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Parents often ask me to help them figure out the right time to start toilet training.

Well, if parents haven’t learned to use the toilet by the time they have children, I don’t think they’re ever going to learn!

If they’re asking in regard to their toddlers, let me flush away any concerns a family might have about this important step in a child’s development.

When to toilet train?

There is no right age to toilet train a child.

The developmental skills your child will need are acquired usually between 18 months and 2.5 years, although we encourage families not to start before age 2. The process does not happen in a day. It can take days, weeks or even months to master.

Skills needed

Your child needs to be able to:

¯ Show interest in following you into the bathroom

¯ Indicate when they are “going”

¯ Know the difference between defecation and urination (also known as “poop and pee”) and, most importantly,

¯ Be so uncomfortable with something in their diaper that they insist on wanting to be changed.

If these skills are in place, consider starting the training assuming your child feels otherwise well and no major life changes are planned. These would include something like a family move or birth of a new sibling.

How to move through the process

The process begins with having your child pick out a potty-chair or redecorate one if it’s a hand me down.

Let your child sit on it fully clothed once a day as a routine, leaving it whenever they want to, but never forcing them to spend time on it.

You might read books about the potty while your child sits on the throne.

Once they are comfortable with clothes on, then take the clothes off and do all diaper changes near it, emptying diapers into the potty as well.

Use loose clothing that your child can easily remove and praise your child when they even tell you that they need to go or use the potty without being reminded — even if nothing happens.

By the way, peer pressure, meaning seeing other children your child’s age use the potty, often speeds up the process.

If your child is over the age of 3, otherwise well, and has not yet begun to train — talk with your child’s health care professional who can make other suggestions.

Remember that accidents are common and should be expected. Stay calm, stay positive and remember that all otherwise healthy children will learn to do this.

Most importantly, please do not yell at or punish your child if they do have an accident before or after they have toilet trained.

Hopefully, when it comes to starting toilet training, tips like these (as I like to say) will make everything come out just fine in the end.

— — —

Lewis First, MD, is Chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and NBC5.


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