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For most parents of a toddler, potty training can't come fast enough. Changing the diaper of a tiny, breast-fed baby is one thing. But changing a wriggling, protesting toddler—who eats real food—is a whole different story, and a task that parents are more than willing to leave behind.
In potty training, patience is paramount. Rushing to train your kid won't help her learn if she isn't really ready, so be sure to check for signs of readiness before you start. Dr. Tanya Altmann, pediatrician and author of Mommy Calls: Dr. Tanya Answers Parents' Top 101 Questions About Babies and Toddlers, says that signs your child's ready include staying dry for several hours at a time, pooping at the same time each day—and maybe even hiding to do so—asking to be changed, understanding simple instructions, and developing the necessary coordination to pull her pants up and down. But even once she's ready, successful toddler potty training takes work, and how you approach the task will determine the chances of success.
- Choose your timing wisely. Don't start potty training when you're expecting big changes or major stressors, like a new baby or changing daycare providers. Likewise, avoid potty training before a long trip or vacation. Ideally, jump-start the potty training by devoting a weekend to the process.
- Make underwear a big deal. Julie Bardsley, Children's Continence Team Leader at the Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, says that because diapers and pull-ups are so absorbent, children may not show any awareness of needing the potty. For this reason, Bardsley encourages parents to try their child in underwear for a few hours each day. Make it fun by letting your kid choose some underwear adorned with her favorite characters, and emphasize what a big girl she is to be wearing real underpants like mommy.
- Be consistent. Once you've started, don't stop. Limit diapers or pull-ups to naps and nighttime. Constant switching back-and-forth will confuse your tot and extend the process. If your child attends daycare, Bardsley advises making sure everyone is on the same page and knows the plan for potty training.
- Choose a special potty. Of course, emptying and cleaning the potty isn't much more pleasant than changing a diaper, so you might prefer her to use a potty seat on a flushable toilet. Whichever option you decide, involve your child in the purchase. Many kids are afraid of falling into the big potty, so its important for her to choose a potty seat that helps her feel secure.
- Make it fun. Bardsley suggests sitting with your child while she's on the potty, singing songs, reading a favorite book or blowing bubbles to keep the experience relaxed and fun.
- Consider rewards. A sticker chart, reading a favorite book, choosing a piece of candy—or simply doing something your toddler enjoys—can be a great incentive to use the toilet. Once your kid has mastered the basics, use a chart to reward her for staying dry on a long trip to the grocery store, making it through an entire day, or being accident-free for the week. Give her something to aim for by letting her know what special treat she'll get for reaching her goals.
- Remind her. Encourage a successful outcome by reminding your child to use the potty at regular intervals. When you first start training, consider setting a timer to prompt your child to visit the potty every 20 minutes. Even once your child is fully trained, you'll still need to remind her to use the potty before leaving the house or going to bed at night.
- Celebrate. Make up a potty song, do a silly dance when your kid's successful, or go all out and throw a celebratory tea party with all her stuffed animals when she makes it through the day with no accidents. Keeping potty training fun and praising your toddler's achievements will encourage her to keep trying.
- Don't fret if night training takes a little longer. While some kids are ready to potty train at 18 months, staying dry at night is rare at this age. Night training depends on her body, and can't be taught if she isn't developmentally ready.
Above all, keep your expectations in check. Even if you use all the tips and tricks in the book there will still be accidents—that's just a fact—and overreacting or disciplining occasional slips will cause embarrassment and anxiety to your toddler. Dr. Altmann encourages parents not to scold their child for accidents or force her to sit on the potty. Instead, toddler potty training should be a relaxed process with plenty of praise, big hugs and kisses. Avoid putting pressure on your child, reward her successes—no matter how small—and soon you, too will be rewarded with one less chore of your own.