From finger foods to first steps, there are many milestones in your child’s early years, and a huge one he’ll master some time during toddlerhood is using the potty all by himself—a real stride towards independence. Since we working moms aren’t usually around all day to monitor the progress, here are some tips for potty training to consider—and share with your little one's caregiver—from Stefanie Foster Brown, founder of Preschoology (preschoology.com) and creator of The Potty Show app.
Time it right. Parents can try to begin potty training their child at any age (since biologically speaking, there’s no real starting point). In Western culture, it’s typical to start between ages of 2 and 3, since many preschools don’t accept kids that are still in diapers. “The most important thing to keep in mind is that potty training usually goes most smoothly when children are emotionally and physically ready for it and families are in a place where they can offer the child their full support,” says Brown. Before potty training, a child should be able to complete some basic tasks like pulling his clothing on and off, following simple instructions and physically getting to the toilet.
Watch for signs of readiness. A few markers that a child might be ready to use the potty include staying dry for a few hours at a time, showing an interest in using the potty or when others do, and displaying discomfort with being dirty after going in a diaper, Brown notes.
Find what works for your child. What with the amount of conflicting advice parents can get and all the contradicting information found online, potty training can be frustrating and overwhelming. Some parents are more rigid and may try to stick to an "X number of days" approach. Others may decide it's okay to extend it for as long as needed. Basically, you need to trust your own instincts and not rely so much on the external voices. “One of the biggest keys to helping your child get to a place of using the potty independently is just being in tune with him,” says Brown. There's no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to potty training. Decide what makes sense for your family by considering how your child learns best and deals with new and unfamiliar situations.
Stick to a system. Experts debate whether rewards have a place in the potty training process. Some fear that incentives (like stickers and food) might take away from the intrinsic motivation a child gets from staying clean and dry. It's up to you to figure out which tips for potty training work for your child. In many cases, incentives for potty training can be helpful, especially at the beginning, when accidents are likely and potty successes are fewer. Says Brown, “If anything, incentives can bring some fun and excitement as the process gets off the ground.” Plus, not every family has the luxury of time when potty training, nor is every child a self-starter. So a little positive push might be just the thing.
Get the right gear. A child-size potty that’s left on the floor of the bathroom is useful when kids are just starting to learning how to sit and use the potty on their own. Brown also suggests using a potty ring seat and step stool. The potty ring seat helps children sit securely and comfortably on toilets built for adults and also gets the child used to using an actual toilet. The step stool is, for some children, the only way they’ll be able to reach the potty or sink on their own. The transition to big-girl and big-boy underpants can be made gradually by starting off with pull-up diapers they can take on and off on their own, then switching to cloth diapers or training underpants that'll help them realize when they've had an accident.
Look for helpful tools. Many parents still use traditional aids like potty songs and board books or story books. These days, apps are also making their way into potty training as a kind of one-stop-shopping, says Brown. They can combine potty-oriented music and visuals in ways that traditional books and music cannot. Your child might respond better to one method over another, so it's all about his individual needs and wants.
Be consistently supportive. This can be the hard part for parents, says Brown. It might test your patience when your child has multiple accidents in his underwear, and it’s often tough to make time for bathroom breaks. “But the more consistent a parent is with these things, the more consistently a child will have toileting success,” Brown reassures.