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Toilet Training: Readiness Training Comes First

Don't begin potty training until your child is clearly ready. Readiness doesn't just happen. You can help your child become ready, much as you taught him or her other skills such as getting dressed or using a spoon. Readiness training can easily happen every day as part of your normal routines. Start your teaching at 18 months or earlier. Don’t wait until age 3.

18 months: Begin teaching about pee, poop, and how the body works.

  • Teach the vocabulary (pee, poop, potty, clean, messy, etc.). Use these words often.
  • Clarify that everyone makes pee and poop.
  • Point out when dogs or other animals are going pee or poop.
  • Clarify the body's signals when you observe them: When your child paces, jumps up and down, or pulls at his pants, clarify for him that "the poop wants to come out" or "the pee wants to come out."
  • Do not refer to poop as dirty or yucky stuff.
  • Make changing diapers pleasant for your child.
  • Teach your child to come to a parent whenever he is wet or soiled.

18 to 21 months: Begin teaching about the potty and toilet.

  • Buy your child a potty chair and let him play with it.
  • After a few days, put his potty chair in the bathroom.
  • Teach that the toilet and potty chair are a special place where everyone puts their pee and poop.
  • Demonstrate by dumping poop from diapers into the toilet.
  • Portray using the toilet and potty chair as a privilege.
  • Have him observe toilet-trained children or the parents use the toilet or potty chair. Prevent confusion by having Dad and older brother sit down when they pass urine.
  • Allow him to sit on it when you or others use the toilet.
  • Don't allow sitting on it in diapers or pull-ups. Teach that when we sit on the potty, we take off our underwear (bare-bottom).

How to know your child is ready to start real toilet training?

  • Your child can recognizes the sensation of a full bladder and full rectum.
  • Your child knows what the potty is for.
  • Your child likes to sit on his potty chair.
  • Your child is cooperative with verbal requests.
  • Now it’s time to start real toilet training. That means doing potty sits (also called practice runs) whenever you think your child might need to pass urine or stool. Be sure to make it fun.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2016.4 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2016-06-01
Last reviewed: 2016-06-01
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2016 Barton D. Schmitt, MD FAAP. All rights reserved.
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