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Potty Training 101

Written by Phong Van-Liaw, M.D., F.A.A.P. on Jul 6, 2016 8:30:00 AM

Potty-training theories are a dime a dozen, and even strangers don’t hesitate to offer free advice. But as each child is different, the real key to success is to pay close attention to your child and have lots of patience. 

My patients often want answers to these potty-training questions. 

Is My Child Old Enough to Potty Train? 

First of all, don’t buy into the frenzy to potty train by a certain age. Relax – if your child isn’t ready by the average of 22 to 30 months, it’s not a badge of shame. 

To be ready to toilet train, your child needs to have reached some physical and emotional milestones. He or she should be able to:

  • Sense that they are about to urinate of have a bowel movement.
  • Control bladder and bowel muscles. Signs are staying dry for at least two hours a day, having bowel movements at the same time most days and not having bowel movements at night.
  • Communicate that they need to use the toilet. 

It helps if a child shows interest in potty training or wearing underwear instead of diapers and is in a fairly cooperative phase.

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How Long Should it Take to Potty Train? 

If your child is truly ready, it often just takes one or two days. The key is to only start once your child can sense that they need to use the restroom and being in a soiled diaper bothers them. Once they are ready, go “cold turkey” and start them on wearing underwear during waking hours. Spend the day on tile or hard wood flooring. There will likely be some accidents on the first day. If your child seems upset when the urine leaks onto the floor, they are ready. If they continue to play and aren’t bothered by the setback, they aren’t quite ready. 

Not urinating at night is a different issue and depends on your child’s maturity neurologically. They can stop wearing nighttime pull-ups when they are dry daily for several months. Limiting drinking too much fluid at least three hours before bedtime will help. 

For some children, potty training may take about three months. Girls often are potty trained earlier and more easily than boys. Disruptions in the family routine, such as a new baby or move, may cause a setback. Try to wait until things have calmed down a bit. 

What If My Child Puts Up a Fight?  

If potty training is a power struggle between you and your child, take a step back. It probably means your child isn’t ready. Wait a month or so and restart only if they’re willing. Saying that, if your child is over 36 months old and isn’t developmentally delayed, you can proceed with the “cold turkey” approach as outlined above. 

How Can I Make Potty Training Easier?

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  • Take your child to buy a new potty chair and let them decorate or personalize it.
  • Let your child sit on the potty chair with or without diapers to get used to it.
  • Praise, praise and praise again for succeeding – or even trying.
  • Be positive. Never force your child to sit on the potty and never punish or humiliate him or her for accidents.
  • Read books or watch videos about potty training with your child. Often, these books and DVDs are available at your local public library.
  • When you see signs you child might be urinating or having a bowel movement, talk to them about what is happening and help him or her get to the potty as soon as possible.
  • It’s a small thing, but giving a child a little control helps. Children usually love to flush!
  • Teach good bathroom hygiene, such as how to wipe and to always wash hands afterward. 

If, despite your best efforts, your child can’t seem to get the hang of it or takes a major step backward, talk to your pediatrician. Sometimes physical conditions can be at the root of the problem. For successful potty training, it’s essential that your toddler isn’t constipated. Bowel movements need to be pain free. 

Was it difficult to potty train your child? What advice do you have?

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Dr. Van-Liaw is a board-certified pediatrician who cares for patients at Kelsey-Seybold’s Fort Bend Medical and Diagnostic Center. In addition to Pediatrics, her clinical interests include neonatal medicine and dermatology. 

 

Topics: potty training tips, what age should you potty train, how long does potty training take, potty training

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