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Toilet Training: How to Coach Your Child

If your child starts telling you when she needs to use the potty—or goes by herself—consider yourself blessed. More likely, you will need to help your toddler out at least some of the time.

In her first weeks out of a diaper, watch your child like a mother hen. You will easily recognize your child's body signals:

  • holding her legs together;
  • pressing her hand against her groin;
  • a certain look that passes over her face; or
  • hopping up and down on one foot.

Whenever your toddler seems like she's ready to go, take her directly to the potty or toilet—or better still, just ask your child if she needs to use the potty. In doing so, you can help alert your child to her own body signs, too: "Clio, you're holding your legs together pretty tightly there. Do you need to go to the bathroom?"

Patience and persistence are the key to successful toilet training. Once every hour or two, suggest sitting on the potty seat to your child. Your "suggestions" should begin from the moment your child wakes up. Even though your child still wears a nighttime diaper, she should get into the habit of going to the bathroom first thing in the morning. After all, your child's bladder will not be completely empty and you don't know exactly when she last urinated. The other mandatory times for your child to try are right before and after her nap—especially if she naps without a diaper.


Use a calendar as both an incentive and reward for your toilet-training toddler. Post a calendar next to the potty seat. Whenever your child makes it through a day of doing it "all by myself," put a special sticker on the calendar for that day. The sticker itself may be reward enough, or you may decide to up the ante a little by providing a special treat after your toddler earns a certain number of stickers—but not necessarily in a row. You don't want to make it too hard.

You may need to entice your child to sit on the potty. Sit down next to your toddler and sing some songs or read some books to help your child relax. You might even want to turn on the water in the bathroom sink to see if the sound of running water prompts your child to run some water, too. If your child doesn't want to sit or sits for only a moment and then hops off, saying, "All done," don't force her to sit longer. Just keep the potty handy.

Whenever your child sits on the potty or toilet for more than a minute, applaud her effort—whether she actually pees or poops. Certainly, you should encourage your toddler to feel proud of her accomplishment—or even her "unsuccessful" tries. But at the same time don't go overboard with your praise. If you overpraise your child for successfully using the potty, she will feel much worse about the inevitable accidents that will follow. Even if you don't make a big deal about accidents when they happen, your child will miss the praise and know she's disappointed you.

Let's not kid ourselves. Cleaning up your child's potty after she's used it is no joy. But no matter how "yucky," "gross," or "disgusting" you think your child's poop is, keep your comments to yourself. First of all, it's a natural human function. But even more importantly, your toddler probably won't feel it's yucky at all. She'll most likely think it's wonderful and fascinating. Your child will feel very proud of the product of her "labor." After all, she made it all by herself. If you then let your toddler know that you think her creations are gross, she may feel as if you are rejecting her efforts.

After the first few weeks, when your child has begun to get the hang of it, ease up a bit. There's a thin line between reminding your child and nagging. Nagging provokes resistance on the part of a headstrong toddler. Besides, after your child knows what she's doing, reminding her six or sixteen times a day to sit on the potty is not toilet training. Your child needs to be given control.

More on: Preschool


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Parenting a Preschooler and Toddler, Too © 1997 by Keith M. Boyd, M.D., and Kevin Osborn. 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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