder, or excessive “holding” can trigger painful infections, or re-trigger other problems. If you have medical backing (health visitor, GP or specialist) for your decision to delay, that could help you stand up to pressure. Have a look, too, at the Mumsnet talk board about potty-training, where there are frequent discussions of how to reply to passive-aggressive questions like, “Oh, still in nappies, are we?” “When are you going to be a big boy/girl like your cousin?” and “well, of course, in my day, you were all dry at fifteen months.”

Assuming there are no physical factors, let’s turn to the question of WHEN. Here, what will hit a Renter Nomad child more than most is the effect of moving home. This really can’t be underestimated as a factor which sets back any attempt to potty train. Toddlers’ lives have been so short that a move can represent the loss of a home they have known all their conscious life. When physical control is so new and, actually, pretty uncomfortable (they do wait till they are bursting to go), it’s just another stress for them. Therefore, it’s good to leave a period of a few months from the end of potty training (having allowed a month or so to perform the potty training) before your next move.

If you are unfortunate enough to have got stuck in a pattern of six-month tenancies and/or moves, or even if you are in a rolling tenancy, meaning your LL need only give you two months’ notice (though this must tie in with the rent day, so a mistake in the issuing of the notice could give you some leeway), this kind of potty-training window can seem unachievable, and really quite stressful. This leads us to the second WHEN question, which is about age. Your child is more likely to “get” potty training more quickly, and have more robust control, if s/he does it relatively later, closer to three. My son was a spring baby, so “all” his peers were being potty-trained in the summer after their second birthday. However, we were moving again that summer, so I didn’t attempt it. There was absolutely no point distressing him, and since he was angry and stressed enough to be in a new house, I didn’t have his goodwill, and didn’t want to fight with him when I should have been reassuring him through the transition to a new home (which was stressful enough for me, too!). He potty-trained closer to three, and “got it” quite quickly, with steel control which really confused me at first: I had been expecting frequent peeing, with lots of wiping up everywhere (thank goodness we had hard floors for this, I thought); however, it became clear he was already holding. He was also dry at night pretty quickly, so limited extra mess there, too. His being older also meant we could have a quite sophisticated tarriff of rewards: one chocolate button for telling me he needed to go (even if he didn’t get there in time, because that might not be his fault), and two for going there himself. There was also an additional one for peeing on the pot, or one for pooing on the pot. With up to five chocolate buttons to be won, this was a great chance to gain goodwill, rather than losing it. However, there’s no way my daughter, who’s just starting now, could manage such arithmetical complexity, at just 2¼ year old, so I’m expecting it all to take longer with her. (Just to give a bit of context: I would like to take my own advice about waiting, but she is demanding half a dozen nappy changes a day, which is driving me mad, and we do have a window before we are likely to move again this summer.)

Another WHEN question concerns new babies: just don’t try to potty-train a toddler when a baby is either on the way or is newborn. Don’t be fooled by anyone saying: “You don’t want two in nappies at the same time!” Of course you do, since the alternative is very likely the toddler pooing on the carpet and stamping in it, just as you’re stuck changing the newborn’s nappy (while the nappyless newborn might possibly use the distraction provided by the toddler for a liquid projectile poo).

The WHEN question about season really is less important than all other WHEN questions. The warm months offer pleasant opportunities for toddlers to be outside during the day, which is a very welcome reduction in chances to spread numbers one and two over rented carpets. It will also be quicker to dry the extra washing, and the ultraviolet light in sunlight will fade poo-stains better than detergent. However, colder weather doesn’t mean you can’t go outside, and, having done winter potty-training, I can tell you that any accidents will be cold and uncomfortable enough to be felt, and learned from well.

Stain and spill protection

This is the major potty-training anxiety for many Renter Nomad parents, and rightly so. A rented home is rarely set up for low-maintenance living and cleaning (God knows why). Maybe you have been luckier than I, and have benefited from more hard floors, even if they are the cheapo sort of laminate or vinyl. In my renting experience, though, carpets, and light-coloured carpets in particular, have abounded. I think the light colouring became popular because this reflects light, gives the impression of space, and looks all right if you don’t have to live with them and clean them (and if your landlord/landlady was a buy-to-letter, s/he, of course, doesn’t have to). Moreover, carpeting supplements the often inadequate insulation of a rented dwelling (which, again, a LL does not have to experience, so may not invest in).

You may have already taken everyday precautions over your carpeting, so there’s that part of your planning already done. If not, here are some potty-training precautions for your floors:

  • Rugs are useful for sopping up wet accidents, and providing a barrier between poo and a LL’s carpet. However, pile rugs need cleaning just as much as laid carpets, so there’s no particular reason to buy one of these: you might as well leave the laid carpet uncovered, unless it’s very ugly and you want your own rug underfoot. There are also smaller, washable rugs, which can include mats and runners (Lakeland has some good ones), especially rubber-backed for front hall use (the sort of versatility which is excellent in the Renter Nomad’s household), or woven mats which can double as mats in the bathroom or for outdoor picnics (Ikea’s smaller flatwoven rugs can be put in the washing machine).

  • Office-chair floor protectors traditionally sit under a rolling chair to protect the carpet from wear, but for a Renter Nomad, they represent a see-through barrier which not only protects the rental deposit (er… I mean the carpet), but also provides a wipeable/moppable surface – a big labour-saver when potty training. When not in use, floor protectors can be stacked and stored under a sofa or bed. Ikea has the Kolon, and Ryman has chair mats in different shapes, and other shops will stock similar items. These protect wooden floors from deposit-destroying scratches, too. I have also used a floor protector under a dining table to prevent food from getting stuck in the cracks in the wooden floor, which would have ended up being thoroughly unsanitary!

As for furniture, throws will perform the same functions that rugs will, for floors. If you are renting unfurnished, you can also make an effort in the first place to buy stain-resistant furnishings, or sofas and chairs with removable covers. Leather is also wipe-clean, if you can afford it (and some leather sofas are only leather on the contact-surfaces, with vinyl elsewhere, which can really cut the cost of leather furniture). Waterproof mattress protectors are another thing you can throw over a sofa during potty-training.

Finally, don’t forget the final barrier, which is on your toddler him- or herself. Terry-lined potty-training pants should soak up about an accident’s worth of wetness, or catch one poo, before they leak, and the wetness in particular is a good start in getting your child to understand the connection between muscle-action and consequence, something that absorbent disposable nappies can de-teach. Speaking of nappies, there’s another thing disposables users can learn from cloth nappy users (and I am not making a passive-aggressive point of this; I use disposables): and that is placing soft liners (in fleece, silk (!), other materials or flushable paper) inside potty-training pants to catch poo, as pooey pants are worse than pooey nappies because they don’t open! If placed correctly, the liner will “catch” the body of the poo and and allow you to throw it away, rather than having to wash it out using your washing machine. You can find liners in the reusable/cloth nappy section of your Boots/ pharmacy, or order them online. Buy in small quantities, though, since potty training really ought not to take months. If it does, please do revisit the WHEN and WHETHER questions. People do stop and re-start potty-training, and if it is going to save you stress, money on your rental deposit, and save your relationship with your child, it will make your life easier.

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About renternomads

Despite an Oxbridge degree and a background in writing, event management and business journalism, I've rented in the private sector for 12 years. Shame on me: what a betrayal of my class background! So the rhetoric goes... However, in the UK, now, the average age of a first time buyer without parental support has risen to 37. Moreover, new kinds of renters are entering the market: the housing market is so illiquid that sellers are increasingly talking of "going into rented" while they seek to buy another property. Whether you're a long-term renter or a "temporary nomad", I hope you'll find it useful and interesting as I blog about the domestic solutions which you can take with you, so you don't "have" to buy again and again.
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