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Toilet Training

Toilet training is very important – both to parents and children. It's part of growing up and learning to have control over your own body.

It happens gradually, in a step-by-step process, each step building upon the one before.

You'll save yourself a lot of frustration if you don't start too early. There isn't a specific month or age that you can spot a dramatic change and say to yourself, "It's now time to start," but, you can look for a few signs.

Your child should be able to understand what you say to him and he must be able to sit on a potty chair and get off comfortably. Also, his diapers should be remaining dry for a long time. Physically, a child must be able to tighten several different muscles, while relaxing others. He should already be able to run and climb easily because he's not likely to want to sit still for toilet training if he's just learning these activities.

Another sign is when he shows an interest in his bowel movements. Bladder and bowel training go together—They happen almost at the same time. But most parents feel it's easier to train for B.M.'s first. That's because B.M.'s happen less often, and at more predictable times. Because the physical sensations are stronger and your child can become aware of them sooner, she has a better chance to get to the toilet in time.

We suggest a potty chair because children usually feel more comfortable on them. Put it in the bathroom and explain what it's for. You can encourage your child to sit on it in his diapers, to play with it, to put things in it. Say, "This is your little toilet, and this is where you put your B. M. and peepee.

After awhile, he'll begin to understand that when he has a certain feeling in his body, he needs to use the toilet. He learns to connect the action with his urge to go. When he makes that connection in his mind, he will begin to tell you before he has to go to the toilet.

Each child goes at his own pace. You will feel less frustrated if you expect this to take months to happen, and not weeks or days. For example, it takes kids quite a long time to learn to walk. First they crawl, then they pull themselves up, and then they walk along the furniture. All of these are steps in a process. Toilet training is very much like that, but we don't always see it as clearly.

Sometime between one-and-a-half and two years, your child will begin to tell you that he's had a bowel movement or has a wet diaper. This is an important step. There is a big difference between telling you that he already has had a bowel movement or urinated and that he is going to do it. He has to be able to recognize the urge to go, and control it long enough to get to the toilet. When a toddler finally makes the connection that a certain feeling in his body means that he needs to urinate or move his bowels, he will begin to tell his parents before it happens. This is a major step forward. But even after your child has that ability, there will be many times he cannot wait long enough to get to the toilet. This is usually because he recognizes the feeling too late and cannot "hold" it. This is especially true for the bladder because the feelings are subtler. They are also more difficult to control.

Put her in pull-ups or training pants. They are easy to pull down so your toddler can take them off herself. You can switch back and forth between training pants and diapers until you and your child are more confident about her ability to use the toilet. The important thing is to work with your child as he develops these skills.
If you are already in a struggle with your child over using the potty try to back off. Nobody can win in this struggle. Just say to your child, "You know that Mommy and Daddy would like you to use the potty, but from now on, you're the boss of your own B.M. and peepee. And if you don't want to use the potty, you can change yourself." He may test to see if you really mean that he's in charge. When he does do it in the potty or changes himself, you can let him know that you noticed but don't reward or punish him.

If you would like guidance on this or any other non-medical child development question, and you live in the Los Angeles area, you can call the Warm Line free of charge at 310-281-9770. A child development specialist will return your call within just a couple of days.

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Early Childhood Parenting Center  /  1440 Harvard Street  /  Santa Monica, CA 90404  /  Phone: (310) 281-9770  / Los Angeles Parenting Classes and Groups