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Potty Training & Swimming Pools

by Christy Ayala

A trip to the swimming pool with your toddler or preschooler during potty training means double duty for a parent. On top of making sure she's safe in and around the water, you need to keep tabs on the quickest route to the bathroom and be vigilant for signs she has to go.

Water Safety and Potty Training

Poop happens during potty training -- but when it happens in the swimming pool, it may spread recreational water illnesses. Recreational Water Illnesses or RWIs such as Cryptosporidium and E. coli can make people sick when contaminated water is accidentally swallowed, explains the Centers for Disease Control. Shallow water-play attractions, kiddie pools and backyard pools without filtration systems are especially susceptible to contamination. Chlorine doesn’t immediately kill RWI germs, so even pools with filters and properly chlorinated water can make your little one sick if he gets contaminated water in his mouth, warns the Mayo Clinic. Toddlers and preschoolers need frequent potty breaks, especially during potty training, and parents should never let their children swim with an upset stomach or diarrhea.

Potty-Training Readiness

If your child spends a lot of time in the pool, especially if she is taking swim lessons, starting to potty train before she's ready could muddy the waters, jeopardizing her chances for success in both potty training and water acclimation. The window to start potty training is wide, ranging from 18 to 30 months or more, explains the American Academy of Pediatrics. Look for signs that she’s emotionally and physically ready, because starting potty training too early will only be frustrating for everyone, the AAP says. When she shows signs that wearing dirty diapers stinks, wants to wear “big girl” pants and demonstrates interest in using the potty, chances are she’s ready to give it a go.

Hygiene and the Pool

Teach your toddler or preschooler that it's important to always wash his hands with soap and water, even if he's going right back into the pool. Independence is important to your little one during potty training, and he may refuse help wiping his bottom, so make sure he's completely clean by having him rinse his bottom with soap and water in the shower. Your child may not always make it to the bathroom in time, so keep an extra swimsuit with you just in case, and put the soiled suit in a sealed plastic bag to wash at home. Rinsing the suit in the sink or shower at the pool, even with soap, may not sufficiently clean it and can spread germs. If you suspect your child had an accident while in the swimming pool, let the lifeguard know -- it's important for everyone's health and safety.

Accident Prevention

Potty training is all about avoiding accidents. Because of the risk for RWIs, there is no place where prevention is more important than at the swimming pool. Make sure your toddler or preschooler uses the potty just before she gets in the water and that she has frequent bathroom breaks. She may be having too much fun to recognize when she has to go until it's too late, so stick to a firm schedule and watch closely for the tell-tale signs that she needs to go.

“If your child is in a swim class, take her to the bathroom just before class starts,” advises Jennifer C. White of Starfish Aquatics Institute, a national Learn to Swim Provider for the USA Swimming Foundation's Make a Splash child water-safety initiative. “Let your child’s instructor know you are potty training and what the signs are that your child may have to go,” White says. “Reassure your child that it’s OK to tell her teacher when she has to go potty. Always keep open lines of communication between parent, child, and instructor during swim lessons, especially during potty training.”

About the Author

Christy Ayala writes about recreation, sports, aquatics, healthy living, family and parenting, language development, organizational change, pets and animals. Ayala holds a master's degree in recreation administration from Aurora University’s George Williams College, a graduate certificate in organizational change from Hawaii Pacific University and a bachelor's degree in Spanish from the University of Missouri, St. Louis.

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