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Potty Training

Dear Debi,
My baby Steven is 2 1/2-years-old, and I’d like him to stop using diapers. My husband and I sit him on his potty, but nothing happens. What can we do to potty train him?
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Don’t try too early
  • Look for physical, emotional and intellectual signs of readiness
  • Make the potty a fun place
Expert Advice
Harvey Karp, MD
Harvey Karp, MD
Pediatrician and author of “The Happiest Toddler on the Block”
Potty training is only frustrating if you have inappropriate expectations. You can keep your child from eating candy, but you can’t necessarily make your child eat broccoli. Potty training is an issue parents really don’t have control over. You have to make the child want to do it, rather than enforce it. Two-year-olds have many other things they would rather do, so your goal as a parent or child care provider should be to make it a fun and interesting place for them.

There isn’t a specific age when a child should begin potty training. Rather, there are five classic signs you should look out for which indicate when a child is ready to begin potty training. Those signs are:
  • The child says “yes” in more and more situations.
  • Walking is no longer new and exciting, and the child is willing now to sit still in one place.
  • The child has words for poop and pee.
  • The child likes to imitate you.
  • The child is interested in neatness, organizing things in groups, and cleaning up.
Once a child demonstrates these tendencies, you should get a potty chair, and believe it or not, it doesn’t have to be placed in the bathroom right away. You can even place the potty chair in the play room. This way, they get used to it being in a fun place to sit. The important thing is to put it in a place the child likes to sit, read or play puzzles.

If your child expresses a willingness to use the potty, the biggest mistake you can make is to jump up and down, applaud, and make a huge deal about it. If you blow it out of proportion, it will backfire on you. Your reaction may scare the kid. They may start to think that it’s too important and won’t want to do it. Some kids will use it against you when they’re mad.

When a child uses the potty, be positive, but don’t light off fireworks. Be low key. Use big praise for sitting, but understated praise for pooping. You can even use what I call the “gossiping” technique. Later in the day, you can “whisper” to a teddy bear or a co-worker, “Hey, Bobby made pee-pee.” State it loud enough in front of the child so that he overhears it, but don’t say it directly to the child. They become very proud of themselves when they hear you talking positively about them.

If potty training just isn’t working, remember that sometimes children may be constipated or they might be afraid. They may be nervous about sitting up high or they may be intimidated if you are overreacting to the situation. Sometimes, they’re just confused. They know something’s being asked of them, but they don’t know what it is. This is why less pressure is better. Your goal should not be to poop in the potty, but to make the potty a fun place where children like being. The pooping will happen eventually.
Child Care provider Comments
Family child care provider for 5 years
My philosophy is to follow the child’s cues. You really have to be observant and sensitive to the child’s cues. It usually starts between 2 and 3 years. The first signs you are going to see are an increase in verbal skills, and an ability to do things for themselves. You’ll notice that all of a sudden they are pulling down their pants, or they are patting their bottom to show you that they need a diaper change. If you push too much, the child may become rebellious and not do it, so you just have to be patient.
Family child care provider for 4 years
A child will only learn to use the toilet when they want to. The key words I hear in the letter is “My husband and I want him to use the potty.” A lot of parents are in a rush to get their children out of diapers. I understand that myself, as a parent, but all you can do is read their cues to find out if they are ready.
Clarissa August
Clarissa August
Family child care provider for 21 years
Let your child go to the bathroom and sit on the toilet for a little while until he is ready. If it’s a boy, have daddy show him how he does it. But you should never force them… but help them. Sing potty songs so that they feel comfortable to do it.

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Potty Training
Topic: Health & Safety
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