Some point between when you are really sick of changing diapers and when your child shows an interest in the toilet is when potty training begins. Unfortunately, these events don’t always sync up. Every kid is different. Some will begin expressing an interest in the toilet after their first birthday, while others may be wearing Pull-Ups to kindergarten.
Most children can begin toilet training roughly between 22 and 30 months old. It can be a frustrating and messy task, but it takes an emotional toll on you and your child and must be handled delicately. Don’t despair. Your child will eventually learn to use the toilet — it just might take longer than you want it to.
Don’t waste your time comparing one child with another. Just like with other milestones, children master toilet training at their own pace. Your job is to help them and not inadvertently become the reason they fail. Help your child succeed with potty training using a few of these ideas.
Discuss Toilet Use
Save their poopy diaper. When they are all cleaned up, invite them into the bathroom and show them how you flush their waste down the toilet. Yes, you need to dispose of some messy diapers right away. You’ll know which ones can make good learning examples.
Explain how you use the toilet and why you don’t need diapers. If you are comfortable doing so, allow them to watch you use the toilet. Offer to buy them their own special toilet seat, and ask if they want to learn how to use it. Some will be excited by the prospect, others not so much. Encourage their interest, just don’t demand it.
Partner in the Process
Yes, you’re the parent, but you truly need your child’s participation for toilet training to be successful. Don’t just buy the potty seat and stepstool. Have them come with you and pick it out if possible. If someone has given you these items, personalize them with stickers of favorite characters or some other items your child likes.
Talk about what being a “big” boy or girl means as far as successful toilet use. Discuss the purchase of colorful underwear and how clean they will feel without being stuffed into a diaper or Pull-Up all day. Reassure them you are happy to change their diapers, but that you look forward to the day you won’t have to.
Encourage Regular Toilet Use
First thing in the morning, have them try to use the toilet, especially if you’re lucky enough to have them wake with a dry diaper. Don’t pressure them, just encourage them. Using the toilet at regular intervals will get them more used to it and less intimidated by the process. Some kids won’t like this. That’s OK.
Just tell them you thought it would be a good idea and that you were going to go, too. Always try to use the toilet before leaving the house. Explain that you never know when you will have to go or if there will be a toilet available to use.
Don’t Set a Timeline
Toilet use is a lifelong activity. As stated before, your child will learn at his or her own pace. Don’t create arbitrary deadlines for success. Pay no attention to other parents bragging about their child’s success. Good for them. They have every right to be proud, but it’s completely unrelated to your child’s success or failure. Make sure your child knows that, too, because they will hear the same comments from others. Teach them to be happy for their peers, but focused on their own goals.
Reward Success, Support Failure
Most kids will love a round of applause when they are peeing in the toilet. Some might not, so gauge your child’s mood and personality. Same with telling other family members. Most will be thrilled to hear themselves abundantly praised and congratulated by others. You just don’t want to shame or embarrass them. Use your best judgment.
When they fail — and they will — don’t make a big deal out of it. Young children don’t always have control of their bowels and bladders. They may wet or soil themselves without realizing it until it is too late. They will be sensitive about this and worried they have disappointed you.
That’s where it is imperative to let them know it’s no big deal, that you are happy to clean it up and that they have been doing so well so far. Getting angry at them or punishing them will be counterproductive, and can cause lasting feelings of shame.
Rewarding them with gifts is a controversial decision. Some parents will promise a bike or some other expensive item, and that can set them up for failure as it becomes a distraction in the process. You want kids’ toilet training to be about their growth and success, not about a bike. Plus, once you buy them the bike, they aren’t going to be interested in toilet training anymore.
Pick a special treat they don’t normally get and give them that when they are successful. Some parents feel candy or other sugary treats can encourage bad eating habits, so you can use stickers or some other attractive reward. And if your child can force you to give them jelly beans or some other treat by throwing a tantrum, don’t use a reward system.
Prepare for Setbacks
Even when your child is successfully using the toilet on a regular basis or sleeping through the night in underwear, they can have major, long-lasting setbacks. Your best course of action during a setback is to remain supportive and encouraging as you and your child work together to get back on the right track.
Some kids will pee in the toilet, but poop in training pants. This is a sign they are emotionally not quite ready for potty training. Don’t give up on them. Encourage them to use the toilet and continue to reward successes. Forcing them might work, but it could backfire. Plus, you want them to be successful and proud of their accomplishment, not just afraid and compliant.
Children might refuse to use the bathroom as a general means of defiance. This is more reason why you want this to be about them, and not you. Let them know that, and don’t let them get a rise out of you.
Kids engaged in play with their friends might simply ignore or not feel the signs they need to use the bathroom. Accidents are common. This is another reason to encourage bathroom use throughout the day.
Your child might be completely potty-trained, but regularly wetting the bed. This is normal. Some children wet the bed well into their school years. Don’t embarrass them about this. Just encourage bathroom use before bed and cut water intake after the evening meal. There are adult bed-wetters, but your child should grow out of it.
Be patient. Take your time and always encourage your child. This mess will be over soon enough. Barring some medical condition, your child will learn to use the toilet and gain their independence. Someday you will buy your last pack of diapers. No one misses wiping butts and changing diapers. But it is always bittersweet to see your baby grow up.