Choosing a Potty Training Process
Every parent finds toilet training success eventually—how many teenagers do you know still in diapers? But when's the right time to pull out the potty? And, well, how do you get your child to use it? Read what today's experts have to say.
Be Patient—and Clever
The Experts: Though neither authors Joanne Kimes nor Kathleen Laccinole are doctors, both are moms, and Potty Training Sucks reads more like a buddy-to-buddy guide than a jargony parenting bible.
Their Approach: “Only Junior can control his bottom,” the authors say, introducing their child-led potty training approach. Sucks advises parents to get their child interested in and comfortable with the potty chair by putting them on it at the same time every day. Parents should ask their child routinely if he needs to use it, praise him when it’s used correctly, and switch to cotton underwear once the child has successfully used the potty a few times. Kimes and Laccinole also advocate for using “motivators”—sticker charts, hugs, even (gasp!) candy—if these have proven to work for your child’s behavior before.
Toileting Tip: Potty train during the summer. “When the weather is warm, your little love muffin can run around the house in the buff, or at least scantily clad, which makes the ‘tossing of the little one onto the potty when he starts to poop’ quite easy,” they say. Even let your child bring the potty—and his nude self—outside. “If he has an accident, then you just hose him down like a fighting dog and get on with your day.”
Practice for the Big Moment
The Expert: Dr. T. Berry Brazelton is a famed child-development specialist with a slew of parenting advice guides, most based on a theory he calls “Touchpoints.” (He believes children’s developmental processes and timelines can be “mapped,” and that that understanding can help parents better predict their child’s behavior.)
His Approach: In Toilet Training – The Brazelton Way Dr. Brazelton and Dr. Joshua Sparrow suggest beginning toilet learning with several practice sessions. Have your child sit on the potty fully clothed, with a parent nearby. Take this time to talk about the potty, how it’s used, and how it’s similar to the toilet Mommy and Daddy use. You can also use this time to read a toilet-learning book together.
Toileting Tip: After introducing the potty a few times, Drs. Brazelton and Sparrow recommend letting your child run around bare-bottomed—but remind her that she can certainly “try” the potty if she feels the need to go. (Keep an eye out for signs and help guide her to the potty if you see that tell-tale look.) The doctors add the realistic caveat, “[This] may work immediately; it may not.”
Take the Lead!
The Expert: Seen by some as a controversial figure and beloved by others, author Dr. John Rosemond purports to take a “traditional parenting” approach rooted in common sense.
His Approach: In his book, New Parent Power instead of child-led toilet learning, he purports letting parents hold the reins, even encouraging them to be forceful. (He has been publicly at odds with Dr. Brazelton’s child-led toilet-training philosophy.) His recommendations are often referred to as “the naked and $75 approach”—the money is for the carpet cleaning. Dr. Rosemond instructs parents to tell their toddler when to toilet train, setting aside a day or short amount of time to focus intently on mastering the skill. Under his direction, parents tell their toddler that he or she is expected to use the potty, then remove their child’s diapers. “While they’re perfectly content to release warm, gooshy stuff into their diapers,” Rosemond writes, “children do not like these same substances running down their legs.” Rosemond advises focusing intensely on this training over several days.
Don’t be afraid to lay on the potty pressure. In one of his weekly syndicated parenting columns, Dr. Rosemond says that his generation grew up being “pushed” to potty train by 24 months. “Nonetheless, I do not know of anyone my age who breaks out in hives at the prospect of having to use the toilet,” he says.
Build a Connection
The Expert: Dr. Penelope Leach, the renowned child development specialist known for her authoritative but loving style, explains in Your Baby and Child that parents should be explicitly clear with their child about using the potty; however, parents shouldn’t constantly remind or push their child to use it.
Her Approach: The key to toilet-training success, according to Dr. Leach, is understanding that a child won’t really
be ready until he can make a connection between the feeling of “having to go” and the urine or stool that results from that feeling. “If you begin before your child is physically ready you will be asking something of the toddler which he is simply not mature enough to give,” says Dr. Leach in Your Baby and Child.
Toileting Tip: Lay off the pressure, Mom and Dad. “Toilet training is not a question of making the child do something for you,” Leach says. “It is a matter of helping him do something for himself.”
Sacrifice One Day (Then Throw a Party)
The Expert: Dr. Phil McGraw, the licensed clinical psychologist who has become a household name in recent years (thanks, Oprah!), employs a six-step technique for one-day toilet training.
His Approach: His program leans heavily on the use of a drink-and-wet doll—something easily found at various toy stores (we found one at Toys “R” Us for less than $30). Parents use the anatomically correct doll to illustrate proper toilet use, as well as to introduce “big kid” underwear. After the doll uses her potty, Dr. Phil suggests throwing a “potty party,” replete with party hats, streamers, and lots of loving attention. “Let your child know that when he goes potty, he will have a potty party, too,” writes Dr. Phil. After the party, have your child put on her new undies and offer her lots of fluids—the sooner your little one has to go, the sooner she begins toilet learning. (Parents should then gently encourage their child to use the potty several times in a row to establish muscle memory.)
Toileting Tip: After the first successful potty-chair trip, Dr. Phil suggests parents offer their child a phone call to their favorite “superhero” to share in the good news (enlist the help of a family member or friend to play the part ahead of time). This step can easily be substituted with just about anything—a phone call to Grandma, picking out a new book or toy, or going on a special parent-child date.
The Expert: Dr. William Sears, a proponent of attachment parenting, offers toilet training advice similar to that of Drs. Brazelton and Sparrow—although he believes parents should “condition” their child to use a toilet. “Toilet-training is a partnership, with proper roles assigned to each person,” says Sears. “You can lead a baby to the bathroom, but you can’t make him go.”
His Approach: In The Baby Book Dr. Sears offers several different approaches to toilet learning, including a guide for toilet training in two days with several tips to consider before starting, plus information on what to do if your child refuses to go and how to handle toilet training during travel. Dr. Sears’ two-day guide advocates charting a child’s diaper bowel movements for a few days, then trying to catch an impending bowel movement by getting the child to the potty in time. Eventually, the child learns the connection between urine or a stool and the potty. “The bottom line [to toilet learning] is helping your baby achieve a healthy toilet-training attitude,” writes Dr. Sears.
Toileting Tip: Bite your lip and be positive about the process. Dr. Sears explains that toilet training should be an exciting interaction between parent and child, rather than a dreaded task. “From a baby’s viewpoint, toileting is his initiation into ‘bigness’—a rite of passage from toddlerhood into preschoolerhood,” Dr. Sears says.
The Great Potty Debate
Who’s in control of potty training—you or your child? Two mothers go head-to-head here over who should control the toilet-learning process.
Follow Your Child’s Lead: You can drag a kid to the potty, but you can’t make him pee.
Take Control of Toilet Training: Are you dealing with potty troubles—or power struggles?
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