A Blog from Your Kaiser Permanente Pediatricians in Northern California

Tips to Start Toilet Training

Potty training can be rough going – I’ve been there! Some kids are naturally “easy” while for others, it takes more time and patience. They may need rewards like hugs or stickers to motivate them. My child responded to bribery… with Cheetos!

Usually it works best to wait until your child is very interested and asking to use the potty. Once you’ve decided your child is ready to train, the most important “tool” you need is your positive attitude! Keeping the experience light and happy can make it faster and easier. It helps to:

  • Lower the pressure. Don’t expect quick success and celebrate every effort. If they try to sit on their potty, praise them and clap. Tell your partner or their grandparents how proud you are of their efforts.
  • Use accidents to help children learn about the process. Stay encouraging and say, “Let’s go flush this down the toilet together!”

There are different ways to approach toilet training, and what’s right for one child may not work for another. Some parents take a laid-back approach, and others are more direct.  Both can work, and sometimes a combination is needed.

Try these relaxed, child-led strategies:

  • Allow them to be naked or in underpants (rather than diapers). This lets them feel and see the process unfold. Try potty training in the backyard during the summer, with no underwear and a potty nearby. Or if you have easy to clean floors, try indoors.
  • Have short practice times for kids who are interested, but not yet ready for full-time commitment: “Do you want to try wearing big-boy underpants between now and lunch time?” Gradually increase the length of time they’re without diapers.
  • Take a break and try if they lose interest. Watch for their interest to return.

Develop structured, parent-led strategies:

  • Choose a week or period of time when you’re free to focus on training. Give frequent reminders (every 15 to 30 minutes) for them to try sitting on their potty. This often works best if they’re naked or in underpants.
  • Stay home to avoid accidents in public.
  • Clean up accidents matter-of-factly. Say “No worries, you can try to make it to the potty next time!”

Whichever technique you use, rewards may help the process. Rewards should be small enough that you can give them frequently, to reinforce all their little successes. It’s great to use non-food treats (like stickers, a small toy, or trip to the park). I myself was guilty of letting my child have one Cheeto every time he tried to use the potty. He loved them and was completely focused on getting more!

What should they wear during training?

Big-kid undies can be fun and motivating. They also help the process, because the child can feel it if they have had an accident. But of course, they are quite messy to clean up!

Diapers are easier, but the child won’t have the same sensory motivation. Most parents use underpants, or let their child be naked at home and switch to diapers when they go out.

Pull-on diapers give the child independence, but still can slow training because they don’t feel as wet. Cloth training paints can be a good compromise – they still feel a bit wet, but they’re a little easier to clean.

What else can I do?

Other things to keep in mind as you start potty training:

  • Be on the same page. It helps to have everyone who takes care of a child use the same approach, so talk with grandparents and other caregivers. And most important, they all need to keep things positive. Scolding or shaming only backfires and can seriously prolong the process.
  • Remember day comes before night. Daytime dryness happens months, or even years, before nighttime dryness. It’s not uncommon for a child to be fully toilet trained during the day and still wet the bed at night. Talk with your pediatrician if bedwetting is still happening after age 7.

And though it can be frustrating, try to not worry. It’s okay if it’s taking longer for your child. This doesn’t mean they’ll never learn. If you have faith in them, they’ll believe in themselves too!

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