The Keys to Successful Potty Training | Columnists

Q: I recently tried potty training my 32 month old son, but after a few days with no success, I decided to quit. A friend tells me to hang in there, but my pediatrician says my son isn’t ready. She suggests I try again in a few months. Your thoughts?

A: What does it mean that a two-and-a-half-year-old “isn’t ready” to learn to use the toilet properly? In the absence of serious developmental delays, a child is able to learn to do this between 18 and 24 months. I prefer the term “capable” to “ready” because the latter implies that potty training is fraught with psychological pitfalls, which simply isn’t the case. To put this into perspective, consider that a 3 month old puppy can be potty trained in three days!

You obviously think that if something you do doesn’t bring results in a few days, then you must be doing the wrong thing. The fact is, even if you approach the task correctly, it can take up to six weeks to potty train a toddler, and boys are disproportionately represented at the higher end of the scale.

Like most parents today, you bought into the myth of “preparation” and waited past the point where it would have been relatively easy. You may have also made the mistake of micromanaging. Parents today are very anxious about potty training, and their anxiety leads to a lot of hovering and oversteering. Toddlers are not inclined to follow directions of any kind when someone hovers over them. As Grandmother said, “a watched pot never boils”.

The keys to relatively quick and painless potty training are:

• Set the scene correctly. Put the potty in the open air, where the child spends most of his time during the day. Yes, even if it means the living room.

• Simplify things for the child. Let the child walk around the house naked from the waist down or wearing only thin cotton underwear. Do not use pull-ups! They only delay a child’s ability to sense when to go to the bathroom. You are helping your child learn something new, so get rid of the old. Plus, by letting your child walk around naked or wearing only the thinnest underwear (warning: no workout pants either!), if they have an accident, they’ll know about it and you will too. Tasks ? Big deal. When your child is trained, call the carpet cleaner.

• Keep your distance. Remember that this is a trial and error process. If you hover trying to avoid mistakes, you may cause resistance.

• Respond appropriately to errors. When an error occurs, encourage and support it. Take your child to the potty and remind him what he is supposed to do. Needless to say, shouting and other outbursts of frustration are counterproductive.

Now go ahead and start with what you should have started at least six months ago. And this time hold on.

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