Potty Training For Dummies book cover

Potty Training For Dummies

By: Diane Stafford and Jennifer Shoquist Published: 06-25-2002

If you could remember your own potty training, you’d probably recall a time filled with anxiety and glee, frustration and a sense of accomplishment, triumphal joy and shamed remorse. You’d remember wanting so much to make mommy and daddy happy, and at the same time to make them pay for being so darned unreasonable. And you’d recall feeling incredibly grown up once you got it right. Maybe if we could remember our own potty training, it wouldn’t be so tough when it came our turn to be the trainers. But as it is, most of us feel like we can use all the expert advice and guidance we can get.

Potty Training For Dummies is your total guide to the mother of all toddler challenges. Packed with painless solutions and lots of stress-reducing humor, it helps you help your little pooper make a smooth and trauma-free transition from diapers to potty. You’ll discover how to:

  • Read the signs that your tot is ready
  • Motivate your toddler to want to give up diapers
  • Kick off potty training on the right foot
  • Foster a team approach
  • Deal with setbacks and pee and poop pranks
  • Make potty training a loving game rather than a maddening ordeal

Mother and daughter team, Diane Stafford and Jennifer Shoquist, MD separate potty-training fact from fiction and tell you what to expect, what equipment you’ll need, and how to set the stage for the big event. They offer expert advice on how to:

  • Choose the right time
  • Use a doll to help model behavior
  • Say the right things the right way
  • Reinforce success with praise and rewards
  • Switch to training pants
  • Get support from relatives
  • Cope with special cases
  • Train kids with disabilities

And they offer this guarantee: “If your child is still in diapers when he makes the football team or gets her college degree, you can send him or her off to us for a weekend remedial course—and ask for a refund of the cost of this book.”

Articles From Potty Training For Dummies

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Potty Training For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 04-12-2022

Potty training is an important step in childhood development. As a parent, you need to recognize the signs that your child is ready for the toilet talk, institute a potty-training process, keep that process going, and recognize when your child is almost there. Along the way, you need to make sure that your child knows potty-trianing terminology, be able to spot problems that need medical attention, and separate potty-training myths from reality.

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Picking a Potty Chair

Article / Updated 01-23-2017

Keep an open mind as you check out your potty-chair choices: seats that attach to the big toilet, little potty chairs — and don't forget that you can always use that hand-me-down chair (from an older sibling or cousin), and let little sweetkins personalize it with stickers, making the throne hers alone. Encourage your trainee to sit on different chairs to check out size. How well each one fits her tiny backside can be a big factor in her speed of adapting to potty training. Find a nice fit: In the store, let her road-test a few and see which ones are comfy and best fit her baby-buttocks. The right chair will be sized so that she can rest her feet on the floor and use her muscles to bear down when she wants to start a BM (bowel movement). Feet dangling in the air aren't conducive to making the process work. Study the nitty-gritty: Check out potty chairs and toilet-toppers for basic practicalities, such as stability and easily removable catch bowls. Opt for a remove-from-the-top bowl over the type of bowl that you remove from the back, which isn't as user-friendly. Also, make sure the chair doesn't slide around. Try to predict your reaction to wild gadgetry before you buy a chair that sings to your toddler as she sits, or rings a bell when pee hits the bottom of the bowl, or any number of other combinations. Otherwise, your child will get confused if you suddenly deactivate her bell in mid-stream. Parents who find repetitive sounds annoying should definitely bypass the talking-singing potty chairs. If your chief desire is to avoid the noise of your trainee's potty chair, the process is doomed from the start. So, don't feel guilty if you decide to steer clear of the one that's crooning show tunes. Choosing the right style When it comes to potty chairs, you have two different styles to choose from: a stand-alone potty chair you put in the bathroom, or a special adapter seat you attach to the big people's toilet. Consider the smart-device factor: Some kids and parents like a chair that has all the bells and whistles — one setup has a potty chair, an adapter seat for later, and a stepstool. Foster a love connection between child and chair. If you get your toddler's thumbs up on a chair she likes, she'll feel more like the chair is her own. Going with a toilet-topper If your kid is turned on by the adults' toilet, she's already motivated, so get a special potty seat that hooks onto the toilet to make it fit a child. Figure 1 shows a toilet with a seat attached. Also, buy a little stepstool because she must be able to plant her feet firmly on a base (and push), for better bowel movements. Get a no-nuisance toilet-top adapter: If you're buying an adapter seat for the adults' toilet, try to find one that won't drive the rest of the family nuts because removing it is such a bother. Figure 1: A toilet-topper potty seat on an adult toilet. Opting for a potty chair Buy a private chair for an individualist: The child who's fond of the "mine" word will relate more easily to a potty-chair than to the big people's toilet. Typically, a kid likes having her own private little pee-pot, such as the one shown in Figure 2. Figure 2: An on-the-floor potty chair. With this type of seat, your child won't need your help in getting on the potty, as she may with the adults' toilet. The one downside: You have to clean out the bowl — and that gets old. A potty chair stationed on each floor of a multiple-level home is a good idea. You want to do everything you can to help your tot succeed — so, make it ultra-easy for her to complete the race to the potty. (Expect trips to be at warp-speed at first.) Potty chair paraphernalia Having a child in the house means you also have a lot of "stuff," from toys to clothes to gadgets. The potty-training stage also has its gadgets. Whether it's all necessary or not, is up to you. Boy-directed splash guards, such as the one shown on the potty chair in Figure 3, can be troublesome for boys and girls. Be sure you remove the urine guard from the potty seat or toilet ring because it can scrape your child as she moves on and off. This device is meant to keep urine from splashing, but don't take a chance. If your child gets hurt, she will think the toilet is scary, and that's a whole new set of problems. You don't want to go there. Figure 3: A potty chair with splash guard. Some ultra-practical accessories are Jonny Glow strips that have a night-glow that helps your child use the potty in the middle of the night. Given a 15-minute charge from a normal bathroom light, the strips will glow for 10 hours, and they're easy to stick on any toilet surface. If you want a little fluff in the bathroom, try a potty sticker chart or a bowl of tiny potty prizes displayed where your toddler can see it. She'll get the idea "If I get the hang of this potty thing, I can get stickers and a prize from that bowl — cool!" You could also hang up a hygiene chart, with pictures that take kids through the steps from wiping bottoms to cleaning hands.

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Potty Training Children with Disabilities

Article / Updated 06-03-2016

Handling the physical aspect of training a child with a disability is wildly different with individual kids, depending on the disability. You may need to provide high-tech props that facilitate movement from walker or wheelchair to the toilet (see the "Working with Special Gear" section in this article.) On the other hand, your child may need nothing more than some bars to grab onto when she's sitting down — and your friendly assistance. One of the hurdles that parents and caregivers face is that kids with physical disabilities sometimes are so hamstrung by their limitations that even the idea of pleasing adults doesn't motivate them, the way it does other children. Also, some aren't moved by the idea of being a big kid or wearing big-kid underwear because they're happy being "little" and "dependent" — it feels safer, considering the physical mountains they must move every day, when they're trying to move around successfully. Obviously, different disabilities have special problems built in. To discover the best way to potty train your child, try some of the following ways of obtaining advice on potty training a child with a disability: Study up on your child's disability. A good resource for info is the Family Village. Seek insight from other parents of children with disabilities. Your community will probably have support groups, or you can join one of the many on the Internet. Ask an occupational therapist or psychologist for advice on potty training a child with a disability. Understanding muscle control issues While most children can control their bowels and bladders by about age 3, kids who have disabilities may take much longer. Their medical problems can delay the development of the muscle control a child needs to regulate herself. In some cases, a physical problem can even prevent a child from developing this ability. Check with your doctor to find out whether you can expect eventual potty use — or not. Remember, however, that a doctor is not a prophet. You have the advantage of knowing this particular child better than anyone. Therefore, if you're sure that she can be trained, you have nothing to lose by trying — as long as you're not pushy or critical. Coming to grips with your child's muscle control issues is key to helping her become potty-proficient. You'll discover, as you investigate, many strategies that work in training special-needs kids. Sometimes, a child's motor difficulties will make her use the potty only if you take her. Escorted, she will do it. Otherwise, she's a no-show. The good news is that eventually she'll decide to go on her own, but that may take time. Get your physician to be your ally. She should provide you with information on understanding your child's limitations and boundaries insofar as muscle control. You don't want to try to get your child to perform actions that are beyond her capacity, but you do want to be there with encouragement. Enhancing physical progress One of the best ways to enhance your child's physical progress is to potty train her as you would any child: "You can do this — I know you can. We'll find ways to work around your brace." To promote physical adjustment to potty training, you can forge mind/body links in the following ways: Help her connect bathroom with body functions: Move into the bathroom for diaper changes and emptying diapers — you want her to associate poop and pee with the place where the toilet is. Brag on tiny successes: Make sure your child gets huge bravos for the baby steps she makes, whether that's making a tiny dribble in the potty bowl or saying "I potty" after she has done it in her diaper. Help her handle nighttime frustration: For a child with disabilities, staying dry at night is hard. You can expect a child who lacks mobility to have trouble making it through the night dry, and she'll need special handling and empathy. You may need to transfer her from wheelchair to toilet many times before she's able to handle it by holding on to grab bars (see the "Working with Special Gear" section later). Before you kick off her program, make sure she's eating and drinking a nutritionally sound diet. You don't want constipation to get in the way of progress. Next, talk to her about the body signals that tell your child she needs to go potty. Unfortunately, certain physical disabilities tone down that urge feeling. Remember, too, that a child with a disability may have a muted sense of body in general, so being messy may not bother her. Your child may miss the potty sometimes, so you should tell her not to worry about accidents. She may also be pretty bad at cleaning herself. All toddlers are fairly messy at this stuff, but the disability may take your child's messiness quotient up a tad. If handling toilet paper is out of her league, just do the task for her. She may eventually learn how by mimicking your moves — but for now, you remove the possible frustration involved in her desire to be clean but lacking the coordination to accomplish that. After addressing diet, body signals, and messiness, try these ways of enhancing your child's potty progress physically: Set up a success-oriented environment. Get removable obstacles and stressors out of the way. Install handrails or other physical supports so that she can feel safe and sturdy when she sits on the potty. Pad the potty seat with foam (from a crafts store) or buy a softer, padded toilet seat if your child thinks the seat is too hard or cold. Use waterproof sheeting on surfaces where your child sits so that she can hang out clothed in just underpants or diapers. That way, she can be wet long enough for the feeling to bother her. The waterproof stuff is there just to make cleanup easier. Working with special gear You can train a child with a disability on a specialized potty chair (custom-made for the child); or build steps up to the potty; or mount a set of grab bars on the walls on each side of the adults' toilet. You can also purchase some terrific wheelchair-conversions that make potty use easier for a wheelchair-using child. A tot with motor developmental problems is often potty trained on an adaptive toilet seat or extra-high toilet, which you can shop for at a medical supply store, or online at Web sites such as the following: The Alliance for Technology Access Columbia Medical Invacare Another possibility is checking with your occupational therapist for availability. Some state agencies provide equipment for families whose incomes make these pricey toilet options out of the question. Some of the aids and options that are good for potty training a child with a disability are the following: A custom potty chair, or one that's modified from an existing chair. Check Able Generation — they work with kids and their parents to get the product just right. A wheelchair with a hinged center-section padded seat that lowers to become a commode chair. A cushion that self-inflates to assist a child in going from wheelchair (the getting-up part) and moving onto the toilet. Grab bars on each side of the toilet for leverage in moving from a wheelchair or walker to the toilet. Toilet supports that come with chest strap, safety belt, padded cushion, armrests, and footrest.

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Potty Training at Daycare

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Some kiddos' potty programs are thrown off track by outside caregivers who really, truly mean well — but they just don't get why you think consistency from home to daycare is such a big deal. However, whether caregivers understand or not, most are willing to listen to your comments. Tell them that you believe that changing approaches will mix up your tiny tyke who is barely used to using the toilet, anyway. Getting all caregivers to be consistent Go ahead and assume that most outside caregivers have their own ideas on potty training, so inform yours — right after Potty-Training Weekend — that you have a potty plan for your child. Telling the caregiver, "Here's what we do" at the very beginning is so much easier than trying to back track. (Think how much you've liked bosses who made their expectations clear upfront, versus those who told you what they wanted after you'd screwed up.) Daycare workers tend to use a one-size-fits-all method that works well with kids who are totally ready to cooperate. And your tot may not fit in that category. A center's method is usually based on the owner/director's potty-training beliefs, so the approach can range from as rigid as Nurse Ratched of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, to as quietly nurturing as Mr. Rogers from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. Basically, you can bet that few daycare centers do much personalizing of potty training. On the other hand, their method probably won't be counter to the Potty Training For Dummies way, except for being a bit less flexible and a bit more blame shifting. Most daycare personnel simply don't have the time for one-on-one teaching. Instead of asking a daytime caregiver what approach she takes with kids in potty training, just give her your handout and ask her to follow it. Otherwise, you'll have to say, "Your way doesn't suit me." Yuck. Ouch. So clearly, emphatically, and tactfully state your desires: "Please, during the day while I'm at work, follow this plan for helping potty train Tommy. She needs help, of course, but no forcing or punishing. She's going to make mistakes, and pressure just won't help — I'm sure of it." Youngsters can get confused easily. So, the best way to handle the possibilities for divergent ideas is to jot down the 1-2-3 of your child's potty regimen and hand it to caregivers. Leave no room for improvisation. Perhaps that will stave off the dicey situation of discovering that someone's doing things differently at daycare, and your kid is getting terribly confused. That forces you into a corner where you must ask for their cooperation and a switcheroo back to your way. If relatives or friends also care for your child from time to time, make them copies while you're at it. Let your child know what you're doing and why. "This way, Aunt Camilla and cousin Gina and Mrs. Fritz at daycare all will know what you like to do when it's time to go potty." Giving all caregivers the page Make a big point of giving your lead caregiver a page of instructions. You may want to set up an appointment so you'll really have her attention. Explain that you think you've found the best way to potty train your child, and you'll appreciate her compliance with the plan. Even go so far as to point out that you don't want anyone who takes care of Ava to meet you with a negative report at pickup time: "Your child was a total pee-renegade today — she wet her pants!" None of that stuff, thank you very much. But do ask your caregiver to jot down an end-of-week progress report so that the wee lassie's potty deeds won't be discussed in front of her — unless, of course, we're talking rave reviews. Request four weeks' worth of progress reports, and be sure she knows you mean simply a quick rundown — nothing elaborate or typewritten. Tell your caregiver, nanny, or relative: "I'd appreciate it very much if you'd follow this plan because we started it over the weekend, and Ally is doing just great. Otherwise, I'm afraid she'll get confused. Thanks so much, in advance, for your help." Emphasize that you know this person (relative, nanny, caregiver) will be a major player in helping your child succeed. "I really appreciate you being up for this." Here's the written plan that you can hand out: 1. Take the toddler to the potty every two hours if possible. (If she refuses, don't push it.) Be sure she potty-sits shortly after eating and drinking. Gentle prompting is fine. 2. Ask the child to tell you when she feels like she needs to go. 3. Give praise, even if nothing happens during the potty-sit. Don't apply any pressure. If she goes, she goes; otherwise, just say you're glad she tried. 4. Please don't make the child feel guilty if she messes up her pants. Just change them, and put on fresh clothing (if necessary). And, please say that you bet she will get it right the next time. 5. Let her pull up underpants and clothes, even when these efforts are sloppy and awkward. Don't jump in and straighten up. She needs to feel as if she's succeeding, so right now, tidiness doesn't count. 6. Tell the toddler that she has done something very good when she actually pees or poops in the potty. When you hand over the poo-and-pee-plan for your child's day, make sure the caregiver understands that you have faith in her attitude of teamwork. Word this in a way that shows your faith in her: "Of course, I never doubted for one minute that you wouldn't be on board for this, but I just thought I'd write it down, for your convenience. I know you have a million things on your mind every day."

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Getting Back on Track after a Potty-Training Setback

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Ask any parent who has taught a child to use the toilet (one who is truthful, anyway), and you'll hear that kids have many pee and poop accidents. Just like when you were learning to drive and didn't get the gist of parallel parking right away, these tots are total novices, and should be treated with gentle understanding when they goof up. The more lovingly you handle this phase, the better you will cement the bond you're creating with your child. Be patient with the greenhorn. Soothe yourself with the knowledge that child development experts typically regard occasional bed-wetting as a normal thing until age 6! Don't view slips as bad behavior; keep reminding yourself that your child's body and mind have to work together for potty training to be a total success. If you think this is long, arduous, and frustrating to you, just think how it feels to him — a tough learning curve that thrives best with unwavering support. Tell your child, "I know you'll be using the potty all the time very soon — you'll learn to remind yourself." So what should you do? Don't bring up potty training at all for a two-day break. Both of you take a breather. Change those training pants like a trouper and say nothing at all about pee or poop. You're the three monkeys of see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil. Practicing to avoid wet pants Run back over the whole potty routine. You can do this right after a slipup — unless he seems upset by his mistake. In that case, wait to have your chat until the mistake is a few hours behind him. Announce to your child: "You're going to practice how to avoid wet pants. You'll remember — you were getting very good at it a few weeks ago, and I know you can do it again." Take him through the steps, one by one. Go slowly. Speak clearly and with pure patience. If he resists ("I don't want to!") wait a few hours, then try again. Instead of taking a "you'll do as I say" tack, talk to your trainee like you're his best friend who just wants to help him learn something he needs to know. "This is what big kids do in school, so you need to know how to use the potty before then. I want you to feel comfortable in school someday." Encourage him to role play what he could do the next time he feels a need to pee. The spirit should be, "Hey, I know what you can do next time you need to pee." Keep it casual. "Show me what you'll do, the next time you feel an urge to go potty. I'll clap my hands when you get through. Let's pretend you need to go pee right now." Pause. "What I'd like to hear you say is, 'I think I can do that.'" Returning to training pants If your child has already advanced to wearing regular underwear, you can put him back in training pants for a few days. Tell him that you're not doing this because you're mad at him — you just want to provide some backup for a few days, until he feels ready to go back to underpants. Be sure that you have no hint of scolding or sarcasm in your voice. You'll know it's time to make this exception to the rule of never moving back to training pants when your child's embarrassment takes on scary proportions — he's crying and over-the-top upset. Tell him: "I know this is hard to do sometimes, and I can tell you get frustrated. But, don't worry — I'm with you all the way, and soon, you'll get to the potty on time — every time." In addition, if your child is experiencing some major-league backsliding, a return to pull-ups is probably a very good idea to reduce the embarrassment factor. Make it clear, though, that this is just for a few days. "It's just taking your body some time to adjust, and that's okay." Imagine his thoughts: "But what will we do? You gave the training pants away when I got my big pants!" "Sweetie, we'll buy some more. You probably will only need one package, and then you'll be back to using the potty again and wearing your big-kid underwear." Staying positive Say everything, do everything, feel everything. Use both words and actions to make him feel safe and secure, loved, and accepted. During the initial backsliding, do not refer to the potty chair at all for a few days. If he mentions it when he's with you in the bathroom, tell him that you're sure he will want to use it again. "You'll get back to it again, and that will be nice when you do. I'm sure you'll do well at using the potty again soon. You are a sweet, cooperative child, and I love you." If you're just real darn lucky and he's suddenly inspired to use it right then, agree that he should go ahead. And, feel free to act delighted that he brought it up. "What a good attitude you have! You want to try again." Stay low-key. Sometimes, when mom or dad or babysitter makes a huge, over-the-top deal of it, a child starts feeling weird or squeamish and decides that the issue is too heavily weighted, that he felt more comfortable when using the potty wasn't something that was expected. Being practical Try a brass-tacks approach to handling the practicalities of backsliding. In giving him tips, use a neutral here's-what-you-do tone that has absolutely no accusation in it. Just the facts, ma'am. You may want to use the following tips, which will help your child to get past his backsliding hurdle with no bad memories: Limit his intake of fluids right before bedtime. Encourage him to get out of bed as soon as he notices that it's wet. Don't force potty-sits or cleanup.

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Signs that Your Child Is Ready for Potty Training

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Having a potty-trained toddler is a day every parent longs for, but you can’t rush the process. Wait for signs that your child is ready to tackle this big challenge. Watch for the signs in the following list; the first five are absolutely essential: Stays dry at least two hours Gets bummed by wet or messy diapers Likes to please Imitates and follows simple instructions Walks and runs Asks you for diaper changes Tries to dress herself Likes things in proper places Knows potty lingo: Wet Messy or Dirty Dry Clean Pee Bottom Poop or BM

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Signs that Your Potty-Training Toddler Needs to See a Doctor

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Potty training forces you and your toddler to focus on waste elimination — a normal yet often messy process. Sometimes, this focus on toilet habits can bring to light issues that need the attention of a trained medical person. Take your tot to the doc when She hasn’t had a bowel movement (BM) in three days. He strains when trying to pee or poop. She complains that having a bowel movement hurts. He says peeing burns or hurts, or his pee stream is intermittent She pees very seldom (every eight to nine hours). He has sudden urges to pee and pees frequently She uses the potty regularly but has wet pants, too. He has blood stains on his underwear. She has frequent BM stains on her undies. He’s five and still bedwetting.

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Signs that Your Toddler Is Almost Potty Trained

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Your toddler will eventually be potty trained, and maybe sooner than you expect if you can devote a weekend to the training process. Recognize your child’s small successes, and know that when you start seeing the behaviors in the following list, your child is nearly trained: He tells you when he’s gone in his undies. She goes to the potty chair, sits down, and tries. He has racked up a string of successful potty trips. She’s proud of her new, big-girl undies and likes them clean and dry.

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Five Potty-Training Myths

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Potty training has a long, long history — the first babies on the planet were potty trained. In that long history, a lot of myths have sprung up, although many of the most prevalent seem to be modern creations. The most five common myths are debunked in the following table: Myth Reality Put your baby (12–18 months) on the potty and she’ll learn what’s up. The potty bowl may serve as a receptacle, but your child doesn’t understand what’s going on, so she won’t make true toileting a habit. You’re the only person in the world who thinks that forcing potty training is a bad idea. You’re not alone. Some folks may tell you to push or punish, but most doctors and child development experts say no. Waiting until your child is ready is much more successful. Your child’s life is ruined if you mess up his potty training. Unless you’re brutal or hardhearted, your child will survive just fine. But do keep the process low-key and let your child lead the way. Potty training is always a time of conflict for you and your toddler. Not true! It can be a time of closeness and harmony with your trainee trying her best and you cheering her along. Professional caregivers are experienced potty-trainers, so let them train your child. Most childcare centers have a one-size-fits-all approach that works for cooperative kids but flops with tykes who are hyper, balky, ditzy, or otherwise quirky.

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How to Keep Potty Training Working

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Potty training can be frustrating for both you and your toddler. Success comes when you keep your expectations realistic and your attitude positive. Use the tips in the following list to help make your potty-training time a success: Take on a laidback attitude for the potty-training show. Your chickadee is the star, hitting her mark. You’re the coach/director/teacher. Back off when your child gets feisty or "no-no’s" you. Keep in mind that your toddler is new to the role but willing to be a winner. Just respect his learning curve. Accept (and help your little miss accept) that she’s not going to be perfect right off the bat. She’ll drip and slip and miss — and that’s okay. Laugh together, clap your hands — cheer your kiddo’s willingness to give it a try! Keep the praise coming, and don’t scold or criticize.

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