Looking at your child and thinking back at how much he's grown and developed can be a bittersweet experience. On one hand, you love how big and independent he's become. On the other, you sometimes miss his younger, more dependent days. But no matter how fondly you recall your child's infancy, there's one part of his childhood that you probably can't wait to put behind you: changing diapers.
Although most kids look forward to being able to use the toilet on their own, they can easily get frustrated by the inevitable accidents. And navigating that gray area between diapers and underwear can be hard on you, too. Here are some tips that will help make potty training as painless and easy as possible for everyone concerned.
Potty Training Success Boosters
Wait until your child is ready. (Click here for a complete list of signs of readiness.) Trying to potty train a child who's not ready can actually extend the process. And avoid starting training when there are other big changes in your child's life, such as illness, divorce, a death in the family (even of a pet), and moving to a new home.
Take it one step at a time. Despite all the stories you might have heard about children who jumped from diapers to big-kid underpants in a day, potty training is a process that, for most children, involves several distinct steps that are learned one by one and over time. (For a detailed, step-by-step guide, click here.) To get the process going, you may want to start by leaving a potty seat on the floor of the bathroom for a few days; tell your child that the little toilet is for her, and the big one is for grown-ups. A few days later, have her sit on the seat (fully clothed is fine). After another few days, start asking your child a number of times every day whether you can take off her diaper so she can sit on her special seat.
Get the right equipment. Child potty seats should be low enough that both feet can rest firmly on the floor. Skip the urine deflectors (shields that attach to the front of the seat to keep boys' urine inside the toilet). They seem like a great idea but can sometimes hurt boys who don't sit down exactly right, and the last thing you want is to have your child associate going to the bathroom with pain. Some seats have multiple stages: They start out as a child-sized seat that sits on the floor and then convert to an adapter that sits on a regular seat. Some even play music when a child is seated.
Don't flush in front of the child, at least at first. While some kids may be fascinated and want to flush over and over and over, others may be terrified, believing that a part of them is being sucked down the toilet. (Click here for a detailed glimpse of how children view potty training.)
Minimize or eliminate liquids within an hour of bedtime. This will increase the chances that your child will wake up dry — something that will boost his confidence.
Learn to recognize the signs. When you see that knees-together, bouncing-up-and-down dance, find a bathroom fast.
Be positive, but not too positive. Too much excitement about the contents of a diaper can give a toddler the idea that what he's produced is somehow valuable — a twisted notion that may result in him wanting to keep it for himself (inside his body if necessary).
Be flexible. Some regression is perfectly normal, especially if you've moved, changed babysitters, or had a death in the family, or if the child has been sick.
Make it fun. Boys in the early stages of potty training are notoriously bad at aiming. Putting some o-shaped cereal or other targets in the water, or adding some blue food coloring (which turns green when the yellow urine hits it), can make urinating more fun for your son and less messy for you. Boys and girls also might like to have books to look at or a special "potty partner" — a stuffed animal or doll — to keep them company while they're using the potty.
Don't worry about night training for a while, at least until your child is regularly dry after waking from naps and occasionally dry in the morning. Overnight bladder control doesn't usually come for a year or so after daytime control.
Coordinate your approach with other caregivers. Barring any major life change, once you've started the potty training process there should be no going back. So let preschool teachers, day care providers, and even babysitters know what you're doing at home and ask them to support you and your child by doing the same thing everywhere else.
Avoid making punishment a part of potty training. It's impossible to force a child to use the toilet if she isn't ready or doesn't want to. And any attempts to force her are pretty much guaranteed to backfire. Children who feel pressured sometimes try to regain control of the situation by refusing to get out of diapers or by not going to the bathroom at all. This can lead to constipation or other conditions that will need to be treated by your pediatrician.