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Toilet Training Tips

By Erica Martin, M.D.

For many parents, toilet training is a frustrating developmental milestone. It can cause stress for m​om, dad and child. Many parents have unrealistic expectations about how soon their child should be toilet trained.  Every child is different and will be ready at a different time.  Generally, if a child is not toilet trained by his or her fourth birthday, you should discuss the challenges you are facing with your physician.

Preparing for Toilet Training

Parents can introduce many concepts about the toilet before their child begins the training process.  Around the time a toddler reaches 12 to 18 months of age, parents should:

  • Teach the child to use words such as “pee,” “poop,” “dry,” “wet,” and “clean”
  • Have the child watch parents, siblings, and friends of similar age use the toilet
  • Change the child’s diaper often to encourage him or her to prefer a dry diaper
  • Teach the child to let an adult know when his or her diaper is wet or soiled

Another good beginning strategy is to place a floor-level “potty” in the room where the child plays in most.  By having the child sit on it fully clothed while eating snacks or looking at books, parents will help the child become familiar with the concept of using the toilet.  After a while, parents might find their child trying to use the “potty” on his or her own.

Toilet Training Readiness

Many children show signs of readiness once they reach their second birthday; however, it may take boys a little longer.  Signs of readiness include:

  • Facial expressions
  • Grunting
  • Holding the genital area
  • Tugging at clothes
  • Pacing, squatting or shifting from foot to foot

Once a child starts showing these signs, move the “potty” into the bathroom and try a couple practice runs.  After the “potty” has been mastered, encourage your child to sit on the toilet.  Then, ask him or her to try to go to the bathroom in the toilet, allowing only a couple minutes.  Don’t let him or her sit there much longer than four or five minutes.

How to Toilet Train

Punishment or pressure to use the toilet will only discourage a child. Instead, use words of praise or small rewards (stickers or hugs) when a child uses the toilet successfully.  Once a child begins to use the toilet at least half of the time, it is time to introduce cotton training pants. Buy loose-fitting pants that a child can easily take on and off.  Save diapers or pull-ups for naps and nighttime only.

Toilet training can take anywhere from two weeks to two months; however, for some children, it might take as long as six months to a year.  It is common for all toddlers to have an accident from time to time, even after a parent thinks training is complete.  Remember, patience and encouragement are the keys to successful toilet training!