Establishing Routines for Successful Potty-Training

  • Boys tend to take a little longer than girls to potty-train, therefore the gender pronoun “he” is used throughout the article.  However, the information is applicable to all children.

The key to successful potty training is to prepare your child for success in advance.  While a child’s whimsical nature may lead us to believe that children need a lot of space and freedom, in reality children find comfort in routine and predictability.  Children are, after all, trying to learn how the world works.  Cleaning-up, changing, grooming, and going to the bathroom are part of our day to day lives. Children will learn these important aspects of life by observing and listening, with the process beginning as early as age-1.  While potty-training usually doesn’t start until your child is closer to 3, they will be better prepared if they observe and learn daily bathroom routines in the years leading up to this important step toward independence.

Set up the Environment for Success

By age 7 months, your baby will begin to grasp a spoon and by 12 to 14 months can begin to feed himself, manage a cup well, and cooperate with dressing and diapering.  Around this age(1-year) you can start setting the environment for later potty-training success.  Begin to take your child into the bathroom with you, so that you can model and talk about using the potty, washing hands, getting dressed, brushing teeth and other daily health routines.  For potty-training purposes, your child will benefit most by going with the parent of the same gender.  If you have a boy, then you will ask Dad to help with this process of model and talk.  Talk should focus on the activity, not on your child.  Say things like, “I need to go potty now,” “time to wash hands,” and “let’s brush teeth” as well as the more specific items that have to take place in the bathroom.  Later, when its “time to potty,” the routine is already well established.

As your child approaches age 18 to 24 months, he will start to become more aware and independent.  He will want to do things “all by myself” such as putting a sock and a loose shoe on his foot.  In preparation for potty-training, your child can practice getting dressed and undressed within the family’s daily routines.  Encourage and assist as needed, but allow time for your child to figure things out on his own.  Make sure that clothing is easy to get on and off, with loose pants that are easy for little hands to pull up and down.  The waist band should be elastic and loose fitting, so there is no struggle with removing or donning.  Sweat pants work great!  Shoes should have a Velcro closure so your child can easily practice on and off.  During this time, you can provide a step stool for the sink and toilet.  Your child can begin practicing more of the daily bathroom routines that will prepare him for potty training.

Most children are ready to potty–train by 24 months.  A good clue to readiness for potty-training is a dry diaper after a long nap or after a night of sleep.  If the child can naturally hold the urge to urinate over these time periods, then he is ready. Your child can help pick out the potty-chair or the adaptive seat for the regular toilet.  You will need a step stool for the regular toilet and another step stool for the sink.  Your child needs to feel safe getting on and off the potty and getting up to the sink to wash hands.  Lots of practice during daily bathroom routines will help your child become familiar with having the potty-chair in the bathroom, learning to step onto and off the step stool, and gradually become more comfortable with the idea of using the potty.  During this period, you will continue to talk through the routines to reinforce the learning the took place earlier.  Your child can also help pick out and purchase cloth training pants.  Pampers and Pull Ups do not allow your child to feel the discomfort of pee and poop.  Cloth training pants come in all styles and colors and are made with a plastic outer layer that protects furniture and the child’s clothing. Cloth training pants are easy for the child to push down and pull up.  Put away the diapers (“diapers all gone”) and begin wearing the training pants as part of the dressing/undressing routine.

When it comes to potty-training, each child is a little different.  Some children take a bit longer than others (up to a year) but the good news is, in the end everyone gets potty-trained!  Potty Training is best approached as part of your child’s daily self-care routines.  These daily routines are taught by you and include dressing and undressing, feeding oneself, brushing teeth, bathing, and proper hand washing.  These routines begin very early in life and for the first few months your baby is completely dependent on you for self-care needs, but eventually he will become independent and start to care for himself.

8 Additional Pointers for Potty-Training:

Don’t offer drinks after 6 PM.

Plan ahead with your child and allow plenty of time for self-care.  “Time to get socks on, coat on, time to go potty. “

Teach Proper Hand Washing.  Allow some supervised play time with the soap and water.

Teach wiping and flushing the toilet and allow plenty of time and assistance as needed.  Once boys start to stand and pee, they can be taught to wipe off the toilet-bowl.  While it may be easier to ask them to sit and pee, eventually they need to start standing for social reasons.

Let your child get comfortable dressing and undressing, making some clothing choices.  Encourage independence throughout the day.

Establish Routines of using the potty first thing in the morning, after every meal, once every hour, after nap, before bath, and before bedtime.  Encourage and talk as you complete the sequence of events: “We used the potty. Now wipe.  Now flush.  Wash hands”.  Focus on the present activity, not on the child.

When your child has an accident, continue in the same matter-of-fact attitude “let’s change clothes, lets clean up, time to wash hands.”

~ Patricia Berry

Patricia Berry, (MA Communication Studies, Early Childhood Specialist) is a private early childhood educational consultant.  She has over 35 years of experience working with families and young children ages birth through five years, including children with unique educational needs.  In addition to consulting, she has worked in public and private schools, Head Start, and as a private tutor.  In her free time, she managed to raise 3 rambunctious boys. She is passionate about supporting the educational growth of early childhood professionals, teachers, parents, and children.

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