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Worried grandmothers often ask me why the parents of their grandchildren aren’t toilet training them.

They say: “All my children were trained before they were 2.” “Mothers today don’t have to wash diapers so they don’t care whether the baby is trained or not!”

Toilet training should start when the child is READY for it. By eighteen months maturation of the nerves which control the process of defecation has occurred. So most pediatricians advise parents not to start toilet training until at least that age.

Technology has brought us furnaces, washing machines, and disposables. No harm will come to little children in diapers–and mothers are no longer slaves to diaper-boiling.

Bowel and daytime bladder control will occur at about two-and-a-half to three in normal children whether or not training was started at nine months or two years. Starting early does not mean you will finish early. Rather it means you will spend a longer time in the process of training.

I think today’s mothers, especially those who work outside the home, are very busy doing their two jobs so I try to give advice that will make things as easy for them as possible. My advice about training is to WAIT because the later you start, the less time you will have to spend in the task.

There is another reason to delay toilet training. If you wait until the child is old enough to be truly involved in the process, you can use the process of toilet training to help the child achieve autonomy. A child who can pull down its own pants to go to the toilet is on the way to becoming independent.

How can you tell whether your child is ready to be trained?

o The child demonstrates an INTEREST IN THE TOILET and what people do therein.

o The child has an AWARENESS of being wet or soiled–or, better yet, an awareness that soiling is about to happen.

o The child has mastered WALKING AND RUNNING. The ability to walk and run means the ability to start and stop an activity.

o The child can SIT AND PLAY QUIETLY for at least a few minutes at a time.


o The child can COMMUNICATE his or her needs.

At about eighteen months of age evaluate your child against the above checklist. If a child can do these things then he or she is ready and it’s time to start the training process. In my own experience, I have found most children are not ready until they are close to their second birthday.

Children develop according to their own timetables which means a few may be ready before eighteen months and some will not be ready until they are well over two.

When the child is ready, I recommend my PREPARE, PLACE, and PRAISE (but no pressure) method.

1) PREPARE for the process by letting the child see what parents and older children do with their stool and urine. It’s a good idea to let a toddler accompany the parent to the toilet so the child can observe the whole sequence from taking off the pants to wiping and flushing.

Don’t just sit there, tell the child what you are doing and why you are doing it in the place where you are doing it. Show the child what you have “made”. Let the child watch you flush and later flush for you (if the noise and disappearance frightens your child, back off and wait a while before asking the child to flush again).

When you are changing the child’s diaper, show and tell your child what he or she made. Tell the child it is the same product that you made and it goes in the same place.

2) PLACE the fully-clothed child on the potty to practice sitting there. I recommend a child-sized potty chair rather than a seat which fits on the toilet. Place the child on the potty chair when he or she seems ready to have a bowel movement. When the child performs, let the child help you put the stool from the diaper into the potty. After a couple of weeks place the unclothed child on the potty and wait for the desired results.

3) PRAISE–and reward with a small treat–the child’s performance. Stress that the child is doing what grown-ups do and that you are pleased. But don’t pressure the child. If you aren’t getting anywhere, or if the child balks at any step of the process, back off for a bit and start all over again later.

Remember the child has a lot to learn about using the toilet. Children must figure out what adults expect them to do with their excretions. They have to realize what it feels like before they have to go, know how to get to the potty, figure out how to remove clothing quickly and sit down in time, and learn to relax the sphincter muscles to let the feces or urine out. A monumental task for a two year old.

This is why the child should be ready to learn and the parents should give the child time to learn all this stuff.