The First Steps
Once you're ready to start, take your child into the bathroom with you, and talk about what you're doing. If possible, have your child go to the bathroom with the same-gender parent, so he (or she) can see and learn the proper mechanics of toileting.
After your child understands what she's supposed to do on the toilet, follow up with these strategies:
1. Provide your child with her own potty chair so she's low to the ground and her feet touch the floor. Some children have a fear of falling in the toilet or of just hearing it flush, notes Maria Luisa Escolar, MD, a developmental pediatrician at the Center for the Study of Development and Learning at the University of North Carolina. Although a potty chair is generally placed in the bathroom, you could also put it in the playroom or child's bedroom, where she'll become comfortable with its presence over time.
2. Place your child on the potty seat at the same time each day so this becomes a regular part of his daily routine. You may want to try this first thing in the morning, says Dr. Escolar, but other times of the day may work better for your child. Leave him there for a few minutes and see if he goes; then take him off, even if he hasn't.
3. Ask your child regularly if she has to go to the bathroom, and encourage her to tell you if she does. Adopt a consistent lingo for words associated with toilet training. Whether you say "poop" and "pee" or "urinate" and "defecate," choose words that are not offensive or embarrassing or that describe toileting functions in a negative way.
4. When your child does go in the potty, be sure to reward him. Hugs, praise, or small rewards (like placing stickers on a calendar to mark his achievement) all help to reinforce the behavior. Don't use food as a reward.
5. If your child fails to go in the potty, don't scold or punish her. And if she's had an accident, simply clean up and encourage her to keep trying. Then move on to another activity without making a fuss.
6. Once your child has been successful at toileting a few times, consider dressing her in underwear so that she becomes keenly aware of being wet or dry. Some parents prefer to put their kids in disposable training pants until they're fully trained. But, Dr. Wolraich warns, training pants are still absorbent enough that they may delay the process.
7. Continue toilet training even if you go on outings. Take along a potty seat, if possible, and remember to ask your child if she has to go to the bathroom. Take an extra pair of clean underwear, too, in case of an accident.
8. When your child has learned to use the toilet consistently during the day, you may be able to take her out of diapers at night. Avoid giving her too many fluids before bedtime, and make sure she uses the toilet so that she's less likely to wet her bed.
Above all else, remain calm and matter-of-fact about the entire process. Keep in mind that accidents will happen, and when they do, avoid making a fuss or criticizing your child.