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Potty Training Tips

Potty training ... it's a huge developmental milestone for toddlers and their parents.

Diapers are expensive, and changing diapers is a daily routine that no one looks forward to. It's no wonder that parents can't wait to potty-train their little ones.

If you are ready to start potty training, or just wondering if the time is right, we have lots of tips for potty training at home and at school!


Stages of Potty Training

It's helpful to think of potty training as three stages that children move through:

Introductory Stage. Before actively potty-training, children need opportunities to practice sitting on the potty, pulling simple elastic shorts up and down, washing hands and talking about the potty. At school, we usually start this stage around two years old, and children may be in this stage for a short period of time or for several months. During this time, we are helping children feel more confident in the bathroom and giving them the opportunity to discover how their bladder muscles work. Throughout this stage children continue to wear diapers (they aren't ready for undies yet, and pull-ups ... well, see below for the problems with pull-ups!)

Active Potty-Training Stage. When children show the signs that they are developmentally ready (see below for four simple signs), we stop using diapers and graduate to undies! This is an exciting stage ... and sometimes a messy one! Children are excited to be wear big kid pants, but accidents can and do happen, so we plan for them. Have lots of changes of clothes available for little ones in this stage, and remember if your little is ready, this stage is short, often only one or two weeks. Accidents are no big deal. We just clean up the mess and put on clean, dry clothes. And remember, once we move into undies, there is no turning back. We don't use diapers during this stage except for naps and overnight.

Maintenance Stage. When children are truly developmentally ready for potty training, accidents usually decrease dramatically within one to two weeks. While pooping in the toilet often takes a little more time, this is normal and shouldn't prevent your child from wearing underwear all day long. During the maintenance stage children may need frequent reminders and trips to the bathroom, but they should be staying dry most of the time. Many children need to continue working on pooping in the potty (rather than their undies) for a while. Remember, it's a developmental process ... be patient!

Potty Trained! Eventually children stay dry throughout the day, and they poop in the toilet regularly. Hurray! Your child is potty-trained! (There may be an occasional accident during the day or at night, and this is normal.)

What Is a Good Age to Start Potty-Training?

Potty training is a developmental process. What does that mean? Simply that while there is a normal developmental sequence to potty-training, every child progresses through that developmental sequence in their own time frame.

Most little girls potty train between 2 years and 2 1/2 years old, while boys tend to potty train between 2 1/2 and 3 years old. These are just general guidelines, however. Every child is different, and children with limited language or developmental delays will often potty train a little later.


How Do I know that My Child is Ready to Potty-Train?

At First Discoveries, we suggest four simple signs that children are ready to begin active potty training:

  • Your child should be staying dry for at least 30 to 45 minutes at a time. Developmentally, it is normal for babies and young toddlers urinate very frequently. Their bladders fill with a small amount of urine and they release it into their diapers. As the children grow and develop, the muscles of the bladder develop, too, allowing them to hold urine for longer periods of time. This development is critical to the potty training process as it allows children to stay dry.

  • Your child must figure out how to use their bladder muscles. To successfully potty-train toddlers must learn how to use their muscles to release urine on purpose into the toilet. The first few times this happens is usually by accident, but children who are truly ready to potty train quickly figure out how to make themselves potty in the toilet. How can your help your child develop this skill? Regular trips to the potty during the "introduction" phase is critical ... and don't forget to celebrate when your child is successful! (Celebrations need not be elaborate ... clapping and singing a song is great encouragement for little ones who are potty training.)

  • Your child is not afraid of the bathroom. For some children, the bathroom is an intriguing place and sitting on the potty is a fun way to pretend to be a big kid. For others, the noise of the toilet and the echoes in the bathroom are stressful or scary. Introducing your child to the potty over time is critical in helping them feel comfortable in the bathroom.

  • Your child has enough language to talk about the bathroom. Communication is the foundation for all development, including potty training! Children need words like bathroom, potty, poop as well as words to describe their body parts. Language delays often result in delays in potty-training, so if your child has limited language be patient!

Children who have met these developmental milestones tend to potty train very quickly because they are truly ready, resulting in less frustration for children and their families!


The Problem with Pull-Ups

When parents are ready to make the leap into potty training, pull-ups seem like a great solution. They are cute and appealing to children and families, and the marketing message is clear: pull-ups are an essential part of the potty-training journey.

Before you buy into this clever advertising, you need to know that pull-ups have major disadvantages:

First, like diapers, pull-ups wick moisture away from little ones' skin. While wicking is a good quality in a diaper, it slows the potty-training process. When children are actively potty-training they need to experience the sensations of being wet and being dry. Children in undies feel the moisture when they have "accidents" and this is part of the learning process.

Secondly, pull-ups lull adults into a false sense of accomplishment. If our little ones are in pull-ups, then we must be accomplishing something important ... that's what the marketing message tells us! Unfortunately, pull-ups are not any more effective than diapers, so putting a child in pull-ups doesn't just magically accomplish anything.

Finally, pull-ups are often praised because children can practice pulling them up just like underwear. What clever marketing! Children in the introductory phase of potty training can practice pulling up simple elastic shorts over their diapers and when the time is right for undies, they will learn to pull those up, too.

So, if pull-ups are no more effective than diapers, and they lull us into a false sense of security, why would we pay more for pull-ups than diapers? While a pull-up won't prevent your child from potty training, it also won't help any more than a diaper does.

Our verdict: stick with diapers and when your child is ready jump into undies!


Working with Your Preschool while Potty Training

Good quality preschools understand that potty training is a developmental process. Children will progress through potty training as they are ready

What should you expect?

  • Your child's preschool should create a strong home-school partnership and work very closely with you during potty-training, communicating regularly about your child's success and giving you pointers about accomplishing potty-training.

  • No-turning back! When your child moves into undies, the preschool should not use undies sometimes and diapers (or pull-ups) at other times (except for nap time). Moving back and forth between undies and diapers is confusing and slows the potty training process.

  • Encouraging you ... the preschool will encourage you to keep working on potty-training, even with challenges happen. Remember, there is no turning back for you either! No diapers at home, even when you go to the grocery store or out to dinner. Consistency at home and school is critical during potty training!

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