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Toilet Training Your Child

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!

  • Toilet Training

    Toilet training is, typically, not recommended until the child is at least two years of age.

    Prior to the age of two, most children don't have consistent control over their bowels or their bladder, but even with boys, we don't recommend toilet training until about two and half years of age.

    We know that the older the child is then the faster toilet training will probably go.

    What are some signs your child is ready for toilet training?

    You want to be looking at their physical, emotional, and their instructional readiness. So, I would want the child to be staying dry for several hours at a time and their bowel movements to be more predictable and regular.

    Maybe they're going after every breakfast or after every afternoon nap.

    Kids, a lot of times, will start to show awareness that they have to go. This awareness is usually demonstrated through their actions rather than their words.

    They might make a squinty face or they might have a special potty stance, or like my daughter, they might run and hide and seek some privacy when they need to go.

    They also might be requesting to be changed.​

    What are the basic steps for toilet training?

    When you're getting ready to toilet train, prior to toilet training, it's usually a good idea to let your child watch you go to the potty.

    Kids are great imitators and they do what they see. If you're comfortable, bring them into the bathroom and let them watch you go.

    It's also good to go ahead and get a potty chair. Set the potty chair out and let them get used to it, and get used to sitting on it a little bit. 

    Then when you're ready to toilet train, it's sometimes helpful to push fluids. Give them extra juice, extra water and that gives them more opportunities to practice some of those toileting skills they're learning.

    Be patient and be prepared to do a lot of practice. Rather than just asking them, if they need to go, just lead them into the bathroom and have them sit on the potty chair.

    What are some good incentives for toilet training?

    Lots and lots of praise, compliments and physical affection is where I would start.

    Kids love adult attention, they love parent attention, so not just praising going in the potty but praising any skill associated. Pulling your pants down, sitting on the potty, any of those things you want to praise and get excited about.

    You can also use some extra added incentives here and there, little things like stickers, if necessary.

    I would start with lots and lots of excitement and praise.

    I would not recommend any sort of punishment. If you're punishing or scolding, getting upset with your child, because they're struggling or not doing it well, it's probably not going to motivate them for toilet training.

    It's probably going to cause some frustration on both of your ends so that doesn't set the stage for them to want to participate in toilet training.​​

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