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To make potty training as smooth a process as possible for you and your preschooler, take a moment to learn what tends to work – and what doesn't. What works:
Waiting until your child is ready
There's no magic age for being ready to learn to use the potty. That said, most kids can start getting the hang of it by the time they're 3 or 4. It's not always a breeze – some children this age resist change and may feel uncomfortable out of diapers or training pants, or they may not like interrupting their playtime for trips to the bathroom. Keep an eye out for physical, cognitive, and behavioral signs that your child is set to give potty training a try.
If your child is facing changes such as a new school, a new sibling, or travel, you may want to wait till the seas are calmer before taking the plunge.
Once you do start, if you've been trying for three months without success, that's a sign your child's not ready. Wait a few weeks – or until you see signs that the time is right – and try again.
Making a plan
Before you even buy your child a potty seat, it's important to have a plan for potty training and think it through. Decide when and how you want to start, what if any rewards you want to use, how to handle accidents, when to back off, and so on.
At the same time, prepare to be flexible. There's no way to know how your child will respond to your methods or which ones will work best. Keep in mind that as with most developmental milestones, success doesn't necessarily happen in a linear fashion – your child may make initial progress only to regress at one or more points along the way.
Discuss your plan with your child's pediatrician and sitter or daycare provider. They'll probably have plenty of experience and advice to share. Once you've decided on a strategy, be sure you and everyone else who takes care of your child sticks to it – barring unexpected setbacks and other potty training challenges, of course.
Taking it slow
Mastering the various steps of potty training can take a long time. Some children will have it down in just a few days, but most need weeks or even months, especially when they're working on staying dry at night.
Don't push your preschooler (or let others push him) to get through potty training faster than he's ready to. Let him take his time and get used to this new, multipart process. He'll move from one stage to the next at his own speed. It's fine to try to motivate him with gentle reminders and encouragement, but if he balks, ease up.
Praising your child
Throughout potty training, your child will respond to positive reinforcement. Whenever he moves on to a new step or tries to use his potty (even when he doesn't quite succeed), tell him he's doing well and that you're proud of him. Compliment him now and then on his dry underpants or diaper. But be careful not to go overboard: Too much praise might make him nervous and afraid to fail, which can lead to more accidents and setbacks.
Accepting that there will be accidents
It's likely your child will have numerous accidents before being completely potty-trained. Don't get angry or punish him: After all, this is a brand new skill he's learning and it's only natural that he'll make mistakes along the way. When your child has an accident, calmly clean it up and suggest (sweetly) that next time he try using his potty instead.