If your child isn’t ready to potty train, there’s nothing you can do but wait. Right? Not according to Dr. Linda Sonna, professor of psychology at Yorkville University.Dr. Sonna is the author of ten parenting books, including Early-Start Potty Training. She strongly believes that parents can set the foundation for successful potty training long before a youngster gets her first Pull-Up.

It’s the Attitude That Counts

Has your grandmother chastised you for holding your nose around your toddler’s dirty diapers? In previous generations experts believed that young childreninnately feel disgust at the sight of human feces. The parents’ job, therefore, was to hold back from adding to that negative feeling, since it could make kids feel ashamed that they produce objects of such disgust, undermining successful potty training.

But don’t worry – it turns out that the experts of years past had it all wrong. “Just as most children eventually come to share their parents’ view that grasshoppers are either delicious, nourishing treats or critters that must not go in the mouth, children also take their cues about wet and soiled diapers from their parents,” says Dr. Sonna.“Occasionally curling up your nose and gingerly handling dirty diapers won’t do any harm – you probably do the same when wiping your child’s runny nose with a tissue – and this can be a way to communicate that avoiding contact with pee and poop is important for avoiding germs.”

So how can you make your child’s attitude towards elimination more positive? Focus on helping them to develop a sense that good hygiene smells good and feels good. That means changing the diapers of infants or toddlers as soon as they become wet or dirty so that they will feel that being clean and dry is “normal.” If you let your child sit in a soaking diaper on a regular basis, you may have trouble convincing her that wet underwear is uncomfortable. In fact, potty training often takes less time for children who wear cloth diapers rather than disposable ones. The main issue with disposables is that children don’t even learn to difference between a clean diaper and a wet one, since the moisture is wicked away and absorbed.

Encouraging Potty Talk

One area that many parents overlook when it comes to preparing for potty training is making sure that their children understand basic potty vocabulary. Even before potty training begins, you’ll want to look out for your child’s signs of elimination so that you can give them the words they’ll need to describe each bodily function. “You’re peeing now! See how it feels?” can go a long way towards helping young toddlers understand what you’re saying down the line, when potty training begins. The words “wet” and “dry” are also important to use often. If you ask your toddler whether his diaper is wet or dry, you might be surprised to find out that he doesn’t know which word to use to describe it.

In addition to basic vocabulary, let your child learn about her body. When the weather and other arrangements allow, let her spend time without any clothes on in the backyard and see the products that her body creates. Some children who spend every waking hour in diapers don’t even realize that the products in their diapers come from their own bodies!

Introducing…The Potty

Some parents make the mistake of introducing the potty or potty seat at the same time that they start actual potty training. But sitting on the potty can be a foreign concept to children, and one that they may need time to adjust to. Dr. Sonna also reminds parents that “the unusual sensation of sitting naked on a small chair with a hole in the middle terrifies many toddlers.” To prepare for this, sit your child on a potty seat periodically before potty training while reading books or doing finger plays with you. And don’t forget to give your child plenty of practice removing any necessary clothes, such as pants and tights, before beginning potty training.

Months before potty training begins, let your child see other people using the toilet and talk to him about what they are doing.If you don’t feel comfortable letting him watch you in the bathroom, try a neighbor child or young cousin who is willing to serve as a role model. You can also let your child “help” you in the bathroom – flushing the toilet, tearing off some toilet paper for you, turning on the water and handing you the soap to wash your hands, and handing you a towel to dry your hands. According to Dr. Sonna, the toileting process includes many steps that adults take for granted, from removing clothes to tearing toilet paper, and from wiping and flushing to washing and drying their hands. Seeing other people doing these tasks can help prepare them for potty training.

At the end of the day, you can’t force your child to pee on the potty. But giving your child the necessary skills and attitude can go a long way towards making your potty training experience simpler and less stressful – for both of you.