How to Potty-Train Your Toddler

4. Think through your reward system.
Experts have differing ideas about how to reward a child who uses the potty. Some, like pediatrician and author Ari Brown, M.D., observe that if you have a sticker chart that’s weeks long, your child probably isn’t ready to train, and you should hold off awhile before making another attempt.

Many, including Altmann, don’t advise using food as a motivator—for anything—but even she concedes that sometimes “just one M&M can work so well.” They all warn against starting anything you’ll be tethered to long-term, such as rewarding your son with a Thomas the Tank Engine train every time he has a bowel movement in the potty.

An alternative idea: Keep a special toy he can play with only after he uses the potty. What may motivate your child more than any sticker or toy, however, is helping her understand the real-life rewards she gets from her accomplishment. “Children learn best from the consequences of their actions,” says Lerner. “The rewards are that they don’t have to feel yucky, they get to pick out underwear and we have more time together to do fun things because we’re not busy changing diapers.” Some seats we like

5. Expect accidents.
There isn’t a reputable child-rearing expert anywhere who will tell you it’s a good idea to reprimand your child for accidents, so this one’s simply a matter of mind-set. Stash a spare change of clothes in your bag if you don’t already, and stock up on underwear, especially underwear you won’t mind throwing away on occasion.

Then clean up and carry on. One exception: If your child is having frequent accidents, she may not be ready for the transition to the toilet just yet. Other kids fall into the “absent-minded professor” category, says Brown: “He’s so busy with whatever he’s doing, he’s just not being clued in to the urge.” In that case, set a watch or timer to go off every hour, indicating it’s time for a trip to the toilet. “The timer can’t nag—it provides a sense of independence,” says Brown, “and eventually he’ll internalize that cue.”