Q: I’m trying to potty train my toddler. But all my attempts to get him to alert me that he needs to use the toilet have been ignored. Am I doing something wrong? Or is he just not ready to graduate from diapers?
A: When looking for signs that your toddler is ready to ditch the diapers, it’s worth mentioning that each child develops at their own pace. Some parents initiate training much earlier with no actual signs, only for regression to happen. Or the process to take much longer.
Successful training depends more on the child’s readiness than a magic age. Recently, experts pinpointed the most effective timeframe to start potty training is between 24 and 32 months of age. This is to say, the child’s sphincter muscles are well-formed during this period.
We understand the frustration when he does not alert you, but take these setbacks in stride. Some children wet themselves instead and inform you when it’s too late or, like my son, rebel by converting the potty into one of his moving toys.
Potty training readiness checklist
If your child is ready to begin potty training, you will notice that he:
- Shows interest in potty, underpants, or your bathroom habits
- Follows basic instructions and is cooperative in general
- Understands “pee” and “poop” and the need to go
- Communicates in words, grunts, or squats when the urge strikes
- Sticks to a regular, predictable schedule of bowel movements
- Takes pride in his or her accomplishments
- Maintains dry diapers during naps or over 2 hours
- Dislikes dirty diapers and can bring you a clean diaper
- Gets up and down off the potty without help
- Pulls his or her pants on and off
- Equates pooping with privacy, by hiding
What you should do
- Retreat for a while. When you try again in a month or two, show patience and understanding. A toddler will notice signs of frustration and double up on their end.
- Follow his lead instead. There’s no harm in trying to potty train to see how he reacts, but following his interest, willingness, and readiness will guarantee steady progression.
- Let him be diaper free for 48 hours to detect the very subtle signs. Offer more fluids to encourage more potty breaks. Gradually introduce underpants for day training—tackle night time training separately.
- Encourage him repetitively to communicate when he needs to go. Teach him that pee and poop only go in the potty or toilet. Otherwise, have him sit on the potty every 30-45 minutes. Remind him it’s potty time or “time to pee,” until he gets used to his body signals.
- Involve the toddler in bathroom activities. Place the potty within reach. My son enjoyed flushing the toilet himself, which would encourage him to rush to it even without alerting me. Offer praises for successes to make the experience fun.
If you want more valuable and practical tips for every potty-training dilemma, I recommend Oh Crap! Potty Training by Jamie Glowacki.
Know that those occasional accidents are part of the process. All this will be over soon enough, and that feeling of accomplishment from your toddler (and yourself) will be second to none.
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