New Parent Guide to Potty Training

By Stacy Whitman

On a parent’s list of duties, potty training can rank right up there with doctors’ visits and cleaning up oopsies. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With the right approach, experts say teaching your little guy or girl to use the toilet need not be an exercise in frustration or a battle of wills. In fact, if you start at an appropriate time and don’t push too hard, it can be a relatively smooth transition and a real confidence booster for your child.

Most kids are developmentally ready to begin using the potty around the age of 24 months, says Mark Wolraich, MD, Chief of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City and author of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Guide to Toilet Training. But every child is unique, and while some are successfully toilet trained before turning 2, others don’t master it until their third birthday or after.

“Children mature at different rates, so the best thing you can do is know your child and read his cues,” explains Peter L. Stavinoha, PhD, a licensed psychologist and coauthor of Stress-Free Potty Training: A Commonsense Guide to Finding the Right Approach for Your Child.

Just because your wee one isn’t showing all the signs of readiness doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start laying the groundwork, however. While you never want to force the issue, you can help him get interested and understand the process by talking about it when you’re changing his diaper, letting him watch you go to the bathroom and having him wave bye-bye to the pee and poop as you flush. “Parents should begin explaining the concept to their child very early on,” Stavinoha adds. “As your child gets more mobile and starts walking in when you’re using the bathroom, you can use it as an opportunity to reinforce their curiosity.” In addition, you can start having practice sessions to get your child used to sitting on a potty and establish a routine.

Six Signs Your Child Is Ready to Ditch Diapers

You don’t have to wait until your toddler is showing all of these readiness signs to begin potty training—but it may be easier for both of you if he’s making the necessary connections.

1. He’s showing interest in the process (i.e., he watches you go to the bathroom or imitates you by pulling down his pants or squatting).

2. He has some awareness of when he’s peeing or pooping (i.e., his facial expression or body position changes when he goes, or he acts uncomfortable when his diaper is soiled).

3. He can follow simple instructions.

4. He can walk to and from the bathroom and help undress himself.

5. His bowel movements have become more regular and predictable.

6. He stays dry at least two hours at a time during the day or his diaper is dry after naps.