June 20, 2017

From the Smarty Health Corner and Levine Children’s Hospital: Potty Training 101

Summer is a great time to start potty training, so we recently interviewed Dr. Corinne Watson, a pediatrician at Cotswold Pediatrics, to get her insight and tips.  If you’re just starting the process, we hope this article serves as both inspiration and education for you.  A big thanks to Dr. Watson and Levine Children’s Hospital!

What age should parents expect to start potty training their child?

Many children are ready to start potty training at 2 years old, and almost all are ready by 3. However, parents can start introducing the concept before children are developmentally and physically ready. As early as 18 months, parents can start teaching the vocabulary of going “pee” or “poop” and going in the potty.

Source: Pottytrainingiseasy.com

Source: Pottytrainingiseasy.com

What are some signs that a child is ready to be potty training?

– Child expresses interest in going to the bathroom
– Child can imitate parents and put things where they belong
– Child can express that favorite word “no” indicating a sense of independence
– Child can indicate when he or she needs to “poop” or pee”
– Child is able to take clothes on and off

How often should you ask a child to go to the potty?

There is no perfect science for how often kids need to go potty. Look for potential signs, such as grimacing or pulling at the diaper when wet, a signal he or she may need to use the bathroom. If your child goes two or more hours without urinating, you may want to ask. Other good times to try include immediately after naps or about 20 minutes after meal time.

Do you recommend picking a weekend, staying home, and hunkering down with the potty training?

If your child has not successfully mastered potty training by 2.5 years old, then picking a weekend to hunker down can lead to the breakthrough you are waiting for. If your child has not successfully used the potty a few times yet, then you may want to work on this first before hunkering down. Spend time with the child free of underpants and the potty chair nearby. Encourage fluids and allow the child to recognize his or her own body’s cues to signal the need to use the potty. Be supportive and encouraging as the child learns by trial and error. Sometimes going outside for “field training” without underpants and keeping the potty nearby is “cleaner.”

Will using disposable training pants help?

You can initially start potty training with the same diapers, but training pants are helpful to teach kids more independence in the toilet training process. Ultimately the goal is to transition to regular underwear. Underwear can increase the child’s motivation, but you should be ready for the potential consequence of wet clothes or bedding when they have an accident.

Are girls easier to potty train than boys?

Boys typically take longer than girls, but every child is different.

Do you recommend a rewards system for getting a child to go potty regularly?

Absolutely. Children learn by rewards. Reward every small victory. Just the child going to the bathroom when asked or sitting on the toilet are victories, even if the child does not urinate or stool. You can choose larger rewards for larger victories, but immediate rewards for small victories encourage the behavior to continue.

What if your child has a fear of it?

If a child has a fear of the toilet, you may need to slow down. Do not push too much. Back off for a while then slowly reintroduce the potty and work up to using it again.

How should you handle bed wetting?

Bedwetting is inevitable. Do not punish the child. Be encouraging. Children want to succeed. Natural consequences are okay. For school age kids, have the child get up and help you change the sheets before going back to bed. Many stop bedwetting by age 7.

When should a parent be concerned?

Any healthy child older than 3 years old who is not potty trained is likely in a power struggle with his or her parents. It may take until 7 years old for some kids to be consistently dry at night but most accomplish this earlier. Parents should worry if their child is consistently dry for several months and then reverts back to soiling themselves. Also, if the child is not potty trained by the time he or she is entering school, parents should talk with their pediatrician.


Dr. Corinne Watson is a pediatrician with Cotswold Pediatrics.

Levine Children’s Hospital
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