Q: When's the right time to start teaching my child to use the potty?
A: When he shows signs -- emotionally and developmentally -- that he's ready. Some clues: His diaper stays dry for several hours; he knows "bathroom" words such as pee, poop, and wet, or whatever terms your family uses; he's interested in watching other family members use the toilet. If you've seen some of these behaviors, give it a go. If not, hold off for a few more weeks. Pressuring him will only result in frustration -- for both of you. When he's ready to learn, he will.
Q: At what age are most kids ready to try?
A: It varies widely. While 18 to 24 months is typical, some kids may not be ready until even later, according to a recent study by Timothy R. Schum, M.D., an associate professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin, in Milwaukee.
Q: How exactly do I teach her?
A: With lots of patience and a schedule, says Ken Haller, M.D., a pediatrician at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital, in St. Louis. Most kids tend to urinate or have a bowel movement an hour or so after a meal. Have your child sit on the potty soon after she's finished breakfast and again after dinner. Make "going potty" fun -- read a story together, play a game, or sing to her. If she's successful, make a big deal out of it: Say something like, "I'm so proud of you." If nothing happens after ten minutes or she gets fidgety and wants to get up, put her diaper back on, praise her for trying, and leave the bathroom together, Dr. Haller says. The idea is to get her used to a potty regimen. Before long -- if you stick to the schedule every day -- she'll get the hang of it.
Q: Should I get a floor potty or a ring for the toilet seat?
A: Try both, and see which one you -- and your child -- prefer. Many kids want to use the "big potty," and a padded ring, which attaches to a standard toilet, plays into a sense of feeling grown up. Your child can put it on and take it off by himself, though you may want to keep a step stool in the bathroom. On the other hand, it's easier for kids to get on and off a plastic floor potty. Remember, though: Potty chairs need constant cleaning; rings don't.
Q: What will my child do first in the potty -- pee or poop?
A: Most likely number two, but there are plenty of kids who learn to urinate first and kids who learn to pee and poop at almost the same time. Look for signs that she's about to go -- grunting, making a face -- so you can get her to the bathroom in time. If you have a boy, don't be surprised if he prefers to pee seated (remind him to point his penis down), which is easier than standing.)
Q: I've heard girls learn to use the potty faster than boys do -- true? How long does it take?
A: Girls tend to begin a few months earlier than boys, but every child, regardless of gender, is different and learns at his own pace. Some 2-year-olds may master the potty in just a couple of weeks; others may take several months or more. And that's only during the day; staying dry at night usually takes even longer -- a few weeks to many months. At night, your child has to hold urine for many hours, and if she's a deep sleeper, she may not wake up when she feels the urge to pee. Be prepared for accidents by protecting your child's mattress with a waterproof sheet or mattress pad.
Q: How often should I remind her to go?
A: Once she's had some success, ask several times a day, Dr. Haller says, especially before you leave the house. Reminders help children get into a habit of thinking about the potty.
Q: Should I give out rewards? If so, what?
A: Experts say that positive verbal reinforcement is a major factor in successful toilet teaching. Giving your little one praise or a hug for a job well done is a great idea.
Q: When should we start using training pants?
A: If your child has difficulty taking off his diaper to use the potty, switch to disposable training pants -- they're easier for little hands to get on and off. While some parents think that putting a child in underwear will encourage him to use the toilet, experts say it doesn't have that effect if he isn't ready; the only result is dirty underwear.
Q: My child has suddenly stopped wanting to use the toilet. Is this normal?
A: Yes. Your child may regress if there's been a major upheaval in his life, such as a new baby in the family or a change in school. Don't be discouraged -- and don't go back to diapers or training pants once your child has moved past them, Dr. Schum says. "Stick with what you're used to doing," she advises. Eventually, your child will get back on schedule and pick up where he left off.
Oops! He Did It Again
No matter how well your child has adapted to toilet teaching, he'll undoubtedly have a few mishaps along the way. The best approach to handling them is to stay calm and make as little fuss as possible, even if you feel frustrated or embarrassed.
"He's not doing it on purpose," Dr. Haller points out. Most often, a child doesn't make it to the bathroom on time because he's playing or distracted.
If it's early in the teaching process, you might say, "Oh, your pants are wet. Let's change them." Never punish a child or make him clean up his own mess -- this could lead to long-term resistance. If it's practical, take his potty seat with you when you leave home; using a familiar toilet may reduce accidents away from the house.
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All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.