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100 Tips for Nannies and Families

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Helpful Tips for Potty Training

An important developmental step for every child is potty training.  Most children begin using the toilet as toddlers, usually between 18 months and 3 years old.   (Note:  It usually takes a little longer to potty train boys than girls.  Boys, on average, can be successfully potty trained in 12 weeks.  Girls, on average, can be successfully potty trained in 10 weeks.)

Signs that your child may be ready to start potty training include:

  • Staying dry for at least two hours at a time.
  • Having regular bowel movements.
  • Being able to follow instructions.
  • Being uncomfortable with dirty diapers and asking for them to be changed.
  • Asking to use the potty or saying that they need to urinate or have a bowel movement.
  • Showing interest in the toilet and/or wearing “big kid” underpants.

When you begin potty training:

  • Dress your child appropriately for potty training.  Garments with elasticized waists, Velcro, and snaps are usually easy for your child to take off and put on.
  • Choose a potty seat that your child can easily use on their own.
  • Your child may want to personalize his/her potty: by letting him/her write his/her name on the little potty, a sense of ownership can develop.  Your child may be more likely to use a potty if s/he feels it is uniquely his/hers.
  • Assure your child that s/he will not fall in the potty (many children have fears of falling in a toilet while sitting on it).
  • Encourage your child to use the potty at regular intervals – or whenever s/he show signs that s/he needs to go.
  • Use proper terms (urinating and defecating) as well as the terms your child may be more comfortable with (peeing and pooping).  Make sure that you define your terms so that your child becomes adept at using the terms him-/herself.
  • Start with the basics.  Both boys and girls should be shown how to potty from a seated position first.  Once boys master urinating from a seated position, they can “graduate” to learning how to urinate while standing.  The reason boys should learn to urinate while seated first is that bowel movements and urination often occur in the same bathroom visit . . . additionally, the delay in learning to urinate while standing minimizes the likelihood of your son making messes while enthralled with the spray he can create by urinating.
  • Teach your child to wipe properly. Show him/her how to remove toilet paper from the roll, wipe, and throw the used toilet paper in the toilet. Instruct girls to wipe from front to back, which helps avoid urinary tract infections.   (Note: your child may need help to wipe effectively, especially after a bowel movement, until about age 4 or 5.)
  • Be supportive and use rewards, such as stickers, when your child is successful on the potty.
  • Use praise, applause, special songs, reading a special book in the bathroom, or whatever else resonates with your child.
  • Avoid pressure: your child will likely have accidents during the process.  Don’t punish him or her for any setbacks.
  • Be sure that your babysitter understands your approach to potty training and is consistent with rewards, praise, etc.
  • Let your child pick out new ‘big kid” underpants with his/her favorite characters (Dora, Thomas the Train, etc.) on them.
  • Use potty-themed books and videos to reinforce key messages.
  • Don’t begin toilet training during a stressful time (e.g., moving, new baby, starting a new preschool, etc.)
  • Recognize that your child has control of his/her bodily functions, and you can’t get him/her to “go” on the potty until s/he is ready.  Don’t turn this into a power struggle because it’s one that you won’t win.   If your child seems to develop a resistance to potty training, don’t continue the potty training.  You can resume potty training when you child again expresses an interest in learning to use the potty.
  • When your child has completed a visit to the potty, show your child how to flush the potty.  Some children experience fear of the flushing mechanism: they fear that they themselves may be flushed away.  You may need to flush the potty for your child for a period of time, until your child observes no harm resulting from each flush.  At that time, your child should naturally develop a desire to try his/her own hand at flushing the potty.  Once the potty is flushed, show your child how to wash his/her hands.

Calmly and patiently teaching your child how to use his/her potty can be a trust-building, bonding experience for both of you.  Let the potty begin!

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