Potty training is a big milestone for children. But how do parents know when to start? Intuition, expectations, common sense and observation play key roles in initiating potty training.
Step #1-Create a Parent/Child Team
Potty training is a combined effort between parent and child. Some parents may assume that they are in charge, while other parents place the child at the helm. In actuality, potty training is a partnership. Parents provide support, potty training tools, books, and dry clothing; children do the “going.”
Grasping the concept that potty training is a team effort between parent and child, and not a command and control situation, is critical to success. Strict, impatient pursuit of the goal puts undo pressure on the child, resulting in stress, anxiety and in some cases delayed potty training.
Step#2-Starting early doesn’t ensure quick results
In depth research on intensive potty training has proven that initiating the process early is in fact correlated to extended duration of potty training. Those parents who start training prematurely find that the potty training process lasts longer. Children must develop bladder and muscle control before they are able to control toileting.
Parents may adhere to this rough timeline of readiness: 15-18 months the child senses that his or her clothes are wet; 18 months the child may urinate on the potty if placed on it; 2- 2 1/2 years the child might alert the parent that he has to go; and 3-4 years the child may have the ability to “hold it” and visit the bathroom alone.
Step#3-Determine readiness by child’s development
When deciding to begin the potty training process, chronological age may not be the correct indicator for readiness. The parent should look for signs that the child is developmentally ready. This is especially true for babies who were born prematurely and children who are developmentally delayed.
Some good signs of readiness are: child can sit and walk well, child can stay dry for 2 hours or more, child is interested in doing what big kids or grownups do, child is able to follow and execute simple instructions, and child seems to understand what the potty is for and uses words relating to using the toilet.
Parents should assess the temperament of the child. Important questions to ask are: is the child able to focus, what is her attention span, does the child frustrate easily, is the child easily angered or discouraged.
For most children potty training occurs between 2 and 3 years, with the majority of children potty trained by 4.
Step#4-Go on now, go!
Today is the day! Parents should make sure that the child is in good health, and that the household is calm with no impending turmoil such as a move coming up, a new baby being brought home, or a parent going away on a trip.
Dress the child in easy to remove clothing like sweat pants with an elastic waist. Snaps, buttons and zippers are difficult for little hands and time consuming to manipulate when the urge arises. To reduce the pressure on the child, allow him to stay in diapers during the early days of potty training. Gradually transition him into underwear for short amounts of time as his dry times become more and more extended.
After a meal, nap, or when coming in from outdoors are good times to encourage the child to hop on the potty. Parents should be on the look out for indicators of when the child may have the urge to go.
Accompany the child to the potty and stay with him. The visit to the bathroom should be short and sweet; five minutes is plenty of time. Offer reading material, or use a fun potty training tool or toy to make the five minutes engaging. Important: if the child wants to get off of the potty before five minutes, don’t force him to stay.
Praise, praise, praise! Little milestones deserve lots of hugs and kisses. It is really something for a little tyke to hop on the potty by herself, pull up her own pants, or make it into the bathroom (even if only to be a little late.) Be kind, patient, sensitive and proud. Don’t scold the child for having accidents, ever.