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Toilet Training

Although toilet training is a tremendous achievement for a child, it certainly can be a nerve-wracking experience for parents. Parents are excited about the thought of no longer having to change diapers, but they are anxious for the actual training to go smoothly. In fact, there are sections in most general child-rearing books with information on toilet training and lots of books written solely on this subject. You may find it helpful to read more than one book on the subject and choose a method that seems best for you and your child.

Here are some general guidelines that apply to just about everyone.

When To Start

As every toddler is unique, so is her readiness for toilet training. Some parents are anxious for their toddler to use the toilet, perhaps so she can enter into day care or pre-school. However, hurrying toilet training usually does not work. Let your child choose her own timetable for potty training. Always be encouraging, but realize that although most children start showing signs of readiness in the six months before their second birthday, it can be perfectly normal not to be ready for toileting until even 3 years of age or older.

Look for the following signs that your toddler is ready to toilet train.

  • Being dry for two to three hours at a time during the day and having a relatively predictable pattern of bowel movements (for example, shortly after meals)
  • Being able to recognize when he has to go and letting you know in some way that he needs to
  • Having a dirty diaper may make him uncomfortable
  • Being interested in using a potty seat or the toilet, or asking to use training pants or "big-boy" underwear
  • Being willing and able to follow directions
  • Being able to get himself dressed and undressed

When you begin to see these signs, start potty training, but you must be patient. It typically can take several weeks or even months for a child to learn to use the toilet correctly and regularly. Be prepared for setbacks. Some toddlers use the potty for a while and then seem to lose all interest. Do not worry as she will regain interest soon, but only when she is ready.

What To Do
  1. Get a potty. Let your toddler help pick it out. Look for a portable potty that sits on the floor. Your toddler will feel most comfortable sitting on a toddler-sized toilet with his feet resting on the floor. A portable potty is also convenient because it can be moved easily from room to room. If you decide to use a potty seat that fits on an adult toilet, get a stepstool. This lets your toddler climb on and off the potty without assistance, and gives him somewhere to rest his feet while he goes to the bathroom. It is most helpful for children (and adults) to have their feet firmly on the floor or a stool when having a bowel movement.
  2. Put the potty in the playroom. Let your child get comfortable with the potty by sitting on it and playing with it.
  3. Move the potty into the bathroom. Tell your toddler that this is his potty and the big potty is for mom and dad.
  4. Have her practice sitting on the potty. With her diaper on, encourage your child to sit on her potty at least once a day for a few minutes while you sit on the toilet. After a few days or weeks, suggest that she sit on the potty with her diaper off.
  5. Have boys should sit, too. It's easier for boys to learn to use the toilet while sitting down. Once they have some success with bowel movements in the toilet, they can try urinating while standing. Most boys have no difficulty with this transition.
  6. Allow him to practice using the potty. When you think your child may need to use the bathroom, either by his body language or because it is his usual time to do so, ask him if he'd like to use the potty. If he is interested, take off his diaper and let him sit on the potty for a few minutes. If he isn't interested, don't force him. Remember, toilet training works best when done according to your child's schedule.
  7. Celebrate cooperation and any other successes. Praise your child during each step of the process. For example, even when she is still fully clothed, tell her what a good job she is doing sitting on her potty. If your child happens to urinate or have a bowel movement while sitting on the potty, he'll be excited and you will be, too. If nothing happens, do not be disappointed or angry. Tell him that he can try again another time.
  8. Don't rush to flush. Flushing is fun for some children but scary for others, especially for younger children. Children are often frightened by the noise of the flushing toilet and may be afraid that they might fall in and get flushed away, too. Many children see their stool as part of themselves and do not want to see it go away. Until age 2 and one-half or 3 years, empty the potty and flush the toilet after your child has left the bathroom.
  9. Let him go by himself. Once your child has urinated or moved his bowels in the potty several times, you can stop the practice sessions and let him try on his own. Dress him in loose-fitting clothing that he can easily remove, or let him walk around for a few hours with no clothes on from the waist down. You can give him reminders to go every one to two hours. If he has an accident, put him back in his diapers and try again at another time.
  10. Introduce training pants. Once your child is dry for at least two hours and starting to urinate in the potty, have him wear cloth training pants or underwear for a few hours. Extend the time as he gains more control over his toileting. When he is dry at least half the time, he is ready for underwear all of the time. Disposable "training pants" or "pull-ups" are not recommended for toilet training. Cloth pants are preferred because they help the child feel the difference between wet and dry.
  11. Expect accidents. Remember that wetting and soiling accidents are a normal part of toilet training. Respond sympathetically, and change your child into a dry diaper or clean training pants. Lectures and punishment do not encourage toilet training; in fact, it can prolong the process unnecessarily.

Last updated February 17, 2011