News | Published October 25, 2013

Potty training advice

Potty training is one of the biggest milestones in a young child’s life, and possibly even bigger for his or her parents. Unlike the moment a child first walks or says their first word, potty training is a process that spans a period of time that can last from a few weeks to many months (for the tough cases).

It may be the most stressful time for parents as they put their parenting skills to the test. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of potty training a child is the fact that you can’t do it for them. Potty training involves a series of skills that must be mastered by the child, which requires both a willingness on the child’s part and the developmental ability to accomplish those skills.

The following is a list of skills that all need to be accomplished to complete toilet training for children:

  1. Feel the urge
  2. Hold it in
  3. Communicate the need
  4. Get to the toilet
  5. Pull down pants and underwear
  6. Sit on the toilet
  7. Relax
  8. Urinate/Defecate
  9. Wipe
  10. Get off the toilet
  11. Pull up pants
  12. Flush
  13. Wash hands

Children don’t suddenly master all 13 skills at one time; rather, it’s a step-by-step process where skills are acquired as they are developmentally able to do so. They also cannot be forced to do any of the steps, but need to be encouraged to accomplish them. This is unfortunately easier said than done, especially with strong-willed children.

Here are some suggestions to make your potty-training experience the best possible:

  • Allow your children to have early exposure to what happens in the bathroom. By 18 months, let them accompany you to the bathroom and have a small, child-sized potty there. Spend time showing them the big potty and how it works by letting them flush it when needed. Encourage them to sit on the small potty – even fully clothed when they are just starting out. Once they are comfortable with the small potty, start making it part of the routine to sit on it, before bath time and/or bed time.
  • Give immediate positive reinforcement. This can be a sticker or a small piece of candy. I kept a jar of M&M’s on the back of the toilet to visually remind my children that they’d get one if they went on the potty. Working toward a bigger prize over a longer time frame is not something a child is able to do at this developmental age, and shouldn’t be expected.
  • Don’t push. Gentle encouragement is fine, but the more this becomes a power struggle, the more your child will win. If you meet resistance, back off and give them a break. Your child needs to believe that you wouldn’t care if they were still in diapers when they’re in college (even though all you really want is for them to be out of diapers).
  • Make regular trips to the potty. Set an alarm if you have to in order to remind yourself. Even kids who are pretty well trained can get too involved in something else and not recognize the signal from their body till it’s too late.

In general, boys take longer to train and are trained later than girls. Girls are typically daytime-trained between ages 2 and 3 and boys between ages 3 and 3½. Any child who isn’t pretty well trained by age 4 should get checked by the pediatrician to make sure that it is just behavioral and not for a medical reason.

If you have questions or frustrations, please make an appointment to see your child’s pediatrician to find some answers and get advice.