Potty training is a big deal. Here's what you need to know about timing, technique and handling the inevitable accidents.
Potty training success depends on physical and emotional readiness, not on specific age. Many kids show interest in potty training by age of two, but others may not be ready until age 2 1/2 or even older. And there's no rush. If you start potty training too early, it may only take longer.
When is the best age to start toilet learning in children?
A study published in the April 2003 issue of Pediatrics reports that starting intensive toilet training before 27 months did nothing to hasten the time that toilet learning was completed – all it did was to lengthen the months of toilet learning. Intensive toilet training was defined as asking the child more than 3 times a day to use the toilet.
This study was conducted by researchers from Children’s Hospital Philadelphia among hundreds of middle-class children living in the Philadelphia suburbs. The results might have been quite different in other groups or in other countries. Even in similar groups, individual children mature at different rates and in different ways. Still, this report reminds us that kids will learn to use the potty when they are ready, and not before. Our job is to teach them and support them, not to force them.
Sometimes kids do learn to use the potty with almost no help from parents. Most of the time, though, they need our guidance and encouragement
- When he seems to be interested in the potty chair or toilet, or in wearing underwear.
- Understands and follows basic directions
- Stays dry for periods of two hours or longer during the day
- Has fairly predictable bowel movements
- Tells you when he or she needs to potty
- Uncomfortable in wet or dirty diapers
- Pulls down his or her pants and pulls them up again
For a child to successfully master toilet training, there are two core concepts that must be assimilated. A child needs to learn how to use the potty. This includes recognizing the urge to go, voluntarily using her muscles to hold it in, walking to the potty, and using different muscles to move the waste out. The second core concept is learning to use the potty consistently. This includes overcoming any reason for resistance, and assuming responsibility for his own toileting.
Problems encountered during potty training
Temporary setbacks or “accidents” are a normal part of toilet training. If the parent is patient and accepting, they gradually become less frequent.
Frequent accidents (wetting or soiling) may mean that your child isn’t yet ready for toilet training. If this happens, it’s OK to go back to diapers for a little while. Try again when your child shows more signs of readiness.
Another possible problem is constipation—difficult or uncomfortable BMs. (controlling bowel movements). Call your doctor if this occurs.
Some children have physical or medical problems that delay toilet training or make it impossible (for example, various types of developmental delay or medical problems involving the urinary or gastrointestinal system). Your doctor will discuss with you how to handle these situations.
No single approach to toilet training is right for every child. The keys are to establish a regular toilet routine and to be patient!
- Choose a potty chair. Having their own potty chair is more comfortable for children. A potty chair also lets your child’s feet touch the floor, which is reassuring.
- Having the child watch parents or siblings go to the bathroom can be helpful.
- Praise your child’s efforts at potty training, even if he or she tells you they already went. Don’t be negative or angry if your child has occasional “accidents”—they are a normal part of toilet training. If accidents are happening a lot, it may mean that your child isn’t ready for toilet training.
- If your child says or shows signs that he or she needs to go to the bathroom, and then take him or her to the potty chair. Boys usually learn to urinate sitting down at first.
- Your child should sit on the potty for a few minutes, whether he or she goes or not. Schedule potty trips before and after naps, after meals—every couple of hours.
- Keep the mood positive and light. If your child insists on not sitting on the potty, don’t force the issue. This may mean that he or she isn’t ready.
- Teach your child how to wipe with toilet paper. Girls should wipe from front to back to avoid spreading stool (BM) to the vagina. Teach your child to wash and dry his or her hands after using the potty.
- When your child is getting the idea, try switching to training pants. These are special underpants that act like diapers in case of accidents.
- Some children are afraid of flushing the toilet. Give your child some time to get used to the idea of moving from a potty seat to the big toilet.
Toilet training can take weeks or even months. As always, be patient; even in the most difficult cases, toilet training happens eventually!
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