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Potty Training

Toilet training in American society has been a controversial issue for a long time. It’s a fact that you can’t make your child want to use the potty, let alone go on command. However, even if you believe waiting for your child to initiate training is the best method, it’s not always easy on your nerves. Well-meaning relatives and friends may urge you to “train” your child the way they did theirs. Or you may feel pressured to get potty training over before the birth of another child. This issue can involve feelings of competition, guilt, shame, and embarrassment and can lead to unnecessary power struggles between parent and child. Try to be patient and consider letting your child take the lead, and anticipate some ups and downs along the way.


Note that many experts recommend waiting until your child is at least two and a half before you initiate training. Look for signs of readiness before you begin potty training. Discuss with your child ahead of time how “big boys and girls” use the toilet instead of diapers. Listen to your child for cues about readiness. The training period may be much easier and shorter when the child is motivated to get out of diapers.

Signs of Potty Readiness:

  • Your child dislikes being in wet/soiled diapers.

  • Your child announces when he is about to urinate or have a bowel movement.

  • Your child understands the purpose of a potty or toilet.

  • Your child stays dry for a couple of hours between diaper changes or wakes up dry after a nap.

  • Your child has bowel movements at regular, predictable times.

  • Your child is comfortable with and curious about how others use the bathroom.

  • Your child pulls his pants up and down by himself.


Keep in mind that there is a wide age range during which the child is expected to attain complete mastery; experts cite anywhere between two and five years to be normal. Children have different degrees of mental and physical readiness, including such things as muscle control and body awareness.


Invite your child into the bathroom as you or your spouse demonstrate “how to go” and calmly describe what you are doing. Letting a younger child watch older siblings, relatives, or playmates (with their permission) may also set an example.

Shop together for a potty-chair or a smaller padded seat if you sense your child might be afraid of falling into the toilet. It’s pretty scary when a “little bottom” has a sudden splashdown, and it can put the entire toilet-training process on hold for a while.

Dress for success; let him wear sweatpants rather than pants with belts, zippers, buckles, or overalls. It will be a lot easier for you and your child to pull these clothes on and off quickly.


In warm weather, consider taking your nude child and potty-chair into your private backyard. She can then become aware of the sometimes sudden sensation of “having to go” without the risk of peeing on the floor, furniture, or carpeting inside.

Let your child flush the toilet if he wants to. Some children perceive their waste as a precious part of themselves and need time to become comfortable with flushing away their “accomplishment.” Others are just so proud they don’t want to flush “until Daddy sees,” a logistical problem when he’s working late!


Help your child clean up after an accident “like a big boy.” Have him stand up in the bathroom near the toilet and use toilet paper to clean him, rather than having him lie down to have you do all the work as if he were a baby.


Praise your child. Recognize or compliment such accomplishments as letting you know when he “has the urge,” sitting on the toilet even if he doesn’t “go,” pulling his pants up and down without help, flushing the toilet paper into the bowl, and washing hands.

Sit your child facing backward, straddling the toilet, when no potty seat is available. This keeps him from falling in!

Use positive reinforcement. Chart progress and include rewards. Some families find charts and stickers helpful motivators, as long as they don’t get too complicated.


Try to “lighten up” – a sense of humor really helps!


Give your child a feeling of control by letting him help decide when he’s done with diapers; ask him to stack up how many more diapers he will use before he switches to “big boy pants.” Then stack up a couple of pairs of training pants or underwear beside the diapers so he can see what he’ll be using then the diapers are all gone. Keep the stacks in sight and remind him often of “the deal”. (This idea won’t work with all kids, but for a kid who is “almost there” it just might do the trick.)


Anticipate accidents, and when they happen, reassure your child its okay; and expect lots of laundry for a while. Resist punishing your child for an accident or keeping her in soiled clothes to “teach a lesson”; it simply isn’t helpful and could be downright traumatic.

Realize that many children may become so enthralled in their play that they ignore the urge to “go,” especially if they are outside, far away from the toilet. A timer set at regular intervals might help you remind them without nagging or making a big deal out of it by announcing, “It’s potty-break time!” Some families find it helpful to have more than one potty-chair and to station them in different rooms, on each floor of the house, or even outside.


If your child becomes resistant to training, back off. Avoid power struggles. Many experts believe that pushing a child who doesn’t want to be trained will only make the situation worse.


Be aware that toilet training, for some children, occurs in stages and requires some understanding and patience from parents. Some children become bladder-trained before they are bowel-trained (or vice versa). Expect daytime dryness to precede nighttime dryness, in some cases by several months or even several years. (Note: Experts say that “bed-wetting” is not even considered a problem until after age six.)


Girls usually train earlier than boys (but not always).


Be aware that regression is normal during stressful times such as moves, illness, deaths, divorce, or the arrival of a new sibling. Your understanding and compassion will help your child get “back on track” faster than anything else.


Consider bringing out the diapers once again if your child regresses. You’re not a failure as a parent if you have to put away your daughter’s “big girl” undies temporarily. After all, it’s probably easier on you to change diapers than to clean up all those accidents.

Consider the pros and cons of “pull-ups.” While some families find them to be a handy invention, they are quite expensive and you might wonder if your child is getting mixed messages. If they’re really “big boy” pants, why is it okay to “pee” in them? Do they remind your child that he has had an accident, or do they keep him so dry that he rarely notices that he’s wet them?


One final note: Stop worrying about it; no matter what, your kids will become potty-trained in due time – well before they “walk down the aisle.”

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