Potty Training: When and How

Catching up on some reading
Creative Commons License photo credit: abardwell

There are two key elements you need to focus on when it comes to potty training: knowing when to start, and knowing how to reinforce good behavior when you do start.





Let’s take a look at each of these issues.

Watch the signs

First, watch for some developmental and emotional signs that your child is ready to begin the process:

  • For instance, is your child walking? Most kids walk by a year to a year and a half, the soonest you should even be thinking about toilet training.
  • Does your child put on and take off his clothes? Is he able to pull his pants up and down? Most kids can do this by age 2.
  • When your child has a soiled diaper, does he bring you a fresh one and ask to be changed? Having awareness of a wet diaper is a good clue he’s ready to start potty training.
  • Does he “do a little dance” when playing? Use this opportunity to encourage him to “try.”
  • In general, girls exhibit readiness signs slightly earlier than boys do.

Once your child is developmentally ready, you can entice him with books and/or videos on potty training. You can allow her into the bathroom with you and let her flush for you. Buy your child their very own potty chair. Whether it’s a separate kid-sized chair or a special kid seat to place on the grown-up toilet is up to you and your child. Either way, they can call it their own and that makes it special.

Reinforce correct behavior

How should you react to success and failure? If the child is unable to “go,” be nonchalant about it and quickly and quietly clean up.

If the child has an accident – accidents are common in the early stages of toilet training – simply and quietly, clean up the child, saving the conversation until he is wearing fresh clothes. If the child receives too much parental attention during this time, it might boost the notion that accidents bring extra notice from mom or dad.

On the other hand, lavish praise as well as incentives – sticker charts, kisses and treats – will help reinforce the correct behavior. Children really do want to please their parents, so knowing they’ve earned your approval will help guarantee future successes.

Sometimes, however, parents view these techniques as “giving in” to the child and try to control the process, such as forcing a child to train quickly and punishing for accidents. This could have negative consequences:

  • Low self-esteem: A child may feel like a failure if he cannot control his bodily functions.
  • Constipation: A child will become so fearful to “let go” that, eventually, he literally cannot. When he does, the resulting bowel movement may be large, hard and perhaps bloody.
  • Household stress: The family literally plans their life around the child and his toileting routine.
  • Training quirks: Perhaps a child will only feel comfortable using the home toilet.

What has your experience been like with your kids? Any sage advice you can pass along?


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