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Taking on Toilet Training with your Toddler

By Dr. Susan Bartell

Is your child ready for toilet training? Or do you just wish it!?


This is the most important question to answer before you attempt toilet training. Many children are physically ready before they are psychologically on board and children who are not emotionally ready to give up diapers will become anxious, stressed and VERY resistant when you try to put them on the potty. In addition to being an unpleasant experience for your child, the resistance, lack of cooperation and lack of success (despite a great commitment of time and effort) will be extremely frustrating for you.


Emotional readiness can occur as young as eighteen months but may not happen until after three years. As a generalization, girls tend to be emotionally ready earlier, probably because their verbal skills develop sooner and because they may have a greater ability to focus and are less active than boys of the same age.


Regardless of your child’s age, parent peer pressure can cause moms and dads to panic when friends’ children seem to be ready sooner. Or maybe the grandparents think that their ‘brilliant’ grandchild must be the first one in undies! If you feel pressures like this, please remember that your child’s individual readiness is the most important consideration in achieving toilet training success. As long as your child is developing steadily, they will learn how to use the toilet before too long.


That being said, if your child is over four-years and shows no interest in toileting, it is important to chat with your child’s pediatrician. In most cases, resistance to toilet training reflects a power struggle between parent (who desperately wants it) and child (who isn’t quite ready). In some cases, the child withholds stool as a clear message that they will not give mom or dad what they so desire! This can result in constipation and leakage (which causes embarrassment for the child), further compounding their struggle with toileting. In this situation, parents may find it useful to consult with a child psychologist to learn strategies for reducing the struggle and also to assess whether there are any developmental issues that may be impacting the child’s willingness or ability to learn toileting skills. In most cases, once a parent learns how to let go of this struggle, children soon embrace toilet training and toileting issues are cured.


You will know that your child is ready when they begin to show an interest in the toilet or potty, don’t like wearing diapers and when they want to wear underwear. A child that is ready will be willing to try, and will not resist or become upset when you ask them to use the potty. If your child fights you on potty training, pack away the underwear and wait a couple of months before your next attempt. Some children show an initial interest, but then when they realize that it will require effort, they lose interest. Don’t become discouraged. Let it go for a while and then try again.


Once you and your child are both ready, it’s time to train your child’s body to learn awareness and the skills necessary for training. Some great tips for how to do that can be found here. From a psychological perspective, even if your child is ready, it will be much harder to achieve success if you begin toilet training right before or during a big life change such as a move or the arrival of a new baby. In fact, children who are already trained may regress under these circumstances.


As you go through the training process, an important aspect is role-modeling. Kids should watch parents and even older siblings use the toilet as this will encourage them to want to do the same. Baby’s First has created a potty-training doll that can be a wonderful ‘prop’ for children who are gearing up to use the potty. This doll comes in both boy and girl versions, and is completely washable, has easily removable clothes and is very low-tech (no water involved!), offering a perfect simplicity for toddlers and preschoolers. The doll role models using the potty, while singing a sweet ‘potty’ song that will become a supportive and fun part of using the potty or toilet. Giving the doll to your child is a perfect opportunity to open up the conversation about potty training.


Along with this special gift, lots of praise, encouragement and even little bribes (tiny toys or candy) can go a long way to increasing potty motivation! Never yell, punish or threaten a child who is resistant and resist the urge get upset about accidents—even if they appear to be on purpose. Negative responses will not help and they will absolutely hurt your child’s journey towards being fully trained.


Children usually become trained during the daytime before they are able to achieve night dryness, and it is normal for even the most cooperative kids to have an accident now and then. In fact, nighttime bedwetting can continue into the elementary years, especially if a child is a deep sleeper. Becoming toilet trained is a huge developmental achievement that should be celebrated… but only when your child is absolutely ready!


Dr. Susan Bartell is a nationally recognized child and parenting psychologist, consultant, speaker and author. For over twenty-five years she has been guiding parents to raise happy, healthy and well-adjusted children by helping them to understand the developmental needs of their child at every age and by providing strategies to help parents and children through challenging times at every stage of childhood.


To reach Dr. Susan Bartell: (516)944-5856 |

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