At a certain point, every new parent starts dreaming of the day they can potty train their child. Maybe it's due to the cost of diapers. Or the inconvenience of lugging that bulky diaper bag around. Or perhaps mom visited last weekend and, for the zillionth time, retold the award-winning achievement of potty training you and all your siblings by age two. But is it really time for your child to start potty training? Here's what you need to know.
When to start potty training
While it's common for children to start potty training by 18-24 months, some kids aren't successfully trained till after age three. That's because potty training success depends on your child’s physical, mental, and emotional readiness more than their age. Children need to have bladder control, to recognize the urge to potty, to be able to walk to the toilet independently (and on time!), to pull down their pants, sit on the toilet, wipe their bum, flush the poop away, put down the seat, and wash their hands. The whole process involves memory, problem-solving, and concentration. So when considering whether it's time, gauge your toddler's readiness by looking out for key developmental signs.
Signs it's time for your child to start potty training
To help you decide, ask yourself the following questions.
- Can your child walk to and sit on the toilet?
- Can your child pull their pants up/down unassisted?
- Can your child stay dry for up to two hours?
- Can your child understand and follow basic directions?
- Can your child communicate when he or she needs to go?
- Is your child interested in using the toilet or wearing big-kid undies?
If you answered yes to most questions, your child is probably ready to start potty training.
When to delay potty training
Potty training your child requires time and attention. So it’s best if your family is not going through major life changes and experiencing a lot of stress when you begin potty training. Examples of situations when it's not ideal to start potty training include: moving to a new home, the birth of a sibling, or starting daycare. Doing so at this time may only lead to resistance, power struggles, and a lot of frustration.
How to start potty training
Now that you're sure your child is ready, how do you go about the process?
Choose the right equipment
There are two main tools to help your child: potty chairs and toilet seat attachments. Whichever you choose, make sure your child ends up in a squatting position as this makes pooping/peeing easier. So if you choose a toilet seat attachment, get a stepping stool to help them squat.
Make potty training comfortable
If you picked a potty chair, put it in an area where your child is most comfortable. It's okay if that's the living room or their play area outside. Remember, it's crucial that they feel relaxed about the process.
In the beginning, let your child sit on their potty fully clothed. Then, let them sit on the toilet for the duration of their actual potty. It's ideal for both boys and girls to start training sitting down, as this can also urge little boys to poop afterward.
Explain the process to your child
Children benefit by knowing what to expect. Use a potty training book or song to explain it visually and in their language. Beyond doing the deed, actively involve them in the post-peeing/pooping process. You can show the contents of the potty and flush it together, for example.
Stick to a schedule
If you know when your child usually goes, you can use this to guide your potty training schedule. If not, pick a time when they're relaxed. That could be after meals or naps. What matters is you can stick to the plan.
Remind your child to go
Be consistent and patient with your reminders, but don't force or scold when they refuse. Resistance is usually a sign that they want to take control of their bodies, which is healthy behavior. You can also schedule potty breaks when traveling far to avoid mishaps. Still, prepare for accidents by bringing extra clothes and wipes.
Switch to simple clothing
Let your child wear clothes they can easily pull up and down. That means avoiding onesies and tight pants, and might mean switching to pull-up diapers during this period. Some potty training methods also recommend doing away with diapers or pull-ups. Doing so will help them become aware of the urge to pee and the wetness when they pee or poop.
Be generous with praise
Learning to use the toilet is a significant milestone for your child, so be patient and acknowledge their wins with praise. Use phrases like "Good job!" and point out what led to their success during the moment to encourage similar behavior.
When accidents happen, never scold. Instead, point out what happened matter-of-factly and say something like, "You peed on your pants while playing with Teddy. Let's get you cleaned up and wipe the mess." Then, tell them what they can do next time they feel the urge to pee/poop.
When you're met with resistance, don't pressure. Some children end up withholding their poop as a response to the stress of potty training. This leads to hardening of the stool, making pooping painful and difficult. It can be traumatic for some children, so they refuse their urge, and the cycle continues. When this happens, it might be best to pause potty training and manage constipation first.
Take care with the language and tone you use around your child when talking about their pee or poop.
For example, avoid showing disgust. This can make them self-conscious about a healthy and normal process. Instead, talk about the stink, texture, or color factually.
Orient your tribe
Inform your partner, child's caregiver, and other adults your family regularly interacts with about your potty training methods to avoid confusing your child and increase your training success.
Let go of timelines
Every child learns at their own pace, so keep calm even if it takes a long time to fully potty train.
Bedwetting is common in children up to five or six years old. Their bladders are still maturing up to this age, so you may want to use nighttime diapers and mattress protectors for your convenience. You can also try placing the potty in the bedroom to make it easier for them to go when they feel the urge at night.
Potty training is a complex process for both you and your child. It can be messy and frustrating, and there is no fixed timeline. But it can be easier if you exercise kindness and patience, and keep in mind that potty training is a significant learning experience for your child too.
As long as you keep at it, your efforts and your child’s physical, mental, and emotional skills will eventually click. They will learn the skill, and you may finally be able to cross diapers off your monthly budget and quit carrying the diaper bag around for good.
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