Potty training is a significant milestone for kids and their parents. It’s a time filled with cheers, (hopefully, very few) tears, and accidents. Parents usually have lots of questions about the right age to start, how long it should take, and whether there are any magic methods to guarantee quick success. However, potty training success is dependent on physical, developmental and behavioral milestones, not age. Many children show signs of being ready for potty training between ages 18 and 24 months, while others may not be ready until they’re three years old. There’s no rush. If you start too early, it may take longer to train your child.
One of the major keys to successful potty training is starting when your child is ready. Questions to ask yourself are:
• Can your child walk to and sit on a toilet?
• Can your child pull down his or her pants and pull them up again?
• Can your child stay dry for up to two hours?
• Can your child understand and follow basic directions?
• Can your child tell you when he or she needs to go?
• Does your child seem interested in using the toilet or wearing “big-kid” underwear?
If the answers are mostly yes, your child may be ready. If the answers are mostly no, you may want to wait — especially if your child is about to face a major life change, such as a move, a new school, or the arrival of a new sibling.
Parent readiness is important, too, but the process should be led by your child’s motivation, instead of your eagerness to get it over with. It’s important not to equate potty training success or difficulty with your child’s intelligence. Keep in mind that accidents are inevitable and punishment has no role in the process. Plan toilet training for when you or a caregiver can devote the time and energy to be consistent on a daily basis for a few months.
Here are some helpful tips to use once your child is ready to begin potty training:
Choose your words: Decide which words you’re going to use for your child’s bodily fluids. “Pee” and “poo” work fine. Avoid negative words, such as dirty or stinky.
Prepare the equipment: Place a potty chair in the bathroom or, initially, wherever your child is spending most of his or her time. Encourage your child to sit on the potty chair. Make sure your child’s feet rest on the floor or a stool. Use simple, positive terms to talk about the toilet. You may dump the contents of a dirty diaper into the potty chair and toilet to show their purpose. Have your child flush the toilet.
Schedule potty breaks: Have your child sit on the potty chair or toilet without a diaper for a few minutes at two-hour intervals, as well as first thing in the morning and right after naps. For boys, it’s often best to master urination sitting down, then move to standing up after bowel training is complete. Stay with your child and read a book together or play with a toy while he or she sits. Allow your child to get up if he or she wants. Even if your child simply sits there, offer praise for trying — and remind your child that he or she can try again later. Bring the potty chair with you when you’re away from home with your child.
Get there — fast: When you notice signs that your child may need to use the toilet — such as squirming, squatting or holding the genital area — respond quickly. This helps your child become familiar with these signals, stop what he or she is doing, and head to the toilet. Praise your child for telling you when he or she has to go and keep your child in loose clothing that’s easy to remove.
Explain hygiene: Teach girls to wipe carefully from front to back to prevent bringing germs from the rectum to the vagina or bladder. Be sure to praise her for doing it correctly. Make sure your child washes his or her hands afterward.
Ditch the diapers: After a couple of weeks of successful potty breaks, and remaining dry during the day, your child may be ready to trade diapers for training pants or underwear. Celebrate the transition. Let your child return to diapers if he or she is unable to remain dry. Consider using a sticker or star chart for positive reinforcement.
If your child resists using the potty chair or toilet, or isn’t getting the hang of it within a few weeks, take a break. Chances are he or she isn’t ready yet. Pushing your child when he or she isn’t ready can lead to a frustrating power struggle. It’s better to try again in a few months.
Accidents will happen! When they do:
Stay calm: Don’t scold, discipline or shame your child. You may say, “You forgot this time. Next time, you’ll get to the bathroom sooner.”
Be prepared: Keep a change of underwear and clothing handy, especially at school or in child care.
You’ve got this! The major key to successful potty training is packing your patience. If your child seems ready for potty training but is having difficulties, talk to your pediatrician for guidance and to ensure there’s no underlying problem. Remember, we’re here to help you raise happy and healthy kids!
• Dr. Tamarra Moss is a pediatrician committed to helping you raise happy and healthy kids. You can find her at Dr. Carlos Thomas & Pediatric Associates in Nassau, Lucayan Medical Center in Grand Bahama, or on Instagram @mykidsdoc242.