There comes a time in every parent's life when he realizes that he has changed one diaper too many. After countless thousands of diaper changes and dollars, potty training can be a parent’s best dream and worst nightmare. Every parent in this situation is bombarded by advice by friends and family, instructions from medical experts and a whole industry of consumer products, leading them to wonder, “how do I potty train my toddler?”
First, a parent must assess her toddler’s state of readiness. Somewhere between 18 and 24 months, most children reach the physical and cognitive stage at which they can begin to potty train. These ages are very optimistic, since many children are ready closer to three years of age. Some particularly resistant diaper aficionados remain diaper-bound up to and through their fourth year.
Studies have shown that girls on average potty train earlier than boys, and that firstborns are more difficult to potty train. Experts agree that the parent who prematurely attempts to potty train will suffer a longer training process. The following is a potty readiness checklist:
- Can go several hours between urinations
- Empties the bladder fully while urinating
- Has words for his bodily functions, such as “pee-pee” and “poo-poo”
- Can physically get on and off the potty or potty chair
- Understands and follows simple directions about going potty on the toilet
- Has regular and predictable bowel movements
- Shows interest in others’ bathroom habits
- Understands the body’s cues that signal that it’s time to go potty
- Dislikes a dirty diaper
- Values and recognizes independence
As most experts agree, timing is essential. First, determine whether your toddler is ready physically and emotionally to potty train. Don’t try to rush it because you’re moving, going on vacation or starting your child in preschool. This usually ends badly, with either regression or flat out refusal to cooperate. Children don’t always deal with change well, so this should be an easy, non-stressful event in their lives.
Once you’re ready to get started, it’s time to cruise the potty training section of the baby department. Since toilets are designed for big people, get a padded adapter seat or toddler potty to make it more comfortable for your child. A step stool helps with the height and gives dangling feet a place to rest. There are books and videos available to set the mood. Yes, books like Everybody Poops and Once Upon a Potty really exist, and they’ve become classics in their own right.
After you’ve set up the new potty, take a couple of “dry” runs — have your child sit on the potty clothed so he gets a feel for it. Demonstrate with a doll or stuffed animal. The key is no pressure! Buy your child some cool underwear with her favorite cartoon character on them to get her excited about wearing underwear.
Once “P-Day” has arrived, set up a schedule designating how often you will visit the potty with your toddler. Most experts agree that it’s best to go cold turkey by switching to underwear and reserving pull-ups for nighttime or long trips away from home. For boys, start with sitting — he can learn to miss the toilet later.
Some parents find that incentives work, such as a sticker chart or treats for successful trips to the potty. It is important to make the experience fun and positive. Make sure that you give lots of praise for every attempt — successful or not.
Most parents find that staying dry through the night comes later — sometimes several months or years after the initial potty training. Limiting fluids after a certain hour can make a difference for bedwetting, and pull-ups are a mainstay for new potty users.
Regardless of whether it takes one day or several months, potty training is a challenge for nearly every parent and child. Once you complete this step in your toddler’s progression, it’s relatively smooth sailing until you have to teach him to drive a stick shift. Then you’ll be wishing he was back in diapers.