Achieving a successful potty training requires patience, determination and a dose of good humour! Usually, a child learns to be potty-trained between the ages of 2 and 4, but it is important to respect the child's rhythm when he or she begins this learning process.
When is my child ready?
To become clean, a child must first learn to control his/her sphincters. It is only around the age of 2 years that a child can recognise the feeling that his/her organs are "full". The role of the parents is not to "teach" but rather to support and guide the child throughout the potty training process. To use the potty successfully, your child must be physiologically and, most importantly, psychologically ready. It is therefore important to trust him/her.
Some signs such as:
- He/she goes to his potty and sits on it by him/herself.
- He/she is partly undressing without your help.
- He/she stays dry for several hours.
- He/she tells you when his/her diaper is dirty (ex: "pee", "poop").
- He/she is curious about it (e.g. sits his/her cuddly toy on the potty, likes stories about hygienic cleanliness.
The 6 key steps in helping with potty training:
1. Don't force your child
The age for potty training differs from one child to another. For this reason, avoid setting the age at which you think your child should be potty trained. Instead, wait until your child shows signs that he or she is ready and then follow your child's pace.
2. Choose the right time for your child
There are no ideal conditions for potty training, but it is recommended to start during a quiet time at home (e.g. avoid during a move or the arrival of a little brother or sister).
3. Make your child familiar with the potty
Put his/her potty by the toilet and explain what it is for. Then invite him/her to sit on it, even when he/she is dressed, or to put his cuddly toy on it. At first, it will be a game! Encourage him/her to do as you do when he/she feels the need to urinate. Congratulate him/her for trying!
4. Set up a routine
Gradually, get your child to sit on the potty at regular times: in the morning, after meals and snacks, and before naps, bathing and bedtime, but no more than 5 minutes. Avoid toys or books while your child is sitting on the potty to let him or her concentrate on feeling his or her sphincters. If nothing happens, let your child return to play without showing disappointment or making comments.
5. Switch to panties
If your child starts using the potty often, stop using diapers during the day. This will help motivate your child to stay dry with cloth or training pants on. Put on clothes that are easy to remove and remind your child to potty often. At his age, it is normal for him to forget to do so, especially if he or she is focused on playing, so don't put too much emphasis on small accidents, but rather increase his/her self-esteem by encouraging him/her again and reminding him of his successes.
6. No more diaper
He/she stays clean all day and his/her diaper is dry for several naps? It is time to get rid of it. Then apply the same method at night. In the meantime, even if you're putting a diaper on to help him/her sleep, encourage him/her to call you if he or she feels like going to the potty during naptime or at night.
Some questions during the learning process:
How are outings organised?
Until you are sure of him/her, put your child in a diaper or training pants. But if you are only going out for a short time and you can easily get to a toilet, dare! Tell him/her to go to the potty before leaving and take some clothes to change. Plan frequent stops over longer distances and avoid making him/her drink too much just before leaving.
If my child refuses to defecate on the potty?
If your child refuses to defecate in the potty, let him/her do it in a diaper. Otherwise, he or she may restrain him/herself and become constipated. Constipation can cause pain when you have a bowel movement. If your child is in pain, it will take even longer to get clean. When he or she is ready, he/she will go to the potty by him/herself.
He/she used the potty but does not want to anymore?
It is common for a child to seem to regress in learning after successful episodes on the potty. If this is the case, refrain from arguing and do not get discouraged. Start the process all over again, helping him or her pay attention to how his or her sphincters feel. Above all, do not forget to congratulate him/her when he or she makes progress.
He/she is not ready yet?
Consult a doctor if, despite your encouragement, your child is over 4 years old and refuses the potty, seems unable to hold back or shows no interest in potty training. The doctor can then try to find the reasons for this refusal or difficulty, whether psychological or physiological.
- To learn to be clean, the child must be physiologically and psychologically ready. This usually happens between the age of 2 and 4.
- A child should not be forced to use the potty, but you should rather follow his/her rhythm and trust him/her.
- If the child has an accident in his/her pants, he or she should not be scolded or punished. If necessary, he/she should be able to wear a diaper again without feeling ashamed.
Source: Naître et grandir
Scientific revision: Dr Anne-Claude Bernard-Bonnin, pediatrician /Research and Writing: Team Naître et grandir
Updated: April 2018