There is no universal time to begin potty training, nor is there a how-to guide that will work for every child and situation. However, there are some important factors to consider when you begin. These factors include parent readiness, physical maturity of the child, and the child’s emotional/behavioral readiness.
Successful potty training is about setting developmentally appropriate expectations and providing enough positive reinforcement/modeling to motivate and reward the child. Parents are ready when they can devote up to three months of daily encouragement and positive reinforcement to their child. About 22% of children are out of diapers by 2 1/2, and 88% by 3 1/2.
Physical maturity is the child’s ability to walk to and sit down on the potty chair on his/ her own, and to pull down his/her diaper. This also includes the voluntary use of muscles that control their bladder and rectum.
The child’s emotional and behavioral readiness can’t be rushed. Signs that your child is ready include a desire to use the potty, the ability to help dress and undress himself/herself, the ability to follow simple instructions, and a desire to wear “big kid” underwear. Your child is not ready to potty train if they are resistant or afraid of the toilet, have an accident right after they’ve gotten up from the potty, or wet their diaper in less than two hour intervals.
It is important to stay in tune with your child’s behavioral needs. Potty training will be more challenging if there are stressors in the home e.g. moving homes, a new baby, or a crisis including death/illness. Changing routines during stressful times will likely lead to major battles of will.
• Pick a potty chair. They are easier for a child to use. If you use a child-size seat on an adult toilet, use a stepstool so she can push down during bowel movements.
• Help your child recognize signs of needing to potty. If he/she lets you know after the fact, suggest that he/she let you know before soiling his/her diaper.
• Make trips to the potty routine. If you notice the telltale signs, take your child to the potty. Explain what you want to happen.
• Encourage the use of training pants as a sign of trust and growing up. Be prepared for accidents. It may take months before toilet training is completed. When an accident occurs say, “Oops. We had an accident. That’s okay. Let’s clean up, and we’ll try again later.”
• Don’t discount your child’s fears or attachments. Children can develop some fears during potty training, and they are as large to them as any fear adults could imagine having. Children may not understand the mechanics of the toilet and that large flushing sound in that small space can be frightening.
• Don’t give into the pressure. Children will learn in their own time.
• Refrain from punishing your child. It won’t accomplish a thing to get angry or penalize your child if he or she is not interested in training, won’t sit on the potty (never hold him/her down on the potty against his/her will), has an accident, or has any of the other common problems while potty training. Setbacks are natural, and scolding will only make him/her less interested in training — he/she will be afraid any mistakes will upset you. If you can, respond to messes and other challenges calmly – and if you can’t, bite your tongue and count to ten, then try again.
Give your child lots of hugs and kisses; stickers; encouragement; and dance around the room when your child uses the potty properly. With that level of excitement, praise, and open display of pride, they’ll want to continue using the potty!
Image Credit: Cheri Hegi