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Potty Training Tips

​For many parents, potty training is a frustrating developmental milestone. It can cause stress for parents and children alike. Many parents have unrealistic expectations about how soon their child should be potty trained. Every child is different and will be ready at a different time. A lot plays into the timing, the normal range of development of milestones, the child’s temperament, and timing for the parent to be consistent with training. Generally, if a child is not potty trained by his or her fourth birthday, you should discuss the challenges you are facing with your physician.

Preparing for Potty Training

Parents can begin to introduce concepts about toileting before starting active potty training. Around the time a toddler reaches 15-18 months of age, when language skills are developing parents should start:

  • Teaching the child to use words that are useful for potty training such as “pee”, “poop”, “dry”, “wet”, and “clean”. Take advantage of multiple opportunities for word repetition during diaper changing and when the child is showing visible signs of stooling.
  • Change the child’s diaper frequently to encourage him or her to prefer a dry diaper.
  • Get a potty chair and allow it to become a familiar part of their environment. They can sit on it fully clothed while playing or reading.

Potty Training Readiness

Around 18 to 24 months, a child may start showing signs that they are ready for potty training. For others children, it may be 2 to 3.5 years to show signs of readiness. Again, remember more than the age of the child determines training readiness. Watch for the following signs of awareness:

  • Facial expressions that they are aware they are stooling/voiding
  • Holding the genital area
  • Tugging at clothes
  • Pacing, squatting or shifting from foot to foot

Once a child starts showing these signs, move the potty chair into the bathroom. Try to capitalizing on “catching” them when they are ready to void or stool and place them on the potty. Trial some practice runs and see how receptive they are to this. If they are receptive, ask him or her to try to go to the bathroom in the toilet. Don’t let him or her sit there much longer than four or five minutes. Never force them to sit on the toilet, as this will become a struggle of wills.

How to Potty Train

If the child is receptive and seems ready to potty train, begin to actively potty train. You will need to have scheduled potty breaks. Taking these breaks approximately every 2 hours would increase the odds that you will have a successful potty attempt. All potty attempts should be celebrated, but when it is successful it should be especially celebrated with fanfare, a sticker on a chart, lots of hugs/high fives/fist bumps, or small rewards. If they are using a small seat that sits on top of the big toilet, ensure they have a stool so that his or her feet do not dangle but can rest on the top step.

If a child consistently says no, conceal your frustration. Potty training should never be associated with punishment or criticism. Toddlers are strong willed and there are few things in their life that they have some control over. “I do it” is a common phrase at this age. If potty training becomes a battle, you will not win. If this has occurred, take a break from potty training for 1 month or so to allow him or her time to forget that he or she does not want to sit on the toilet.

When you begin potty training again, use lots of words of praise, encouragement and how much of a big kid they are by going on the potty just like a big sibling, parent or friend. Potty training typically takes anywhere from weeks to months. For some, it may take longer. The key is starting potty training when the child is truly ready. Starting too soon, will mean that it just takes longer. Even after parents feel potty training is complete, there will be accidents from time to time. Kids become engrossed in activities and may not have fully developed the ability to recognize when they need to stop an activity and head to the toilet.

Remember, patience and encouragement are the keys to successful potty training!

  • Toilet Training

    Toilet training is, typically, not recommended until the child is at least two years of age.

    Prior to the age of two, most children don't have consistent control over their bowels or their bladder, but even with boys, we don't recommend toilet training until about two and half years of age.

    We know that the older the child is then the faster toilet training will probably go.

    What are some signs your child is ready for toilet training?

    You want to be looking at their physical, emotional, and their instructional readiness. So, I would want the child to be staying dry for several hours at a time and their bowel movements to be more predictable and regular.

    Maybe they're going after every breakfast or after every afternoon nap.

    Kids, a lot of times, will start to show awareness that they have to go. This awareness is usually demonstrated through their actions rather than their words.

    They might make a squinty face or they might have a special potty stance, or like my daughter, they might run and hide and seek some privacy when they need to go.

    They also might be requesting to be changed.​

    What are the basic steps for toilet training?

    When you're getting ready to toilet train, prior to toilet training, it's usually a good idea to let your child watch you go to the potty.

    Kids are great imitators and they do what they see. If you're comfortable, bring them into the bathroom and let them watch you go.

    It's also good to go ahead and get a potty chair. Set the potty chair out and let them get used to it, and get used to sitting on it a little bit. 

    Then when you're ready to toilet train, it's sometimes helpful to push fluids. Give them extra juice, extra water and that gives them more opportunities to practice some of those toileting skills they're learning.

    Be patient and be prepared to do a lot of practice. Rather than just asking them, if they need to go, just lead them into the bathroom and have them sit on the potty chair.

    What are some good incentives for toilet training?

    Lots and lots of praise, compliments and physical affection is where I would start.

    Kids love adult attention, they love parent attention, so not just praising going in the potty but praising any skill associated. Pulling your pants down, sitting on the potty, any of those things you want to praise and get excited about.

    You can also use some extra added incentives here and there, little things like stickers, if necessary.

    I would start with lots and lots of excitement and praise.

    I would not recommend any sort of punishment. If you're punishing or scolding, getting upset with your child, because they're struggling or not doing it well, it's probably not going to motivate them for toilet training.

    It's probably going to cause some frustration on both of your ends so that doesn't set the stage for them to want to participate in toilet training.​​

Infant and Toddler Care;Family and Parenting Pediatrics