Signs of Readiness
You'd think that toilet learning would be a simple step in childrearing; everyone finds success eventually (how many teenagers do you know still in diapers?). But for many parents, the very thought of toilet training can be daunting. A dear friend recently told me, "I love everything about being a mom—except potty training." This is a common refrain voiced in the hundreds of resources available for anxious toilet training parents and reflected in the arsenal of potty-training paraphernalia on the market.
Philosophies and techniques vary dramatically; there are doctors who suggest not starting until the age of two, and those who sell instruction manuals designed to teach parents how to toilet train their infant. How do you find a technique that will work for your little one? And when—and how—do you get the process started?
Before searching for these answers, you'll need to gather a good deal of patience and humor (an absolute necessity when you're making that emergency run to the carpet cleaning aisle at your local grocery store or as you and your child proudly wave "goodbye" to her accomplishment as it's flushed away). Understand that you are embarking on a journey that may end in one short day or take as long as a year. While reading through techniques and tips outlined in this article, keep in mind that the best thing for your family may end up being a combination of several different approaches. Don't be afraid to mix and match those that feel right for you and your child.
It's easy for parents to get caught up in the numbers game when it comes to toilet learning, and pressure from friends and in-laws to train a child doesn't help.
The fact of the matter seems to be that age doesn't matter. Although the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says there is no set age at which toilet training should begin, they do offer a convincing reason to wait until a child is at least two. "Children younger than 12 months have no control over bladder or bowel movements and little control for six months or so after that. Between 18 and 24 months, children often start to show signs of being ready."
Before you begin to wonder why your two-year-old is not showing signs of interest in toilet learning, know that the AAP also adds that some children may not be ready to begin using the potty (for both physical and emotional reasons) until 30 months or older.
How can you tell if your child is ready? Keep a watchful eye out for the following signs:
- Your child stays dry at least two hours at a time during the day or is dry after naps.
- Bowel movements become regular and predictable.
- Facial expressions, posture, or words reveal that your child is about to urinate or have a bowel movement.
- Your child can follow simple instructions.
- Your child can walk to and from the bathroom and help undress.
- Your child seems uncomfortable with soiled diapers and wants to be changed.
- Your child asks to use the toilet or potty chair.
- Your child asks to wear underwear.
The AAP also points out that during this stage, your child's stooling patterns may vary (some children move their bowels several times per day, others several times per week). However, anytime your child experiences a dramatic change in her bathroom habits, you should speak with your pediatrician (do not use laxatives, stool softeners, suppositories, or enemas unless recommended by your pediatrician).