Basic Potty Training

Toddler Using the Potty

By By John de Triquet, MD

Want to know the secret to successful, lower-stress potty training? Wait until your child is ready to begin. Trying to start before your child has the necessary skills will result in frustration for both of you. Some children will be ready to begin toilet training at 18 months; others may not be ready to begin until 24 months or even later.

A child who is ready to begin potty training can:

  • understand words such as “pee,” “poop,” “dry,” “wet” and “potty”
  • understand what the potty is for
  • ask you to change her diaper when it is wet
  • recognize the feeling of a full bladder and the urge to have a bowel movement
  • postpone urinating or having a bowel movement.

When your child is ready, take him to the store to pick out a potty chair. (The floor-level types are best.) Let him pick out stickers or stars for you to use for rewarding successful potty trips. Let your child become familiar with the potty chair outside the bathroom, using it as a special chair to sit in while fully clothed. Only after your child has developed good feelings for the chair should you proceed to actual toilet training.

To begin training, practice whenever your child gives a signal that he needs to go, such as pulling at his pants or jumping up and down. Other good times for practice are after naps and 20 minutes after meals. Say, “The poop or pee wants to come out. Let’s use the potty.” Let your child walk to the potty and sit on it with his pants off. If he is ready to get up after a minute, fine. Never force the issue. Even if he seems to be enjoying sitting there, end each practice after five minutes unless something is happening.

Reward all cooperation with praise and stickers or treats. Save the big rewards (like a new set of crayons) for the times your child walks over to the potty on his own and uses it or asks to go there with you and uses it. After your child uses the potty by himself two or more times, you should be able to stop the practices. Accidents will still occur at this point. Change your child as soon as it’s convenient and be sympathetic. “You’ll do better next time” is a good response. Never punish, scold or yell at a child for accidents. Pressure of this kind can make a toddler extremely uncooperative.

When your child uses the potty at least 50 percent of the time, you can switch from diapers to training pants during the day. Make the new underwear a reward for success. Use diapers only for nights and naps. Consistent bladder control through the night normally happens several years after daytime control.

By John de Triquet, MD practices with CHKD Health System’s Pediatric Specialists.