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Toilet Training: Readiness and Basic

By Amanda McLean, Ph.D.

Although parents tend to start thinking about potty training when their child reaches a certain age, there are a number of skills and signs that will indicate when their child is really ready for the milestone. Several factors to consider when determining readiness for toilet training include your child’s age and language skills, as well as physical, emotional and instructional readiness. Girls tend to be successfully trained earlier than boys, and older children tend to be trained faster. Waiting until you and your child are ready may actually make the process go smoother and faster. Below are several signs that your child may be ready for toilet training:

  • Your child should be at least 2 years old. Before the age of 2, many children are not physically able to consistently control bladder or bowel movements.
  • Your child should be staying dry for several hours at a time.
  • Your child’s bowel movements should be predictable and regular (e.g., every day after breakfast or after a nap).
  • Your child should be indicating an awareness that he or she needs to go potty. Children usually indicate this awareness through actions, not words. You may recognize the squinting face, the special squatting stance, or the wiggling of the hips or legs when your child needs to go potty.
  • Your child should understand your toileting words, such as “wet,” “dry,” “dirty,” and “potty.”
  • Your child may ask to be changed.
  • Your child may express a desire to wear underwear or “big boy/big girl” underpants instead of diapers or training pants.
  • Your child should be able to pick up objects, lower and raise his/her pants, and walk from room to room easily.
  • Your child should be able to follow one-step instructions such as “sit down” or “follow me.”
  • Your child should be able to sit quietly for two to five minutes.

If you think your child is ready for toilet training, below are five basic steps to follow:

  1. Let your child watch you. Children are great imitators. They do what they see. If you are comfortable, allow your child to come with you when you use the toilet.
  2. Set out a potty chair. Well before you think you will start toilet training, make a potty chair available to your child so that he or she can get used to it.
  3. Extra fluids are helpful. Giving your child extra fluids will provide him/her more opportunities to practice newly learned toileting skills.
  4. Practice, practice, practice. Allow your child to sit on the potty chair to get used to it. Rather than asking your child if he/she needs to go, simply take him/her to the bathroom and have him/her practice sitting on the potty chair. With boys, it is best to start the training process by having them sit down to urinate.
  5. Provide PRAISE, PRAISE, and more PRAISE. Every time your child does any toileting behavior correctly (e.g., pulls down pants, sits on potty, has a bowel movement in the toilet) be sure to praise him or her. Praise is how we teach children what behaviors are important to use and what behaviors we want them to do again. You might also provide small rewards every so often as an extra incentive

Remember that it is important to not make toilet training a big deal. Just like when adults learn new things, children are more likely to quickly pick up a new skill when the process is stress-free.

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