As a pediatrician, I am often asked, “When should toilet training begin?” I get it. Ditching diapers is a major milestone many families look forward to, but potty training should not be rushed and should only begin when your toddler shows signs of being physically, mentally and emotionally ready. Some children are ready between the ages of 18 – 24 months, while others might not be ready until they are around age 3.
Some signs your child is ready to begin toilet training may include:
- Showing interest in the toilet such as asking questions or following family members into the bathroom.
- Requesting to be changed or announcing they need to go.
- Pulling at a wet or dirty diaper.
- Feeling comfortable when they are sitting on the toilet.
- Having a dry diaper for a longer than usual time.
When your child shows readiness, be sure to make it a positive and fun experience. Here are a few helpful tips:
Kick off “potty.” Weeks before you plan to start toilet training, help your child ease into the idea of using the potty by reading fun picture books such as “Once Upon a Potty,” by Alona Frankel or “Everyone Poops,” by Taro Gomi. Reading and discussing these cute stories can help diffuse potential fears and anxieties about this new experience.
Pee-k a boo. Another way to prepare kids in advance is to let your toddler see a sibling or you use the bathroom – the little ninjas are likely already following you in there anyway. Use this as an opportunity to describe the experience from beginning to end. “I feel like I have to go potty.” “I just peed in the potty.” “Now I need to flush the potty and wash my hands.”
The throne. There are two basic types of training seats. The first is a free-standing kid-size potty chair. The second is a mini toilet seat that attaches to a standard toilet. There are pros and cons to both but since toddlers will eventually sit on an actual toilet the mini toilet seat may help them with the transition. If you use this type of seat, be sure to provide a step stool for easy access, it will also help your child position better for bowel movements. Regardless, it is most important you pick the system that works best for your family.
Potty mouth. As a family, use words to describe the experience. Whether you choose more formal words (urinate, defecate) or slang (pee, poops) be consistent with use and use it for everyone. “Mommy needs to go pee! Rover just did a poop!” Remember, other people will hear your child use these words so choose wisely. If grandpa does not know “Mr. Hankey” is code for potty, frustration and accidents are sure to occur.
“Potty” favors. Praise all attempts to use the toilet, even if nothing happens, but be sure to reward progress! Your little one bravely sat on the toilet. Yea, reward! They peed in the potty. Yea, reward! They told you they had to go potty. Yea, reward! Rewards don’t have to be big or expensive but should be immediate to reinforce positive behavior. Consider praise such as hugs, high fives, cheers or songs; a sticker chart; or a small toy.
“Urine” trouble. Never shame or scold a child for accidents, reassure them accidents happen, that they are doing great and they will get the hang of it.
“Potty” time. Start a schedule. Most children naturally need to go before bed, first thing in the morning or after naps or eating. And pay attention to clues such as leg crossing or squatting. Keep in mind, toddlers will not choose to go potty, especially if it disrupts their current activity so rather than ask them, be sure to tell them, “It’s potty time!”
Keep it brief. Training underwear and diapers reduce the sensation of feeling wet. For this reason, I often recommend classic cotton underwear for daytime training because it makes it easier for the child to associate the urge to go with being wet. To prevent embarrassing accidents during the early days of training, slip a pull up diaper over the child’s cotton underwear. This way, if an accident occurs, their clothes stay dry.
Also, the transition into “big kid underwear” can be a huge motivator for kids. Have fun and let your toddler help pick out underwear with their favorite characters.
Nighttime. Has your child mastered daytime training but still struggling to stay dry at night? Nighttime control often takes longer, and it is extremely common for children to struggle with this up to age seven. It is thought some children are not physically able to hold their urine long enough or may be deep sleepers who don’t register the urge to go. It’s important to remember this is completely normal and to be patient.
It’s not a whiz. There is no need to rush the potty-training schedule. The process often takes several months, and even after your child is toilet trained, you might hit a snag or encounter setbacks. Be patient and supportive, and let your child learn in his own time. However, if you have a have toilet training concern, you should always discuss it with the child’s pediatrician.
About the Author
Salvatore Anzalone, MD, FAAP, is a pediatrician and the medical director of pediatrics for Healthcare Network. For information about Healthcare Network’s visit healthcareswfl.org or call 239.658.3000.