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How to Start Potty Training

Bathroom basics you and your little one will need

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Ready to say goodbye to diapers for good? Learn how to start potty training.

Ready for your preschooler to say goodbye to diapers for good? Learn how to start potty training.

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Maybe you've had quite enough of diapers -- changing them, buying them and disposing of them. Or maybe it's your little one who has given you some clues that she's ready. Whatever your reason, you've decided -- it's time to start potty training your child. Great! So now what?

For a small minority of children, potty training is a breeze. They figure out the function of the potty, their role in the process and never look back. For the majority however, potty training definitely requires some time and patience -- from both of you. Here's how to get started.

Make sure your child is ready. Really ready. When it comes to starting potty training, the ideal age range is anywhere from 18 months to three years. That's quite a gap, especially when you consider the physical and cognitive differences between children of that age. So really, the key is to pay attention to your child and take cues from him to determine if now is a good time to start. Look for signs that include being able to pull up his own pants, staying dry at night and during naptime and just an overall increased independence. (For more cues, read When to Start Potty Training.) Ascertaining that your child is truly ready is an important step in the process, because if they aren't, potty training will leave you both feeling unhappy and unaccomplished. Remember, do what is good for your child. If the two-year-old next door is trained and your nearly three-year-old isn't, that's OK. Your child will do it in due time. (Have you ever seen a high school graduate wearing diapers?)

Gather your supplies. Really, all you need is a toilet, some toilet paper and a child, but there are still some decisions to make regarding potty training products. Decide if you would rather use a potty chair (compare prices) or a potty ring (compare prices)? Some parents (myself included) go straight for the ring, reasoning that it will be easier to transition a child to a regular "big kid" potty if they are already sitting on it (and hopefully eliminating potty training troubles down the line). Others feel though that an potty chair is easier to start with given its size (it's less menacing) and ability to move from room to room. Whichever you decide, make sure you get the OK from your little one first. Other potty training supplies you may want to consider are:

  • stepstool
  • wipes
  • timer or watch
  • targets
  • potty seat covers (for training on-the-go
  • reward chart/rewards of some kind
Again, none of these are necessary, but many swear by them. As you go along, you'll learn what works best for you and your child.

Prepare your preschooler. Be sure to let your preschooler know what is going on before you start the process. Talk about what potty training will entail and what she can expect from the process. Let your preschooler watch you and any other willing adults in your household use the toilet and walk them through what exactly they'll be doing (let them flush the toilet if they like). You can also read potty training books to give your child a sense of what will happen. Answer any questions she might have (multiple times if necessary) and know that a lot of this will require much on-the-job training.

Start! Now it's time to actually put your child on the potty and see what happens. In some cases, nothing for a while. Think about it. For years, your child has been going to the bathroom in diapers. It's a weird feeling, suddenly not. It may take some time before your child actually goes on the toilet and understands how to make herself go. A good method to utilize is to put your child in underwear and to set a timer to go off every 15 minutes (you can increase the time as your child gets more proficient at going). When the timer goes off, bring your child to sit on the toilet to see if she'll go. Still, keep an eye on your child in between, watching for signs that she needs to go. If she's squirming or holding her genital area, bring her over to the toilet and encourage her to go. If she has an accident (and she will), don't scold her. Stay patient and upbeat and change her.

While your child is sitting on the potty, there are things you can do to encourage her to go. You can read books about potty training to keep her occupied while she sits and to keep her thinking about what should be happening. You can also run the faucet on the sink in the hopes that it will trigger something.

If your child does go, be sure to praise her (more on that in a minute), but also talk about what happens next. Teach your daughter to wipe properly (from front to back to avoid germs), and let her flush. Then be sure she washes her hands when she's finished.

Praise, reward and praise some more. You'll want to give your child some incentive for successfully using the toilet. A sticker/reward chart usually works well although some parents also use small candies like M&Ms. (With my youngest, we used a seemingly-endless supply of toy cars handed down from my oldest.) Keep in mind that sometimes rewards can lead to potty training problems like tantrums, so figure out what works best with your preschooler's personality. No matter if you use a reward system or not, it's important to heap on the praise. Offer compliments after he goes, but even during the day if he has been dry for a while. It's important to stay positive and upbeat throughout the process to keep your little one's spirits up.

Get others in on the act. If you've started the potty training process, you'll need to let the folks who interact with your child on a daily basis know. This means preschool teachers or any caregiver who is with your child for long periods of time. When it comes to potty training, especially in the beginning, consistency is key so you'll want to make sure that everyone is on board. You may also want to let family and close friends in on the news -- their kind words and encouragement will go a long way to reinforcing that your child is doing a great job and that everyone is very proud of them.

Know when to stop. If your child is super-resistant, know that it is OK to stop and try again in a few weeks or months. Just because a child has reached a certain age, it doesn't necessarily mean that they are ready physically, behaviorally and cognitively. It doesn't mean that you or your child has failed, it just means that she needs more time. And that's fine. She'll get it eventually. Forcing a child to potty train when she's not a willing participant will only leave you both feeling frustrated and unhappy.

For more, check out the About.com 7 Days of Potty Training e-Course.

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