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Potty Training: A Take-It-Easy Guide

If training your child to use the toilet isn't rocket science, then why the heck does it trip up so many fully grown and intelligent people?

We are told not to force it, lest we cause our children psychological damage that will last a lifetime.

“Don’t rush your toddler into toilet training,” said famed pediatrician T. Berry Brazleton. “It’s got to be his choice.”

Meanwhile Brazleton received financing for his research and healthcare projects for years from Pampers (who created the size 6 diaper).

Parents transitioning into potty training are faced with a sort of agony when they hear that some diligent moms and dads potty trained in a day or did potty training boot camp in a weekend.

Rule number one: NEVER COMPARE. And also, realize there are a lot of tough parenting challenges along the way.

You really have to be resolute when it comes to pull-ups, allowing your progeny to walk around naked all day, doling out M&Ms rewards and setting your child’s potty anywhere in the house at any time of day.

Rule number two: RELAX.

If you’re thinking that it’s time to give potty training a whirl, read on.


No two kids are the same, so don’t fret when you hear that so-and-so trained her child at 18 months of age and your child is 3. Developmentally, some children may show signs of readiness at 18 months, but most pediatricians agree that many toddlers will start showing signs closer to age 2. Experts say timing is everything, so don’t start the process if you’ve recently moved or are undergoing any other big life changes (which means your child is, too).

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises against pushing children to start potty training too early; wait for signs of interest.

“Potty training requires plenty of patience, so you’ll want to start the process at a time when you and your child feel secure,” reads a post from Green Hills Pediatrics on its website. “It’s also different for every kid, so it’s crucial to tailor the process to your child’s needs.”

Signs of readiness include:

• Keeping a diaper dry for two hours or more

• Ability to sit on and get off of a potty chair or child’s toilet seat

• Being able to pull down diapers or pull-ups

• Verbally expressing a need to use the bathroom


If your child shows interest in using the potty, gently build on that. You can say, “Oh, yes, Mommy uses the potty several times a day because my body needs to.” Also pick out a few good potty training books to read to your child. But don’t push it. Read a book, set it aside. Let it simmer in your child’s brain.

Since children are so little when they first learn about potty training, many pediatricians suggest using a potty chair at first (as opposed to a seat reducer for your toilet bowl). This makes the seat easier for them and a bit less imposing.

A stand-alone potty has a number of benefits for your child, says Teri Crane, author of Potty Train Your Child in Just One Day (Touchstone; 2006). You can put it nearby another toilet in case an older child wants to demonstrate “going” at the same time that your younger one “tries.” In addition, the stand-alone fits little children comfortably and is easier to mount than the big toilet.


Children are busy and quick. Sometimes, even if they “know” they are supposed to stop to use the potty, they will just go on playing even if it means wetting their pants.

Training your child to use the potty takes a lot of reminding throughout the day, especially at first, along with a schedule to get your child started.

First of all, maintain a positive attitude for your child. A “you can do it” approach.

Next, think about your own life: you get up, use the bathroom. You may use it again mid-morning, after breakfast and coffee. You may use it again after lunch and again in the afternoon. Apply this logic to your child’s potty training experience, says Crane.

To start potty training, have your child sit on the potty when he first wakes up. If nothing happens in five minutes, tell him it’s OK and praise him for trying, then let him down for breakfast. After breakfast, try again. Stay with your child and read or give him a small toy. If your child has success, praise him, enjoy the moment, then stop trying for awhile. It’s OK to talk about the feeling of needing to poop. It’s OK to talk about what “needing to go” feels like. When accidents happen:

• Stay calm. Don’t scold or shame. Say, “It’s OK,” and say something like, “Sometimes we have to get to the toilet fast!” and “Accidents can happen, even if you don’t want them to.”

• Be ready. Keep a change of underwear and clothing handy.


• Boys may take a little longer than girls, says Crane.
• Avoid comparing your child to anyone else.
• Make sure all caregivers are on the same page as you in your child’s progress.
• Avoid a power struggle at all costs.
• Consult your pediatrician if you are at all worried about your child’s progress.










About the Author

Susan Swindell Day, Editor

Susan Swindell Day is the editor in chief of Nashville Parent and the mom of four amazing kids.