Your Potty Training Handbook: Expert Tips and Real-Parent Advice

Every child is different when it comes to when, how, and how quickly they learn to use the toilet. If you're like most parents, you'll seek potty training advice from friends, the doctor, and books, but remember: You'll only learn what's worked for other kids. Your own will train in his or her special way. Period. That said, reading about other people's experiences does help you get through this, uh, "learning process" with your sanity intact. So on that note, here's some potty talk.

When Is Your Child Ready for Potty Training?

learning to use the toilet

Denis Horan

There are parents who believe in early training. But most experts say it's not worth it. A child can't go independently without these skills:

  • Staying dry for a few hours. "This proves the sphincter can hold urine in the bladder," a muscle skill needed for peeing when you want to, says Mark Wolraich, MD, author of The American Academy of Pediatrics Guide to Toilet Training (Bantam). Most kids are there by about age 2.
  • Alerting you to her dirty diaper. This is big for two reasons: (1) your child is aware of what's going on down there, and (2) she's able to communicate it.
  • A curiosity about the bathroom. Your child will watch family members go -- or watch friends at daycare or preschool -- as a way of preparing himself.
  • The dexterity to pull her pants and underwear down. If she needs too much help from you, she's not ready. But help her out with elastic-waist pants.
  • A drive for independence. Your child is more apt to use the potty when he decides he wants to be a big boy and do things himself.
  • Anticipation and awareness. The final breakthrough is when your child can recognize she's about to go. "What most of us define as 'trained' is when a child senses she has to go, indicates the need, and then does it," Dr. Wolraich says. For many children, all these pieces fall into place around age 3.

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