Potty Training Your Child

From the first moments of becoming parents, we anticipate and look forward to the many milestones in our child's life. Everything from baby's first smile to his first steps bring about a sense of accomplishment for both baby and parents. For many parents of young toddlers the words "potty training" can elicit feelings of fear and dread. Although time consuming and sometimes frustrating, teaching a child proper bathroom skills is a natural process that can be a positive learning experience for both of you. Helping your toddler cross the threshold of potty training represents greater freedom for the entire family as well as fostering independence for your child.

Potty training must be a team effort between you and your toddler and although the training process will require the support of others along the way, it's important to make sure both of you are ready to begin.

Are you ready for potty training?
The task demands your full attention, consistency and a great deal of patience. You may want to consider beginning the process during the summer months or when you can take time off to be around the house full time with your child. It would also serve you well to select a time when your family's routine is least likely to be disturbed with house guests or vacations away from home. Consistency and familiarity will be a valuable ally in your pursuit of success.

Once you have determined you are ready to commence potty training, make certain your child is as well. Age alone does not determine readiness.

"There is considerable variability in the age at which children attain bowel and bladder control," says Debbie Glasser Schenck, Ph.D., Director of Family Support Services at Nova Southeastern University.

As a general guideline, however, most developing children can be ready to initiate the toilet-learning process between 2 and 2 1/2 years old. There are a few signals of readiness a parent can look for in making their assessment.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends looking for the following signs:

  • Your child stays dry at least 2 hours at a time during the day or is dry after naps.
  • Bowel movements become regular and predictable.
  • Facial expressions, posture, or words reveal that your child is about to urinate or have a bowel movement.
  • Your child can follow simple instructions.
  • Your child can walk to and from the bathroom and help undress.
  • Your child seems uncomfortable with soiled diapers and wants to be changed.
  • Your child asks to use the toilet or potty chair.
  • Your child asks to wear grown-up underwear.

Taking a positive approach
When you've determined it is the right time to begin training, it is important to find a method that will work with the schedule of you and your child. There are plenty of ideas, wives tales and scientific studies to support various methods, but several common factors exist to guarantee success.

"The approach to toilet learning should include plenty of encouragement and praise," says Schenck. "Encourage her efforts rather than focusing on results."

Dr. Betti Hertzberg, Pediatrician and Host of "Let's Go Potty" video, agrees with Schenck's advice. "Praise any success and any attempt at success using positive reinforcement. Punishment will only cause friction and may serve to delay the process."

Children at this age have learned that their actions cause reactions. They find enjoyment in watching the responses they receive from their actions and like to do things themselves. Knowing this, find ways for your child to feel in control of the process. Allow them to choose between "Arthur" and "Bear in the Big Blue House" panties and take them along when you are purchasing their potty chair. If purple is their favorite color, than you should purchase a purple potty chair. The more you involve your child in the process, the greater the cooperation he is likely to exhibit later.

Introduce a book or video about toilet learning so your child can see other children learning to use the potty. These materials are available online or in your local bookstore or you can obtain a copy of Dr. Hertzberg's video at www.LetsGoPotty.com.

Remember to place your child's potty chair in a convenient location within the bathroom. The process of objects being deposited from your body can be a scary thought so make certain the potty is placed in a well-light, comforting area. Often toddlers like sitting close to their parent's potty. And just as some adults enjoy reading materials for those few moments of waiting or to relax, a toddler's favorite books can help the minutes quickly pass.

Once the training process has begun, consistency is perhaps the most important behavior, next to positive reinforcement, for you to demonstrate. Make certain to inform other caregivers that you have made the commitment to train your toddler. Discuss with them your methods and routines so that they may be reinforced while you are away. Knowing what to expect on a regular basis enhances a child's sense of confidence. Don't forget to include good bathroom hygiene in your routine. Teach girls to wipe front to back and all children should learn to thoroughly wash their hands.

Keep your child's diaper off whenever possible. This will not only make it easy for him to run to the potty but will also allow him to witness the effects of his actions in the event of an accident. Remember not to punish an accident.

"If for example, your daughter is walking to the potty and accidentally urinates on the floor, you can respond, 'You almost made it to the potty. Good try! Let's get you clean and you can try again next time,' " says Schenck.

Invite your toddler to sit on the potty chair once an hour targeting times just after meals. Be patient and give them plenty of time. There are some children who must become comfortable on the chair for several minutes before urinating.

Some children become resistant to toilet training. If you feel you have put too much pressure on your child, take a few weeks off and slowly reintroduce the potty again. Avoid over-reminding your child. If your child's toileting habits change suddenly or you have any specific concerns consult your child's pediatrician. Toilet learning is an important developmental step that, when handled respectfully, encourages a sense of independence and self-esteem.