HOW DO I KNOW WHEN MY CHILD IS READY TO BE POTTY TRAINED? HOW DO I START?
Before children can use the toilet, they must be able to control their bowel and bladder muscles. Some signs of this control are having bowel movements around the same time each day, not having bowel movements at night, and having a dry diaper after a nap or for at least 2 hours at a time. Children must also be able to climb, talk, remove clothing, and have mastered other basic motor skills before they can use the toilet by themselves.
Most children are physically ready to toilet train before they are emotionally ready. Your daughter must want to use the toilet and be willing to cooperate with you. She may even talk about being a "big girl" and wearing panties rather than diapers. Training generally does not go well if your child is in the stage where "no" is his or her automatic response to every request.
How long does it take to toilet train?
A child is considered toilet-trained when he or she knows that it is time to go to the bathroom and is able to climb onto and use the toilet with little help. The average time it takes is 3 months. Girls usually are toilet-trained a little earlier than boys are.
Your child will likely need help with wiping after a bowel movement until age 4 or 5. She may also need extra help in unfamiliar bathrooms, such as public restrooms, until about age 5 or 6.
What if my child resists?
If your daughter resists using the toilet, she probably isn't ready. Sometimes toilet training disruptions or delays are caused by stress or major changes in routine. Also, a child who is doing well with toilet training may suddenly have difficulty for no obvious reason. This is a normal part of toilet training. It is best to start or resume toilet training when your daughter is receptive to it and in a stable environment.
Your child's toilet training experience should be positive. If it becomes a struggle or a battle of wills, it is best to ease up or stop for a while. Although you may be ready for toilet training, your child may not be.
Toilet training or Potty-training success hinges on physical and emotional readiness, not a specific age. Many kids show interest in potty training by age 2, but others might not be ready until age 2 1/2 or even older — and there's no rush. If you start potty training too early, it might take longer to train your daughter.
Is your daughter ready? Ask yourself these questions:
Does she seem interested in the potty chair or toilet, or in wearing underwear?
Can she understand and follow basic directions?
Does your daughter tell you through words, facial expressions or posture when she needs to go?
Does she stay dry for periods of two hours or longer during the day?
Does she complain about wet or dirty diapers?
Can she pull down her pants and pull them up again?
Can she sit on and rise from a potty chair?
If you answered mostly yes, your daughter might be ready for potty training. If you answered mostly no, you might want to wait awhile — especially if your child has recently faced or is about to face a major change, such as a move or the arrival of a new sibling. A toddler who opposes potty training today might be open to the idea in a few months.
Ready, set, go!
When you decide it's time to begin potty training, set your daughter up for success. Start by maintaining a sense of humor and a positive attitude — and recruiting all of your child's caregivers to do the same. Then follow these practical steps.
Pull out the equipment
Place a potty chair in the bathroom. You might want to try a model with a removable top that can be placed directly on the toilet when your child is ready. Encourage your child to sit on the potty chair — with or without a diaper. Make sure your child's feet rest firmly on the floor or a stool. Help your child understand how to talk about the bathroom using simple, correct terms. You might dump the contents of a dirty diaper into the potty chair to show its purpose, or let your child see family members using the toilet.
Schedule potty breaks
If your child is interested, have her sit on the potty chair or toilet without a diaper for a few minutes several times a day. Read a potty-training book or give your child a special toy to use while sitting on the potty chair or toilet. Stay with your child when she is in the bathroom. Even if your child simply sits there, offer praise for trying — and remind your child that he or she can try again later.
Get there — fast!
When you notice signs that your daughter needs to use the toilet — such as squirming, squatting or holding the genital area — respond quickly. Help her become familiar with these signals, stop what she is doing and head to the toilet. Praise your child for telling you when she has to go. Teach your daughter to wipe carefully from front to back to prevent bringing germs from the rectum to the vagina or bladder. When it's time to flush, let your child do the honors. Make sure your child washes her hands after using the toilet.
Some kids respond to stickers or stars on a chart. For others, trips to the park or extra bedtime stories are effective. Experiment to find what works best for your child. Reinforce your child's effort with verbal praise, such as, "How exciting! You're learning to use the toilet just like big kids do!" Be positive even if a trip to the toilet isn't successful.
Ditch the diapers
After several weeks of successful potty breaks, your daughter might be ready to trade diapers for training pants or regular underwear. Celebrate this transition. Go on a special outing. Let your child select "big kid" underwear. Call close friends or loved ones and let your child spread the news. Once your child is wearing training pants or regular underwear, avoid overalls, belts, leotards or other items that could hinder quick undressing.
Most children master daytime bladder control first, often within about two to three months of consistent toilet training. Nap and nighttime training might take months — or years — longer. In the meantime, use disposable training pants or plastic mattress covers when your child sleeps.
Know when to call it quits
If your child resists using the potty chair or toilet or isn't getting the hang of it within a few weeks, take a break. Chances she isn't ready yet. Try again in a few months.
Accidents will happen.
You might breathe easier once your child figures out how to use the toilet, but expect occasional accidents and near misses. Here's help preventing — and handling — wet pants:
Accidents often happen when kids are absorbed in activities that — for the moment — are more interesting than using the toilet. To fight this phenomenon, suggest regular bathroom trips, such as first thing in the morning, after each meal and snack, and before getting in the car or going to bed. Point out telltale signs of holding it, such as holding the genital area.
Kids don't have accidents to irritate their parents. If your child has an accident, don't add to the embarrassment by scolding or disciplining your child. You might say, "You forgot this time. Next time you'll get to the bathroom sooner."
If your child has frequent accidents, absorbent underwear might be best. Keep a change of underwear and clothing handy, especially at school or in child care.
Remember potty training is not a science with one correct formula -- it's an art. Different tips and tricks work for different kids and families and, sometimes, completely contrary recommendations end up successful. So prepare for some trial and error as you discover what works for your daughter.