Stress free potty training

Written by julia forneris
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How to free both you and your toddler from nappies

Stress free potty training
(Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images)

There is no one right way to potty train a child.

— Dr. Adiaha Franklin, Developmental-Behavioural Pediatrics

As a parent, you look forward to the day you can stop shopping in the nappy aisle. After all, a nappy-free life means less mess, more time for yourself and more money in your wallet. However, potty training presents a set of challenges that can make you think twice about tossing the nappies. While friends, relative and experts can offer advice, knowing when and how to begin potty training really depends on you and your child. Patience is key -- and frustration is common.

Signs of readiness

You may have heard or read that there are certain signs that indicate a child is ready to use the toilet. These can include a general interest in the toilet, such as wanting to imitate mum or dad, or more specific signs such as a distinct aversion to being wet.

But true readiness may go beyond simple interest.

According to Dr. Adiaha Franklin of Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics, there are overlapping factors that come into play; these include physiology, language, motor skills, social skills and behaviour.

By age 15 months or so, most children have control over their bladders and can understand the urge to go to the bathroom. However, a child must be able to follow simple one or two step instructions and express a need to use the potty, such as pulling at his nappy or telling you. He should also have the physical strength and coordination required to sit upright on the toilet. This is why many children begin potty training between the ages of 2 and 3.

Still, you have to keep in mind that while a combination of factors may determine readiness, first and foremost, you and your child must be willing to work together toward the common goal of potty training. Children need support and should not feel pressured.


When it comes to the actual method of potty training, Franklin says: "It's important that parents use the technique or style that most appropriately fits their child's temperament and the family's lifestyle. There is no one right way to potty train a child." That said, there are certainly some common methods.

Carly Kirsch, a mother of two young children, preferred what she refers to as the "boot camp" method; this involves staying home with the child for two or three days. For her daughter, she set a timer to go off every 20 minutes -- and when it did, she ran with her to the potty. Though Kirsch admits that it can be tedious, she said, "By the second day, my daughter was telling me when she had to go."

Other parents may prefer a more gradual approach, letting the child take the lead. You can have the potty readily available and encourage your child to sit on it before bath or bedtime. Some parents may also choose to let the child go without underwear or nappies, so he feels the sensation of being wet.

Another option is to have a reward system, such as a sticker chart where your child can place a star or sticker each time he uses the potty. This method uses positive reinforcement and allows your child to participate and chart his success, which is helpful during the independent toddler years. Kirsch acknowledges that "you may have to use some trickery to get a child to see going to the potty as his own choice."

Dealing with difficulty

Though there isn't necessarily a "right time" to potty train your child, there are "less favourable" times for potty training. Times that do not breed success and may cause your child to regress include the birth of brother or sister or a major shift in the environment, such as moving or a new caregiver. Consider putting off potty training during these times or, if training is already under way, be even more understanding if your child seems to take a step backward.

If your child is having difficulty with potty training, he may not be ready. In some cases, there may be something else involved, such as a medical condition. Franklin says constipation is one of the major medical reasons some children experience difficulties with potty training. If this is the case, a doctor must treat the constipation before training continues. Franklin also notes that children with developmental disabilities or delays may take longer to use the toilet because their bodies may take longer to mature. "If a child does not imitate others well, it may take him longer to potty independently."

Tips and warnings

  • Go natural by binning the disposable nappy The easiest way to change a nappy

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