To Pee or Not to Pee


Sometime around the 4,000th diaper change parents start thinking about when they can start potty training their child. The most important issue to consider is when to start. And the best answer to that question is when both the child and the parents are ready. Each child is different, but most kids are ready for toilet learning between ages two and three. A child is ready when he begins to dislike the feeling of wet or soiled diapers against the skin, and can recognize when he has the urge to go. When it’s decided that a child is ready, it’s important that parents devote time to the toilet-learning process, and can fit it into the child’s normal routine.

Potty Prep

There are some things parents can do to help the process along.

• Decide what words you are going to use when talking about peeing and pooping (or whatever your family chooses to call it) so that it becomes part of the child’s awareness. Everybody in the family should use the same language so as not to confuse your child. Don’t be surprised if your child starts to notice pee and poop everywhere.

• Let your child be in the bathroom when Mom or Dad go. Parents may want to keep this to the method to the same gender, but it doesn’t really matter to your child. It’s what is comfortable for you. Your child is watching and learning all the time. If he watches Mom and Dad use the toilet, he will start making connections that this is something he should do.

• Keep some toys and books in the bathroom that are only used in the bathroom. Toys come in handy as something for your child to play with once the potty or toilet has been introduced.

• Tune into your child’s bathroom schedule. Watch your child throughout the day. Is there a pattern to when your child’s diapers are wet or soiled? As toddlers get older they start developing some regularity. If your child has a dry diaper after two hours, his bladder is likely getting full.  Many children make a pooping face or do a little dance when they have to go. Some kids will tell you when they are peeing or pooping, or just after they have done so. That’s a good thing as it means they’re catching on.

• Start working on self dressing and undressing skills – especially pulling pants on and off.  Also start emphasizing hand washing after using the potty.

• Use the combined wisdom of pediatricians, friends and day care providers. There are also many books, resources and websites out there to help parents through the potty-training process.

Potty vs. Toilet

When you think your child is ready, start talking about using the toilet or the potty to pee and poop like the big kids do. Then decide if you want to use a potty or the toilet for training. A potty is portable, child-sized and sits on the floor. It is also something the child can call her own. It does have to be emptied and cleaned after each use.

The toilet seat can be made smaller with portable inserts, but you will need a step stool to help the child get on and off the seat. The toilet can be flushed, which is something Mom and Dad do, and kids also love to do. Starting with the toilet eliminates the transition from the potty. If you ask your child what she prefers, honor that preference.

Starting the Process

Pick a calm day or weekend to begin. Put the child on the potty or toilet when she wakes up in the morning and then again every two hours or so, whether she has to go or not. The goal is to help your child figure out when she has the urge to go and then to connect that feeling to using the potty. If you’ve observed that your child poops at a certain time, that’s the time to put her on the potty. Five to 10 minutes of sitting is probably enough. Let her play with the special bathroom toys. Praise success but keep things low key and without pressure.

Switch from diapers to a combination of disposable pull-ups and cotton training pants that a child can easily pull up and down. Disposable pants are convenient for traveling and may be required by a day care provider. Cotton pants are better for the environment with the added advantage of making your child feel more uncomfortable when the pants are wet wet or soiled, which encourages them to use the toilet.

There are lots of books and toys to help kids with toilet training. A big hit with many kids is the children’s book “Everyone Poops” by Taro Gomi.  Drink-and-wet dolls are another great tool to help kids get the connection that what goes in the mouth soon comes out the bottom. They can teach the baby doll to use the potty too.

If your child is in day care or preschool, you’ll want to coordinate the toilet training with your provider. In fact, everyone who is involved in your child’s day-to-day life should use the same language and approach, and provide lots of praise. Consistency is important.

To Sit or Stand

Boys who see Dad pee standing up might think that is what they should do too, but they haven’t developed the eye-hand coordination yet. It’s easier, and less messy, to first teach boys to pee sitting down. Eventually they can graduate to peeing standing up like Dad. Try using Cheerios for target practice.

Accidents Happen

Sometimes kids get absorbed in what else they’re doing and they just don’t notice the urge. Accidents will happen, but try to not make them a big deal. The more the parent gets upset or annoyed, the worse the child may feel. Assure the child that it’s OK and not a big deal. Throughout the training process, carry a change of clothes. If they are having a lot of accidents, it’s time to stop trying for awhile. Be patient, they eventually will get it. Like someone told me when I was frustrated, “Don’t worry she won’t be walking down the aisle in diapers.”

Bette Holtzman has been a family therapist and children’s advocate for more than 25 years. She is also vice president of consumer and family advocacy at The Goldberger Company, a 91-year-old family-owned and operated company that specializes in toys for children ages 0-3.??