Sometimes families struggle with how and when to potty train their toddler. Toddlers are children between the ages of 12 months and 3 years. This time is notorious for power struggles between exhausted parents and willful toddlers. There are struggles with taking naps (NO NAP), what to eat (yucky veggies), what to wear (no, you cannot go naked), and even tooth brushing (yes, you must brush).
Pick your battles. Do not ask your toddler a question that they will answer NO to, such as “Do you want to take a bath?” Instead, state the fact: “It is time for your bath.” Then offer choices such as, “Would you like to bring your duck or your boat into the bath today?” Avoid broad statements such as “Would you like to get dressed?” Instead state clearly, “It is time for you to get dressed.” Offer a choice that they can make such as, “Would you like to wear your blue shirt or your green shirt today?”
Potty training can contain a similar power struggle. The goal is not to engage in that struggle. Do not ask, “Do you need to go potty?” but instead state, “It’s time to go potty. Would you like to take a book or a toy with you?” By giving the toddler choices, you thwart their frustration and they have a sense of control. Most toddlers are potty trained during the day by age three; however, nighttime wetting is normal in children through age six.
When should you begin potty training? Many people start around age 2 or 2 ½ years. However, it is not as much a specific age as it is a certain level of development. Watch for the following signs of readiness to potty train. Children should be able to dress and undress, sit quietly for a few minutes, have words for urination (pee) and bowel movements (poop), and stay dry for a few hours at a time. They may be dry when they awaken from nap time or nighttime. They may hide when they need to have a bowel movement or ask you for big kid undies. When you recognize these signs of readiness, then choose a time to begin potty training.
Avoid starting potty training if there is a stressful time in the home, such as a move, divorce, illness, or a new daycare. Introduce a potty chair in front of the TV so they can sit on it with their clothes on for a while. Be sure to have a step stool or a child-friendly potty to help your child feel at ease. Allow them to put stickers on the potty chair, moving it gradually to the bathroom over time. It may be helpful to read a child’s book about using the potty.
Choose a day when you can be at home. Start by taking your child to the potty first thing in the morning. Have them sit for a few minutes explaining that they need to make their pee in the potty. Praise their efforts whether or not they are successful. The goal is to make it a positive experience, but not to make it too big of a deal. Put big kid undies on them and take them to the potty every hour, especially right after meals. If they have an accident, don’t comment at all.
Encourage the behavior that you want to see. Encourage but never force a child to sit on the potty. Kids will potty when they are ready. Forcing the issue can cause a setback. Never give negative discipline over mistakes. Mistakes will happen. Just put on dry clothes and try again.
Kids hate to miss something so you may have to pick up their toys, turn off their TV show, or shut off the computer when it’s time to potty. If you have a clock that dings hourly, it can “alert” that it’s time to stop playing and go potty. If not, set an alarm on your phone. Make the bathroom a fun place with books, crayons, and coloring books.
Most children are potty trained before age three, so be patient. If your child is three years old and still not potty trained, speak to your pediatric healthcare provider. He or she will take a complete history, do a thorough examination, and offer suggestions to assist you. After you conquer the potty, anything is possible.