While most parents can’t wait for their child to be toilet trained, it can seem like a daunting task – especially when there are so many theories on how to do it and when to start.
Children will learn to use the toilet when they’re ready, but there are steps you can take to help your child get started, assist him along the way, and make sure the process is as natural and stress-free as possible.
“There really is no set time to begin toilet training, but the average age when a child is ready is usually between 18 and 30 months, although some kids may be ready earlier or later than that,” said Dr. Sarah Adams, a pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics in Hudson. “Rather than starting toilet training based on your child’s age, watch for signs that your child is ready.”
This includes the ability to:
- Follow simple instructions
- Understand words about the toileting process
- Verbally express a need to go
- Stay dry for 2 hours or more, including after naps, as well as staying dryer overnight
- Get to the potty, sit on it and then get off the potty
- Pull down diapers, disposable training pants or underpants
Having regular and predictable bowel movements, as well as showing an interest in using the potty and wearing underpants are also signs that your child is ready. Boys often start later and take longer to learn to use the potty than girls.
“If your child has no interest in toilet training, put it off for awhile,” said Dr. Adams. “Pushing your child too soon will make the process difficult for everyone and your child may view toilet training negatively.”
A good way to prepare your child is to talk about the potty and how it works. Let your child watch you or a sibling use the toilet. Explain the steps in the process starting with telling you she needs to go through washing her hands afterward.
“Successful potty training depends on patience, low stress in the household, and following a consistent schedule,” said Dr. Adams. “Avoid starting the process when there are major changes at home, such as the birth of another child, moving to a new house, or when transitioning your child from the crib to a bed.”
If possible, take some time off from work or dedicate a weekend to start potty training. Follow the same toileting routine every day and don’t skip days.
Teaching a toddler to use the potty doesn’t happen overnight. It can take between 3 to 6 months, although it may take less or more time for some children, especially staying dry at night. If they are truly ready, it can be done successfully in a shorter amount of time.
Choosing a potty seat
You will need some sort of potty seat, either a ring to put on your toilet (with a stool for the feet to rest on) or a separate potty chair that sits on the floor. This will help your child feel safe and secure on the toilet.
It’s usually best for boys to first learn to use the toilet sitting down before learning to pee standing up. If your son feels awkward or scared standing on a stool at the toilet, a potty chair may be a better option.
Have a potty seat or chair for every bathroom in your house. You may want to keep a potty chair in the trunk of your car for emergencies or when traveling.
Tips for success
Dr. Adams recommends these 9 tips for successful potty training:
- Include toilet training into your child’s daily routine by having her consistently use the bathroom during certain times of the day, such as in the morning, within 15 to 30 minutes after meals, after naps and before bedtime.
- Pay attention to non-verbal gestures and ask your child frequently if he needs to go, especially during long periods of play and before outings.
- Allow only a few minutes on the potty. If it doesn’t happen, praise her for sitting and allow her to get off. Try again in a couple of hours. Don’t force your child to sit. She will do it when she’s ready. If your child sits regularly, is relaxed and encouraged, she will eventually use the toilet.
- Praise your child as he accomplishes each step. You also can offer small rewards, such as stickers or reading time with Mommy every time your child goes in the potty. Once he has started learning the process, wait until he has completed several steps before giving more praise. When he has continued success at completing all the steps, stop giving rewards. It should be a natural process by then.
- Have a plan for using the bathroom away from home, such as knowing where the restrooms are in the grocery store.
- Use disposable training pants at night until your child usually stays dry until morning.
- Dress your child in loose-fitting clothing that’s easy to put on and take off.
- Make sure all your child’s caregivers follow the same routine and use the same names for body parts and toileting steps.
- Stay calm if there’s an accident. Don’t punish your child or show disappointment. Use it as an opportunity to remind him of the steps, while reassuring him that he’s well on the way to using the potty like a big kid.