by Alan Greene, MD, FAAP
Most children are ready to tackle the challenge of potty use somewhere between age 2 and shortly after their third birthday, with boys generally at the latter end of this range. Letting you know when their diapers are dirty is an early sign of readiness. When they start to let you know just before they need to go, it is time to begin. Here are some suggestions for easing the transition from diaper to potty:
Try reading aloud (together) one of the outstanding books that describe potty use as a part of growing up. My favorite is Toilet Learning by Alison Mack. Illustrations of fire fighters, doctors, baby sitters, and parents all going to the bathroom will delight and educate your child. Watching the same-sex parent or older sibling in the bathroom reinforces this process.
Buying fun new underwear for them can act as further encouragement.
If your child seems to be afraid of the toilet itself, then gradually acclimatize him or her to the potty. Have them sit on one of the little potties fully clothed for a few minutes each day while you read or tell them a story. When that becomes old hat, take the diaper off so they can sit on it just like Dad and Mom.
Begin putting the contents of their dirty diapers in the potty so they can see what happens. Then give them the opportunity to run around bare-bottomed so they can try to go on the potty if they want.
If your child is afraid of failure, it is paramount that when he or she does make a mistake, your response is not an exasperated or a punishing one. Instead say something like, "Oops, there it went. Someday soon they're all going to land in the potty. We'll try again." Let them know that accidents are okay and that he or she will ultimately succeed.
When they do get something in the potty, leave it there for them to admire. Congratulate them warmly, but don't get too excited or they will feel more pressure.
If children begin holding their stool in, the stool can become hard. It will be important to soften the stool using either diet or a gentle medicine from your doctor.
During the toilet training process, it can be comfortable and convenient for children to wear pull-ups, but for some, this can slow the process by minimizing comfort as a motivating force.
Physical readiness for potty training often occurs around the time that children develop strong oppositional behavior -- you say, "yes," they say, "no!" You say, "red," they say, "blue!" This underlying negativity is the final powerful force affecting potty training. Thankfully, this begins to fade at about age three. Still, if you tell them, "This is what you've got to do," their natural, healthy response is "no," because they are in the process of developing their unique, independent personality. Potty training is not an area to enter into any kind of battle. You will always lose; everyone involved will lose. Instead, minimize the issue and make it quite clear that this is for them -- in their timing -- and not for you. Help teach them how to do it, but don't push and don't punish.
Dr. Alan Greene, author of Raising Baby Green and Feeding Baby Greene, is the founder of Dr.Greene.com and the WhiteOut Movement. He is a frequent guest on such shows as Good Morning America, The Today Show, and the Dr. Oz Show. He is on the Board of Directors of Healthy Child Healthy World and The Lunchbox Project. Dr. Greene is a practicing pediatrician at Stanford University's Packard Children's Hospital.
Copyright © Greene Ink, Inc., all rights reserved. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org. Reviewed January 30, 1996.