P is for Potty Training

Wednesday, January 4, 2012 @ 09:01 PM
posted by admin

As a parent and a pediatrician, I would like to remind you that potty training should be a fun process.  It was fun for my family.  We have happy and funny stories with Daniel and Sarah; we even have great stories of training our puppy, Peanut.  All mammals big and small will eventually attain this milestone, and that goes for the human species as well.  Most children start becoming interested in potty training around their 2nd birthday, and most attain the skill by 3 ½ yrs old.  They become curious and interested in everything you do.  Going to the bathroom is no different.  Allowing them to be in control and celebrating their achievement is important.  However, recognizing that your child is developmentally ready for potty training is really the key to success.  Many claim that training a 12 month old toddler has been done, yet if your child is still trying to master walking and climbing, going to the bathroom in the toilet is not realistic, or even possible.  Often, these children will regress and develop other issues related to stool and urinary withholding, which can lead to severe constipation, encopresis, and recurrent urinary tract infections, ultimately causing great stress on the child and the family.



When children are ready for potty training, they will become interested and curious.  Take the opportunity and start the process at that time, not a minute earlier. Waking up dry from a nap and/or in the morning are definite signs that the child is ready for bowel and bladder control.  Mark your calendars and pick a time that is realistic for you and your family:  try not to pick the week you are going on a trip to Disney for the first time, the week you are moving and starting a new job, or better yet, the week you’re bringing the new baby brother or sister home.


Get developmentally appropriate books and videos (books with simple pictures of smiling children going through the process) and start reading or watching them with your child as a way of preparing him/her.  You will need a small, fun potty– as an alternative you can get a little doughnut to put on the toilet; loose fitting cotton underwear; and some fun stickers to make a reward chart. Place potty in visible, easily accessible area of the house.


Have a positive attitude toward the process.  Always use proper and positive words, even when the child is just trying.  Do not use words like yucky, dirty, or bad, as children will then associate negative words with a healthy, pleasant function (let’s be real; every person enjoys potty time!).  The same-sex parent or older siblings can demonstrate the mechanics, including flushing and hand washing. 

Start by sitting the fully clothed child on the potty so that he or she feels comfortable.  Then, if the child begins using pull-ups (this is before underwear), transfer the contents of them into the potty, or toilet, and flush.  Make the flushing fun.

Put on big boy or big girl underwear and start!  You must remind the child repeatedly to use the restroom during the day:  before and after snacks and meals, during active play time, before and after nap time, and before bed time.  Some people use timers; I found it a little more stressful, but if that works for you, go for it.  Remember to include hand washing after every successful event.  Day time routines will be attained before night time ones.


Follow every attempt, successful or not, with verbal praise.  Appear sincerely pleased that your child is trying.  Never get angry or upset if the child has an accident.  Recruit other family members to call or check in daily:  a favorite aunt’s or uncle’s praise can go a long way.

Create a reward chart with stickers or happy faces for every successful attempt; some people do m&m’s or jelly beans, but I do not like to reward children with food.  Praise and small rewards are more effective.

Remember, this process can last a weekend, a week, or a full month, but you will be successful if you do not stress and enjoy this special time in your child’s life.   If your child has attained total bowel control and bladder control during the day, the process is almost complete.  A small percentage of the population can occasionally have persistent bed wetting up until the late school years.  Always consult your pediatrician during regular physicals about this issue.  If this is a new problem, after months or years of total bladder control, or if bed wetting is a source of emotional stress, please consult your pediatrician immediately, as this can be a symptom of a physiologic issue like a urinary tract infection.

Have fun! It’s Potty time!

By: Dr. Edna Tello, MD

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