“I’m so tired of diapers!” moans a mother as she looks at the high price of the giant pack of diapers. “Is it time for my son to start potty training?”

Potty training is a big milestone for kids. But how do parents know when to start? Intuition, expectations, common sense, and observation play a key role in starting potty training.

Step #1: Create a parent/child team

Potty training is a combined effort between parent and child. Some parents may assume they are in charge, while other parents put the child at the helm. Actually, potty training is an association. Parents provide support, potty training tools, books, and dry clothing; the children do the “go”.

Understanding the concept that potty training is a team effort between parents and children, and not a command and control situation, is critical to success. Strict and impatient goal pursuit puts pressure on the child, resulting in stress, anxiety, and in some cases delayed potty training.

Step #2: Starting early does not guarantee fast results

Extensive research on intensive potty training has shown that starting the process early is actually correlated with a longer duration of potty training. Those parents who start potty training early find that the potty training process lasts longer.

Children must develop bladder and muscle control before they can control going to the bathroom. Parents can stick to this rough preparation schedule: 15-18 months child feels her clothes are wet; 18 months the child can urinate in the potty if it is placed on it; 2- 2 1/2 years the child can alert the parents that he has to go; and 3-4 years the child may have the ability to “hold it” and go to the bathroom alone.

Step #3-Determine Readiness for Child Development

When deciding to begin the potty training process, chronological age may not be the correct indicator of readiness. The parent should look for signs that the child is developmentally ready. This is especially true for babies born prematurely and children with developmental delays.

Some good signs of readiness are: the child can sit up and walk well, the child can stay dry for 2 hours or more, the child is interested in doing what big kids or adults do, the child can follow and carry out simple instructions, and the child seems to understand what the potty is for and uses words related to using the toilet.

Parents should assess the child’s temperament. Important questions to ask are: Is the child able to concentrate? What is his attention span? Is the child easily frustrated? Is he easily angered or discouraged?

For most children, potty training occurs between ages 2 and 3, and most children are potty trained by age 4.

Step #4 – Go ahead, go ahead!

Today is the day! Parents should ensure that the child is in good health and that the home is calm with no impending problems, such as a move, a new baby coming home, or a parent going on a trip.

Dress the child in clothing that is easy to remove, such as sweatpants with an elasticated waist. Snaps, buttons and zippers are difficult for little hands to manipulate and are time consuming when the need arises. To reduce pressure on the child, allow him to remain in diapers for the first few days of potty training. Gradually transition to underwear for short periods of time as your dry times get longer and longer.

After a meal, a nap or when coming from outside are good times to encourage the child to climb on the potty. Parents should watch for indicators of when the child may have the urge to go.

Walk the boy to the potty and stay with him. The bathroom visit should be short and sweet; five minutes is a long time. Offer reading material, or use a fun potty training tool or toy to keep the five minutes engaging. Important: If the child wants to get up from the potty before five minutes, do not force him to stay.

Praise, praise, praise! Little milestones deserve lots of hugs and kisses. It’s really something for a little one to climb on the potty by himself, pull up his pants, or make it to the bathroom (if only to be a little late). Be kind, patient, sensitive and proud. Do not scold the child for having accidents, ever.

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