Almost every day, a parent walks into my office and asks me about toilet training. Some want to know when to start, others ask for the best approach, and some report stories of what they consider to be strange behaviors. There are many opinions on the topic, ranging from teaching an infant to crawl to the toilet before she can walk to doing a potty training crash course over 24 hours and getting the task done in just one day. The key, in my opinion, is to stay relaxed and keep it positive.
My approach: avoid being the “potty police” and let your child decide when the time is right. The goal of teaching your child to use the toilet is to transfer the responsibility from the parent – who has to notice and change the soiled diaper - to the child who has to recognize when she has to go. If you find yourself policing your child and asking every five minutes, “Do you have to go to the bathroom? Do you have to go to the bathroom?” then you are putting yourself in the position to guess when she has to go…and therefore, missing a key part of the process.
My experience has been that parents are better equipped to guide the process when they wait for the child to give an indication that she is ready to take on the task. As a result, both the parents and the child have a much easier and a quicker time being successful. It avoids a power struggle and keeps the energy positive. In fact, research has shown that while kids who start earlier will train earlier, the entire process takes longer to complete. If you are patient and ultimately wait for the child (not the parent) to be ready, the process will go quickly and you will avoid having to bring a change of clothing with you everywhere you go.
I have also found that consistency is key. Once you start the process, make a commitment. You cannot put a diaper on for a long car trip because you don’t want to stop to take bathroom breaks along the way. Additionally, all caregivers should be on board and follow the same practices, or it will be confusing to the child.
Finally, don’t be discouraged if your child will only pee in the toilet, but is afraid to poop in there. I have heard many stories of children being afraid the toilet will swallow them while pooping. It’s okay to let them feel comfortable and put a diaper or a pull-up on for those occasions. The point is to encourage her to let you know when she has to go—where that actually happens is less important.
Most importantly, enjoy the process. Offer small rewards for a job well done. Your child will be excited to learn that success means you will read her favorite story, play a little longer at the park, or even get a special treat. It’s a big accomplishment that deserves lots of praise!