When it comes to potty readiness, age is nothing but a number! But how can you tell if your child is really ready to ditch the diapers?
Do not begin training until your child shows signs that he is ready. Every child is different. Most are ready for training between two and two and a half years old (some as young as 18 months or as old as three years). Start at a time when you can spend a lot of time together — when your child is eager to please you and there are no major distractions or traumatic events in his life (new sibling, divorce, moving, new caretaker, etc.) Never pressure or punish your child for unsuccessful attempts at using the potty. Most of all, be patient! Your child will learn to use the potty when your child is ready. (And not before.)
Your child is ready to learn potty skills when he or she:
Start by reading potty-training books to your child (15 months and up). Once your child is ready for toilet training, you can go to the store and purchase training pants and a potty chair. Bring your child with you to maximize the excitement about the whole process. When buying training pants, if you are choosing cotton, let your child pick out his/her favorite ones (Toy Story 3, Cinderella, etc.) Disposable training pants are a great bet for cleanup and being on-the-go. If you buy cotton, buy more than one three pack. You will go through these quickly, and you want to have plenty in the diaper bag and dresser.
When purchasing a potty chair, make sure you purchase a sturdy one. You want your child to feel secure enough to try it. Your child's feet need to be on the floor (this will eliminate his or her fear of falling in).
You may also want to buy an extra one for outside or to keep in the car. (It's better to go to your car and use your clean potty than go to a public restroom that hasn't been sanitized.)
Introduce the potty in a casual way. Put it in a room where your child plays most often. The kitchen is a good place, so you can supervise. It will also encourage your child to use it more often if it is in plain view. Let your child play and get accustomed to it. Then show your child how it works.
At this time you can also put your potty chart on the refrigerator. Explain to your child that each successful use of the potty means a sticker for his or her chart (use praise too, of course). This will be an incentive to get your child to start using the potty chair. Once your child is used to the potty chair, you can start to encourage use of it.
At the beginning of training, increase fluids to encourage practice. Encouraging practice will help your child learn the basic potty skills. In addition, you will want to make sure your child eats lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. Prune and apple juice are always good staples to have around when bowel movement (BM) training. You want to keep your child's stools soft to prevent withholding of stools. When you see any signs that your child is about to go (passing gas, wriggling, holding crotch or telling you), quickly tell your child it's time to use the potty.
All cooperation with attempts at using the potty should be praised with words like, "What a big boy! Nicolas is using the potty just like daddy!" Also, remember to praise your child and offer a sticker for his/her chart for every successful potty use. This will help build self-esteem.
If your child is reluctant or refuses to use the potty, try to encourage him/her by offering to read a story while sitting on the potty. If this still does not work, back off and do not push him/her.
You can try to leave your child's diaper off at the time he/she usually has a BM. Timing is an important factor in toilet training. If you sense that he/she has to do a BM (gas for instance), take the diaper off right at the moment you see your child getting ready to do it.
If you do catch your child before the BM occurs, then quickly take him/her to the potty and tell him/her that this is where the poop goes. Hopefully if you catch your child at the precise moment, he/she will look for relief and let you guide him/her to the potty. If your child protests a bit, gently encourage and explain to your child "that he/she is a big girl/boy now and Mommy and Daddy expect you to use the potty." Remember, encourage and guide, but do not force your child to sit.
If your child refuses to sit on the potty, then it's not the right time yet. If your child pees and poops constantly in his or her underwear, then he/she is not ready. No big deal — try again in a month or so. This is normal. Let your child take the lead. Your child needs to be in control of the process.
It only takes ONE painful BM to cause your child to be frightened of using the potty, so at all costs, make sure his or her diet has sufficient fresh fruits, vegetables and juice. If your child has a painful BM only once while trying the potty, it could delay potty training for months. He/she will associate painful BMs with the potty and will refuse to use it.
If you suspect that your child is withholding his/her stools, it is best to stop training and increase the fluids. Always call your pediatrician if you think your child is withholding. It can be serious if an impaction occurs. Tell your child at that moment, that he/she is not ready yet and that you will try again later. Continue to play potty videos and read toilet-training books often to encourage regular use of the potty so your child will grasp the concept. Keep the potty-chair — eventually you'll see signs of interest again. Remember, the keys to toilet training are patience, praise, encouragement (and a sticker chart to build self-esteem and make the learning process fun).
Toilet training can get messy so be prepared and expect that there will be many mistakes. Your child is learning a very difficult skill. Clean up any accidents without anger or showing disgust.
Do not make negative comments. Explain to your child that pee and poop go in the toilet. You should also empty any accidents in underwear or training pants into the toilet and explain to your child that she is a big girl now and this is where the poop goes. Try switching from diapers to training pants when your child does at least fifty percent of his urine or BM in the potty. At night, you can use diapers until your child wakes up dry for a couple of days in a row. Remember, this is a very difficult skill to learn. No one has ever said toilet training is easy! Make the process fun and you will have happy memories to look back on.
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