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Toilet training your toddler.

Whether you are motivated by money saved not having to buy disposable diapers, the fact that your child will be able to attend the top preschool on your list, or the mere accomplishment of passing one more milestone in parenthood, chances are that you may have to overcome some obstacles when it comes to toilet training. Before you can think about toilet training your child, you should be sure that they are physically ready for the task and it helps if they are in an emotionally agreeable state as well.

Here are some signs of readiness for successful toilet training:

  • Able to hold urine for more than 2 hours at a time
  • Able to get up and down from the potty chair or toilet (with a step stool) with minimal assistance
  • Able to assist in pulling pants down and back up
  • Able to communicate their needs effectively
  • Able to recognize when diaper needs changing
  • In an agreeable phase (willing to cooperate with parents)
  • Demonstrates independence in other activities (eating, brushing teeth, hand-washing)

If you’re lucky, your child will take the lead with toilet training. This is more likely to happen if they are influenced by older siblings or peers who are toilet trained. If your child is showing signs of readiness and you are ready, then the task should not be too difficult. There are several approaches that work and your parenting style will likely influence how you go about toilet training, but here are a few tried and true tips:

  • Introduce the potty chair or toilet seat to your child by allowing them to sit on it first without expecting them to eliminate
  • Use books to help illustrate (literally) what is expected and get your child interested in using the toilet
  • Use a timer or “potty” watch to cue children when it’s time to try using the potty
  • Never punish a child for soiling their diaper–besides this being an ineffective way to train your child, it can also lead to further problems with elimination; if toilet training becomes a power struggle, back off for awhile until your child is in a more agreeable state of mind
  • Never force a child to have a bowel movement on the toilet–this can lead to behavioral constipation issues
  • Remember that it can take several years for some children to sleep through the night without accidents, so use appropriate night-time training pants or diapers, if needed
  • Always have children wash hands after using the toilet even if they don’t eliminate–how else are they going to learn good hygeine?!
  • Teach children (especially girls) to wipe from front to back after bowel movements–they will need help with wiping for some time, but should learn the proper technique from the beginning to prevent future problems with infections
  • Don’t expect your child to use public toilets as soon as they are comfortable using the toilet at home–if they aren’t ready just yet, make sure you have appropriate leakproof training pants or a change of clothes

Most importantly, be flexible and positive, and if you aren’t sure you can be, find an experienced parent or grandparent who can give you some practical advice. Socializing with other children who are potty trained is another way to motivate your child, if they just aren’t interested. If your child is school-aged and continues to have accidents despite trying to use the toilet or if your toilet trained child suddenly starts having accidents, you should take them to a qualified healthcare professional, as this could be a sign of a medical condition.

About the Author: Dr. Bowker is a Naturopathic Physician and owner of Snohomish Valley Holistic Medicine. In addition to her clinical practice, Dr. Bowker serves as a Board member for the Washington Association of Naturopathic Physicians. She has also been a guest speaker for community organizations and instructor of several community health classes. For more information, please visit her primary website:

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