Many parents are unsure about when to start toilet teaching or “potty training.” Not all kids are ready at the same age, so it’s important to watch your child for signs of readiness, such as stopping an activity for a few seconds or clutching his or her diaper.
Most children begin to show these signs between 18 and 24 months, although some may be ready earlier or later than that. And boys often start later and take longer to learn to use the potty than girls.
Take your time with toilet training and resist pressure from others. Focus on your child. The process may take weeks or months. But if done properly, you will spare you and your child frustration and needless battles.
As with other major milestones, different children potty train at different times. At what point your toddler learns to go to the bathroom on her own has nothing to do with her other developmental achievements.
So relax! Here are some basic clues to watch for before you begin toilet training:
SIGNS OF READINESS
- The earliest age for effective training is about 1½ to 2 years. Bowel movements are more regular and bladder sensation is developing. Younger children simply cannot control the muscles that hold and let go of bowel and bladder movements. Too-early training also can cause physical discomfort and anxiety at the inability to please parents.
- Your child should regularly remain dry for at least two hours and wake up dry from naps.
- There should be no stresses or disruptions in the family, such as the birth of a new sibling, divorce or Mom going back to the workplace.
- Your child must have walked well for at least four to five months and recover well from stooping over. Walking well gets him to the bathroom in time.
- Your child must be able to sit still for five to 10 minutes while playing with a toy, which is evidence of a developing attention span.
- He should show a willingness to cooperate, including giving up a bowel movement, which a child regards as a part of himself. Postpone training if your son usually responds to requests with a flat “no.”
- Your child imitates others.
- She communicates in advance by word or action when she needs to go.
- She must be able to follow simple instructions and understand words about the toileting process.
- She must want to be trained, whether it’s out of a desire to be clean, to be like her friends or to please you.
- She should be able to pull down her diaper, pull-up or underwear on her own.
- Watch to see if she pauses and makes sounds or grimaces while having a movement; tells you when she has had, or is having, a movement; or pulls at her diaper.
- Start with bowel movements (BM). Begin to comment when you know your child is having a BM or when he tells you so. This helps him associate the physical feelings and the result. Tell him when he has those feelings, he should tell you so that you can help him get to the toilet.
- If you don’t mind letting him watch while you or older siblings use the toilet, imitation is a good teaching tool.
- Place your daughter on a potty chair, never for more than a few minutes. If nothing happens and she doesn’t object, no harm done. But if she objects, discontinue. Try again in a few weeks.
- A stand-alone potty chair is safer than a child’s seat that fastens to a standard toilet. Typical locations for the potty include the bathroom or the kitchen.
- If you use a seat that fastens to the toilet, take your child off of it before you flush; some children fear falling in and being flushed away.
- His feet should be on a stool or firm surface or be able to touch the floor.
- Don’t attempt nighttime training until daytime control is established.
TIPS FOR SUCCESS
- Kids who train late usually train well and train fast.
- You must make the time to be consistent with training, especially during the early days. Stick with it.
- Set the pace by putting your son on the potty chair when he wakes up in the morning, after breakfast, after a nap, after lunch, after supper, before bedtime and all other times he indicates he needs to go.
- Respond casually to failure. That indicates you have confidence that she’ll do better next time. Kids get upset and can feel deep shame if you get angry.
- Don’t overpraise success. Appreciation of success out of proportion to his other accomplishments can cause fear of failure. Avoid the words “good” and “bad” around this routine bodily function.
- Don’t compare your child’s schedule with others, including other siblings.
- Expect gradual, not instant, success. Don’t be discouraged by accidents, especially when there is stress or change.
- Be clear when giving directions. Phrase sentences positively instead of beginning with “don’t.”
- For imitation purposes, single parents of opposite-sex children may need to rely on children in day care, Sunday school or play groups, or trusted adult relatives.
- Dress your child in easy-to-remove pants. Teach children to pull up their pants by holding on at the front and back of the pants, not the sides.
- Fancy underpants work wonders. Kids hate to soil them.
- Although bribery (or positive reinforcement) has a long and successful tradition in toilet training, do not bribe or reward with food.
- Do not punish for failure.
- Make sure all your child’s caregivers — including babysitters, grandparents and child care staff — are consistent with toilet training practices when your child is in their care.