Make sure your child is ready emotionally. If your child resists strongly, it is best to wait for a while,” the AAP advises, adding that parents should try to take a relaxed approach to the process – keeping their cool and remembering that much of the process is simply beyond their control – and “avoid a power struggle.” Don’t push.
Talk to your child: Explain to your child what to expect. Help strategize. Give words to what he may be feeling. Ask questions and listen. It’s important to keep the lines of communication open throughout the potty-training process. This will help with the next tip:
Tune into the telltale signs: Does your child make a face or a noise or assume a particular position when the need to use the potty arises? Does he or she pause in the middle of playing? Next time your child informs you of a dirty diaper, thank him for telling you, and gently suggest that next time, he might try telling you before. Explain to your child how he can learn to read his own signals. But be sure to manage your own expectations: According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it often takes children longer to consistently anticipate the need to pee than the need to poop. Signs that your child may be ready to toilet train include
- A dry diaper for two-hour stretches during the day or after a nap
- Regular, predictable bowel movements
- Indicators (facial or verbal expressions, body language) from your child that he or she is about to pee or poop
- The ability to follow simple instructions, walk to and from the bathroom independently, and help undress him- or herself
- Signs of discomfort in a soiled diaper (e.g., asking to be changed)
- Requests to use the toilet or potty
- A growing interest in wearing underwear
Limit distractions. Make sure your child isn’t currently ill or dealing with any big life changes, like starting at a new preschool, moving to a new house, or adjusting to a new sibling.
Visit the potty at regular intervals and remind, remind, remind. Even if your child doesn’t think he has to go, he may have a successful trip to the potty if he gives it a try. Or, kids often become so absorbed in what they’re doing that they completely forget they have to go to the bathroom. So go when you think your child needs to go (and try to get there quickly!), but also at regular intervals. These can be timed or tied like different activities: first thing in the morning, before leaving the house, before or after meals or naps, and at bedtime. You can also visit the bathroom every time you start doing something new or go somewhere new.
Take daytime precautions: If your child is accident prone, it’s probably a good idea to keep a change of clothing (or even a couple of spare outfits) on hand – when you go out, at school, and at grandma and grandpa’s house. No one likes to walk around in wet clothing, and, frankly no one likes to hang out with anyone in wet clothing either.
Take nighttime precautions: For night time, be sure to have your kid use the bathroom right before going to bed. And in some cases, you may want to limit the amount of water or other liquid your child drinks right before bedtime (not that you want your kid to go thirsty). Using a mattress cover can also cut down on midnight scrubbing when accidents do happen.
Praise successes and don’t sweat setbacks: Be sure to offer your child lots of encouragement and don’t be upset by “accidents” – they’re a natural part of the learning process. Praise all successes when they occur. They are milestones, and your child should feel proud of the work he or she is doing to reach them. But don’t punish your child for having an accident; be firm but gentle.
Be positive: In general, try to remain outwardly calm and confident; your child may pick up on any anxiety you display. This also applies to accidents. When you’re cleaning up, avoid appearing frustrated or angry, however much you don’t like the mess (who does?).
Pick your potty: A small potty chair can help ease your child’s transition to the toilet. Some parents or children move very quickly through the potty stage on their way to the toilet; others skip it altogether. But many parents find that a potty is a good first step. Because it is small and low to the ground, you child can sit on it and hop off it without assistance, which could add to their sense of independence. It might help to keep these in convenient places where your child often spends time. Fancy isn’t important. A potty your child likes and wants to sit on is. So if a potty that plays music or features their favorite cartoon character will help give a sense of ownership and motivate your child to use it, by all means, go right ahead.
Phase out diapers slowly: While some experts (especially the boot camp variety) advise parents to ditch the diapers all at once (even overnight), most parents keep their kids in diapers for a time after daytime dryness is achieved. One common rule of thumb is to wait for five mornings in a row of dry diapers before embarking on nighttime sans diapers.
Keep in mind a few differences (and similarities) between potty-training for boys and girls: While it’s often said that girls tend to move out of diapers a little earlier than boys, toilet-training readiness really depends more on your child’s temperament – and interest level – than gender. That said, there are a few differences: Girls need to be taught to wipe front to back, to prevent the risk of infection. Though boys eventually will learn to pee standing up, initially many experts (and parents) recommend teaching them to pee sitting down. Boys who sit need to be taught to tuck their penis so that the urine goes into the bowl. Then when boys learn to pee standing up, many parents find that it helps to chuck something like Cheerio into the bowl so their sons have something to aim at.
Take it slow: When your child uses the potty or toilet, try to remind them to relax and not to rush. If they completely empty their bladder during a trip to the bathroom, they may not have to go again quite so soon – and may head-off having an accident in between bathroom visits.
Take it step-by-step: you can set clear, achievable, realistic goals. You might, for instance, make up a weekly chart with tasks to be completed or goals for the week, with each of the days of the week clearly marked in the grid. Realistic goals might be, say, sitting on the toilet a certain number of times (perhaps two or three) each day, or telling a parent in advance that he or she needs to use the bathroom, or peeing or pooping in the potty.
Give it time: The potty-training process may take weeks or even months. Most children are toilet-trained in the daytime by the time they are 3 or 4 years old, but it could take a little longer for your child to consistently stay dry all night, something most children do around age 5. If you’re concerned, you can always contact your pediatrician after this general timeframe to make sure there’s not a bigger issue to worry about (like urinary tract infections or overactive bladders).
Consider investing in helpful products: For starters, you’ll probably want to stock up on underwear, in case of accidents. (And it’ll be nice to get comfortable pairs your child can get excited about wearing.) Other useful tools include stepstools, which provide help in getting on and off the toilet, and books and videos to help children process what they’re going through.