Ultimate Guide to Potty-Training

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Potty training is a developmental skill your child cannot master until he is physically and mentally ready, however anxious you may be to have a "grown-up" child and be through with diapers. Actually, the process of potty training is perhaps more properly called potty learning, since your child teaches himself. Your part is to provide the setting and materials, a description of the methods used, and the necessary encouragement.

Among parents who keep close track of such events and brag a bit, the age at which their children were potty trained is almost as important as the age at which they slept through the night. Some studies show the average child is usually potty trained at about 30 months, but comparing your child with another is a waste of time; the differences among children in mastering this skill are vast. Girls are usually potty trained before boys of the same age, but a boy may be trained at age two and a girl not until age four.

When to Potty Train a Child

Your child may give you subtle signs that he is ready to being potty training, such as a reluctance or irritation with diapers.
Your child may give you subtle signs that he is ready to being potty training, such as a reluctance or irritation with diapers.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

You will suspect your child is ready for potty training if wearing a wet or soiled diaper has become uncomfortable and distasteful to him or if he sometimes tells you or lets you know in some other way that urination or defecation is about to take place. Before you start, let the child observe you and any sibling in the bathroom; an older brother or sister is usually a great role model and an enthusiastic one. Get several pairs of underpants -- the looser, the better -- and let your child practice pulling them up and down. Look in your bookstore or library for some of the excellent potty-training books available for children, and read them to your child.

Decide whether your child will use a potty chair or the big toilet, with or without an adapter. The advantages of the potty chair are that it is childsize, close to the floor, and easy to get on and off. The adapter takes no extra space, doesn't need emptying, and allows your child to skip the middle step of changing from the chair to the big toilet. Simply teaching your child to use the big toilet is, of course, easiest of all, if the child is large enough and not frightened.

If you choose the potty chair, look for one in which the pot removes easily for emptying; you want your child to take over this task as soon as possible. If you opt for the seat adapter, consider one that folds up conveniently for travel. If your child is a boy, you need a shield, either built-in or attachable, to deflect the flow of urine because boys do not stand up to urinate at first. Do not use a chair or adapter that has a shield for a little girl; instances of injury to the labia have been reported. If you decide on the potty chair, set it up some time before you start training your child so it becomes familiar. Let the child sit on it, fully clothed, if he or she wishes, when you are in the bathroom together.

Another decision you must make concerns terminology. Children can handle the words for body parts easily enough, but the words urinate and defecate are more difficult, and they or substitutes for them will, of course, be used far more frequently. Most families settle on more casual words, such as pee and BM. Remember, there is a fine line between the acceptable and the crude; a word or term that sounds cute coming from a two year old may not be so at all from a five year old.

Still another decision to make regards rewards for successful performance during potty training. Parents disagree; some disapprove heartily of using material rewards for the accomplishment of what they see as a natural and normal step in development, while others see no harm in the practice and think it helps inspire a child to earlier success.

Among the latter, there are those who reward their children with treats, such as cookies, nuts, or raisins, and those who prefer to use small, inexpensive presents instead of food. One material gift all children get is a supply of "big girl" or "big boy" pants, often introduced with some fanfare by parents and usually thrilling to a child. Some parents who don't believe in any kind of concrete reward other than potty-training pants like to mark a child's progress with colored stars on a calendar.

All parents do agree that praise is a highly suitable and effective reward. Praise generously, they say, but not so lavishly your child begins to think of bowel and bladder control as earth-shaking achievements, more important than they really are and, possibly, as tools to manipulate their parents.

Hopefully now you've assessed that you and your child are ready to start potty training. In the next section, we will learn how to begin the process.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

How to Start Potty Training

Summer is good time to start potty training because there will be less clothing to remove before heading to the bathroom.
Summer is good time to start potty training because there will be less clothing to remove before heading to the bathroom.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

The most common order for potty training is bowel control first, then daytime bladder control, and, later, nighttime bladder control, but all children do not follow that pattern. If your child has bowel movements at a regular time most days, you may have him trained in that department long before you try for bladder control; some parents try with good success when their children are about 18 to 24 months old.

A good time to try for a child who is not regular is about 30 minutes after a meal. Sit with your child for a few minutes, perhaps reading a book as you wait, but only as long as the child is willing. Be prepared for your child to feel proprietary about his feces, and be careful not to imply they are dirty or bad in any way. Some children are upset when their feces are flushed away, and some are frightened of the flushing noise. If your child is one of these, you may decide to flush only after he has left the bathroom.

One reason some children have trouble managing bowel control is that they are constipated. Constipation is not so much a matter of infrequency of bowel movements (having as few as three or four normal movements a week is perfectly natural for some children) as it is of hard stools that are painful and difficult for a child to pass. Discomfort makes a child hold back and compounds the problem. To help a constipated child, decrease his intake of milk and milk products and increase whole grain and dried fruit in his diet. Prune juice is helpful for a child who will drink it. If constipation continues, see your doctor for advice.

Summer is the best time to start potty training, if you have a choice, because the fewer clothes a child must bother with, the easier the process is. As often as you can, let your child wear underpants only to cut down the problems of dealing with outer pants or skirts and shirts.

You may find it helpful to plan to concentrate heavily on training for about a week, staying close to home with your child and not trying to accomplish much of anything else. The 24-hour method of training, advanced a few years ago by two psychologists, who designed it first to help persons with mental retardation (Nathan Azrin and Richard Foxx, Toilet Training in Less Than a Day), is championed by some parents and disapproved of by others. It involves very concentrated effort from both child and parent, and some believe it is overly manipulative and somewhat punitive. Potty training in one day may be too good to be true, as reports of the timing of success vary.

Your ultimate objective is to get your child to go into the bathroom alone when he needs to, pull down his pants, clean himself when finished, pull up his pants, empty the pot if one is used, and flush the toilet. Obviously, all this self-care does not occur at first, and you may help and remind your child to use the bathroom, and even lead your child physically to the bathroom for some time. The best times to give reminders or to take a child to the bathroom are when he first wakes in the morning, before and after naps, 30 minutes after meals, and before bed.

Children usually urinate about eight times a day and more often when they are excited or tired. Remember that part of potty training is teaching your child good habits of hygiene -- careful and thorough hand-washing and, for girls especially, wiping from front to back instead of the reverse (to prevent urinary tract infections).

Of course no one said potty training would be easy. In the next section, we will learn how to deal with regressions and other potty-training accidents.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Potty-Training Problems

Most potty-training regression occurs at night while your child is asleep.
Most potty-training regression occurs at night while your child is asleep.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Accidents happen, whatever method you use and however quickly your child learns. When one does, clean up quickly, making very little of it. Console your child if she is upset, and do not punish, scold, or shame her. If accidents are so frequent you can see training will be unsuccessful, stop at once and put your child back in diapers. Try again in a few weeks or a month, when you think the child is ready.

A child who is completely potty trained sometimes has accidents when she is ill. Sometimes a child regresses -- seems to forget entirely control of bowels or bladder or both. Regression sometimes accompanies or follows an illness.

A child who regresses (or one who can't seem to master the control training requires, though apparently ready) may have a lactose intolerance or other food intolerance or allergy or a urinary infection. The latter is usually accompanied by pain and a burning sensation when urinating and sometimes also by changed color or a foul odor in the urine. If you suspect a physical problem, consult your doctor.

In most cases, regression has an emotional, rather than a physical, cause. It may occur when a new baby comes into the house, when someone close to the family dies, when parents separate or divorce, or at some other stressful time. It's best to go along with it as best you can: Do not show anger or scold, but put your child back into diapers without comment.

Nighttime bladder control usually comes later than daytime control, although some children go through the night dry even before they are daytime-trained. Good control is needed because a child who sleeps through the night may have to wait as long as 12 hours. You may want to encourage nighttime control by holding back on liquids before bedtime and getting her up when you go to bed. Bed-wetting (enuresis) is considered a real problem only after a child is about six years of age.

Potty training is a major milestone in your child's life, but some parents can put too much pressure on the stage and make it harder on their child. If you follow our simple potty training advice, your child will be well on his way to independence.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Michael K. Meyerhoff, Ed.D. is executive director of the Epicenter Inc.,"The Education for Parenthood Information Center," a family advisory and advocacy agency located in Lindenhurst, Illinois. He received his doctorate in human development from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he also served as a researcher with the Harvard Preschool Project. He is the author of Bright Start: Activities to Develop Your Child's Potential. His articles on early development and parenting have appeared in numerous publications for parents and professionals, and his regular magazine columns have received a first-place National Headliners Award and two first-place citations from Parenting Publications of America.