Practical advice for new parents

Potty Training

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It's hard to believe that in such a short time your once helpless little infant has grown into a full-fledged toddler with a mind of his or her own. An important stage in the development of your child's growing independence is mastering potty training. Like most parents, you probably have mixed feelings about beginning the process. On one hand, you are certainly more than ready to stop changing diapers, but on the other you may be a little unsure of where to begin or whether or not your child is even ready. Believe it or not, potty training doesn't have to be a stressful or complicated process. If potty training is managed effectively, free from pressure and negativism, it can be a rewarding, proud time for both you and your child.

The first and most important step in potty training is to begin the process when your child is first showing signs of readiness. Watching for these clues is the key to success. Somewhere between 18 months and 3 years of age, most children will begin demonstrating readiness for potty training by doing one or several of the following:

  • Staying dry for several hours at a time
  • Interest in watching mommy, daddy, or a sibling going potty
  • Having regular bowel movements
  • Asking for dirty diapers to be changed
  • Announcing that he or she needs to go "pee-pee" or "poo-poo"
  • Being able to follow directions
  • Wanting to sit on the potty
  • Wanting to wear "big boy" or "big girl" underwear.

Studies have shown that children who have been pressured into potty training before 18 months will often prolong the process until well after their 4th birthday. So, it's important to not begin until there are clear signs of readiness. In general, girls show signs sooner than boys, but this isn't always the case.

Once you are sure that your child is poised for potty training, it's time to start. Begin by buying a potty chair or seat. Make this a fun experience by letting your child pick out the one that he or she wants. Some children do better with a potty chair that sits on the floor, while others prefer a training seat that sits on top of an adult toilet. If your child prefers to use the "grown up" potty, make sure to provide a step stool so that he or she can comfortably access it. If you both decide on a potty chair, place it either in your child's room or ideally, in the bathroom.

For the first couple of weeks, let your child sit on the potty fully clothed to get used to the idea. Take these opportunities to explain about the potty and its purpose. There are also many good children's books on the topic of potty training, and you might even consider reading a "potty" story while your child is in the bathroom. The goal at this point is to make it a positive, fun event for your child.

After he or she is comfortable with sitting on the potty, let your child try it with the diaper off. Make this a routine, especially first thing in the morning and before bedtime. Through this second step of potty training, regularly ask you child if he or she needs to go to the potty. Many children will begin communicating when it's time to "go". Don't forget to give lots of praise for "successful missions" to the potty.

Once using the potty becomes a habit, gradually switch from diapers to underwear. Yes, there will be occasional accidents, but stay positive and don't be tempted to scold. Your child will quickly pick up on signs that you are getting stressed and could actually regress. Rather, keep a natural, non-threatening attitude. Some parents prefer transitioning their children from diapers into the pull-up type training pants before trying underwear. However, these can often delay the completion of potty training as they are absorbent like diapers. A good compromise is to use underwear during the day and training pants during bedtime and naps. At this point, boys who have learned to urinate while seated will often begin emulating their fathers or older boys and try it standing, and both boys and girls will quickly make the transition from a potty seat to a toilet outfitted with a training seat.

While potty training is usually completed in a few weeks to several months, some children require more time. In most cases, difficulties are overcome in less than a year. However, if your child complains of any pain or difficulty in going potty or if night time wetting is a consistent problem for more than a year after daytime training is complete, discuss the situation with your child's doctor.