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How to Potty Train Your Child

How to Potty Train Your Child

Getting your kids out of diapers can be a frustrating—but ultimately rewarding—task. Here’s how to make the experience as smooth as possible.


Potty training is a big step in your child’s development. It’s a very important milestone for both you and your toddler. But how do you know it’s time for your little one to make the transition from diapers to toilet? We spoke to some potty-training experts, and they agree that watching for the signs is key.

“The biggest factor contributing to the success of potty training is the readiness of the child. The average age of readiness varies between twenty-two and thirty months,” says Devan Van Lanen-Wanek, M.D., of Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park. “Some subtle signs that your kid wants to learn how to use the toilet are showing interest in other people’s bathroom habits and expressing disgust at their dirty diapers.”

Additionally, your child needs to be able to hold her bodily functions, communicate her need to go, undress and redress, and wash her hands on her own, Dr. Van Lanen-Wanek says.

So now that you established a solid foundation of readiness, here are some tips to keep in mind for making the potty-training experience a smooth one for both you and your child.

Be Prepared for Potty Training

One of the biggest challenges of potty training is figuring out how to prevent accidents. They’re messy, time-consuming situations that no parent is thrilled to deal with.

“To alleviate this, parents need to make sure they have all the supplies needed to be successful, as well as a clear plan of action before they begin, rather than the ‘let’s just wing it’ approach,” says Kaylee Sallak, founder of Parenting Made Joyful Lifestyle, and teacher of parenting classes at Buy Buy Baby.

Before you start potty training, consider having a few of these tools ready to help make the transition as smooth as possible:

  • A small potty chair: Put a potty chair in the bathroom. Look for a model with a removable top that can be placed on top of the toilet seat when your child is ready to start making the transition.

  • An insert for the big potty (if your potty chair doesn’t have a removable top)

  • A squatty potty stool to go under a big potty or a small footstool: Some kids feel a little insecure sitting on the big potty. Placing a stool under their feet can help stabilize them.

  • Thick cloth underwear

  • Training pants: These are a great way to move on from diapers and help your toddler feel like a big kid before making the jump to underwear.

  • Lose pants that have no zippers or buttons

  • A timer

  • Potty books and songs: You can read or sing these to your child while they’re trying to go to the bathroom. They’ll help illustrate what your child can expect.

  • Tangible rewards: In addition to verbal praise for their efforts, consider using small rewards such as stickers or stars on a chart. Every five or 10 stickers equals an extra bedtime story or game. 

  • Cleaning supplies ready for messes

  • Plastic bags with you always

  • Spare clothes with you always

And as for the plan of action? “It needs to be decided upon ahead of time and agreed upon by both parents and any caregiver so there is consistency across the board,” Sallak says. “Whatever approach is selected, it should be a solid three days of no plans whatsoever to focus completely on getting a strong start to potty training.”

Don’t Force Potty Training

Pressuring your child to begin potty training before he’s ready can be disastrous. “One study found that initiation of toilet training before twenty-seven months was not associated with earlier completion of toilet training success,” Dr. Van Lanen-Wanek says. “This suggests there is little benefit to starting before this age.”

Try Not to Get Frustrated 

Keep in mind that the process of potty training can take a long time and have many ups and downs.

“The average length of toilet training is six to seven months, tends to be longer for boys than girls, and also longer in first-born children than subsequent children,” Dr. Van Lanen-Wanek says. “Remember that every kid is unique and develops at their own pace.”

It’s inevitable that you’ll probably hit a few roadblocks with your toddler—and encounter stubbornness at its finest—after you’ve started the potty training process. Keep in mind these do’s and don’ts in order to get past them:

  • Don’t use punishments or threats.

  • Always use positive reinforcement.

  • Let children learn at their own pace.

  • Stay positive when accidents happen.

  • Take training breaks if needed.

  • Boost fruit and veggie intake to help prevent constipation.

Be Consistent with Potty Training Routines

Once you make the move to diapers, it’s important not to go back, says Wendy Goldstein, a teacher at the 92Y Parenting Center in Manhattan. Also, If the children are being potty trained at home, then they should also be going through training at school and with the babysitter. Sticking to the same routine in different locations with different people will help them get into the routine much quicker.

“Know that there will be accidents, and it’s not a big deal,” Goldstein says. “When a child does have an accident, it helps her understand what it’s like to be wet. The goal is to try to get her to understand what’s happening. Children don’t generally like the feeling of being wet, so this trains them for what their bodies need.”

Jody Bernstein, another teacher at the 92Y Parenting Center, adds that when accidents do happen, encourage your child to help you clean up.

“You may need to set aside some time to focus on toilet training for a weekend or holiday break,” Bernstein suggests. “Stay close to home as you work on this. Let your child be naked or wear just underpants.”

Brands such as Pull-Ups now offer a wide variety of tools to ensure you’re always ready for potty training success, including games, printable sticker charts, tools for parents, and calls from Disney characters using your smart speaker voice assistant.                                                                                                    

Bedtime Considerations when Potty Training

Nighttime should have special considerations, according to the experts. Craig Hammond, founder and CEO of Peejamas, functional pajamas designed to eliminate the need for nighttime diapers, recommends establishing a routine at night that includes going to the bathroom before bed and limiting fluid intake in the evening.

“Parents don't need to force their child to completely fast from water or fluids at night, but definitely start winding it down after dinner,” Hammond says. “This helps to limit fluid building in the bladder, potentially leading to a release during the night. Coupled with the routine of going potty prior to bed, this will help your child learn.”

Hammond also recommends—if possible—not using a diaper at night, just as your child wouldn’t in the day time during potty training.

“Putting a child back in a diaper during the night, is inconsistent and contrary to the daytime training recommendations,” Hammond says. “Of course, this can lead to potential messes, which there are solutions to avoid that, and may not be realistic for children with individual needs. But if you can do it, it is a much better way to help them really nail the nighttime phase of potty training.”

Potty training your child can be fun and rewarding, but as with all things, should you have any concerns or questions, call your child’s doctor or health-care provider.

 

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Barbara Russo

Author: Barbara Russo is a freelance writer who holds a bachelor's degree in communications from the City University of New York. She enjoys playing guitar, following current events, and hanging out with her pet rabbits. See More

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