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Getting Started with Potty Training

To successfully use the potty, a child has to have achieved certain physical skills:

  • She has to know she has to go.
  • She has to associate the physical sensations of having to go with a certain result—before it happens.
  • She has to care about that result.
  • She has to have the physical maturity to control herself long enough to get to the pot.
Womanly Wisdom

Pooping is a fact of life. Everyone does it. Do not be embarrassed when your baby does it at an inopportune time. Take it in stride, clean up the mess, and go on with the party. You and your child will accomplish toilet training when you both are ready.

All of this requires an awareness and development that infants and young toddlers do not yet possess. They go when they gotta go—it is as simple as that. They have no real inhibitions about it. You can definitely expect to be at a family gathering and have baby respond to nature in the middle of a crowded room. Everyone will politely pretend not to notice the toxic smell that has just permeated the room, but you will have approximately 60 seconds to remove your child to an appropriate changing area before someone makes their displeasure known. It is a matter of etiquette. You know: “Children should be seen and not smelled.”

It's generally assumed that girls train more easily than boys do. I don't know if this is true. When my oldest was about two I had her in a home day care situation with two other girls around the same age. The caregiver, Peggy, (I'm sure she's related to Mary Poppins), had the patience to work with each child to help them get the hang of using the toilet. I knew my daughter would eventually figure it out so I didn't sweat it. I also did not mind that someone else had the honor of taking my child through this all-important rite of passage. I was happy just to lay in a supply of “big-girl pants” and cheer her on from the sidelines.

Diverging Agendas

All you really need to keep in mind is that potty training is an effort to encourage a child to comply with your desire to stop having to clean up after him or her. Meanwhile, all children want undivided attention, and yours is no exception. Potty training is one arena in which these two very different goals frequently clash. You have to be careful not to make the potty training a message to your child that you are pulling away your attention. You need to find a way to reinforce your child's independence in this one area, while reassuring him with other things you can continue to do together.

Mapping Out Your Strategy

Successful training will take some strategizing on your part. You've got two general options:

  • Train your child by example.
  • Invest in one of those adorable books or videotapes that explain the whole deal in terms your child can identify with.

The first option works, but lots of women find it awkward to make going to the bathroom a group event. The books and videos can really help, if that's more comfortable for you. But however you choose to go about the process, look at it from your child's perspective. Think about what a toilet must look like to him. Wouldn't you need a little encouragement to make that leap of faith and sit your unprotected tushie on that thing?

Changing Your Child's Perceptions

Womanly Wisdom

You won't believe it but it is true: no matter how difficult it seems to train your child right now, you can safely bet the family jewels that your child will not wear diapers to her wedding.

When you're potty training, you are asking your child to pay attention to a bodily function that, up to now, has not been of any great concern. From your child's point of view, you eat, you poop, you stink, Mommy or Daddy or some other grown-up changes you—that is the way life is. To potty train, children have to actually stop what they are doing, think about what their body wants to do, and take care of it all by themselves. This is going to take some serious persuasion.

Some people reward successful trips to the potty with a treat like a piece of candy, a small toy, or a star on a wall chart. This type of system can backfire—you want to encourage your child to use the potty because it is a good thing to do for himself, not because he'll get a reward. But the reward system has its uses: If preschool starts in three weeks and they only accept children who are out of diapers, all is fair in love and potty training.

Avoid the temptation to push your child to train until he or she shows some interest in it. Of course, with some children it could be the third millennium and you'd still be waiting—in that case, maybe you'll have to come up with a drastic plan of action. In most situations, however, there will come a time when the child sees other children using the toilet, connects it with being a big boy or girl, with comfort, and with a nice clean feeling, and will want to give it a try.

More on: Babies

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Motherhood © 1999 by Deborah Levine Herman. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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