Potty Train: What Works
August 4, 2009
Waiting till your child is ready
There’s no magic age for being ready to start learning to use the potty. Most toddlers develop the necessary physical and mental skills between 18 and 24 months, while some kids aren’t there until closer to age 3 or even 4. Keep an eye out for physical, cognitive, and behavioral signs that your toddler might be ready to give it a try.
If your toddler is facing changes such as a new school, a new sibling, or travel, you may want to wait till the seas are calmer before taking the plunge.
Once you do start, if you’ve been trying for three months without success, that’s a sign your toddler’s not ready. Wait a few weeks — or until you see signs that the time is right — and try again.
Making a plan
Before you even buy your toddler a potty seat, it’s important to have a plan for the training process itself. Decide when and how you want to start, how to handle accidents, when to back off, and so on.
At the same time, prepare to be flexible. There’s no way to know how your child will respond to potty training attempts or what techniques will work best. Keep in mind that as with most developmental milestones, success doesn’t necessarily happen in a linear fashion — your toddler may make initial progress only to regress at one or more points along the way.
Discuss your plan with your child’s pediatrician and sitter or daycare provider. They’ll probably have plenty of experience and advice to share. Once you’ve decided on a strategy, be sure you and everyone else who takes care of your child sticks to it — barring unexpected setbacks and other potty training challenges, of course.
Taking it slow
Mastering the various steps of potty training can take a long time. Yes, some children will have it nailed in just a few days, but most need weeks or even months, especially when they’re working on staying dry at night.
Don’t push your toddler (or let others push him) to get through potty training faster than he’s ready to. Let him take his time and get used to this new, multipart process. He’ll move from one stage to the next at his own speed. Of course, it’s perfectly all right to try to motivate with gentle reminders and encouragement. If he balks, though, ease up.
Praising your child
Throughout potty training, your toddler will respond to positive reinforcement. Whenever he moves on to a new step or tries to use his potty (even when he doesn’t quite succeed), tell him he’s doing well and that you’re proud of him. Compliment him now and then on his dry underpants or diaper. But be careful not to go overboard: Too much praise might make him nervous and afraid to fail, which can lead to more accidents and setbacks.
Accepting that there will be accidents
It’s likely your toddler will have numerous accidents before being completely potty-trained. Don’t get angry or punish him. After all, it’s only recently that his nervous system has matured enough for him to perceive the sensation of a full bladder or rectum and that his muscles have developed sufficiently to allow him to hold in his urine and stool — and that’s if he’s on the early end of the developmental spectrum. He’ll get the hang of the process in due time. When your toddler has an accident, calmly clean it up and suggest (sweetly) that next time he try using his potty instead.