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How to Potty Train: The Guide to Positive Potty Practices

Toddler on potty training seat

The end of diapering is one of those developmental milestones that has many parents doing backflips of happiness. We understand. Every day, our teachers help children make the transition, and for toddlers and parents alike, it can be a very proud time.

A toddler's move from dipes-n-wipes to underpants doesn't just happen: It's one of those milestones that requires active support from parents and caregivers. It’s our job to make sure our children are developmentally ready—and then we’ve got to hang in there for the long haul.

And while there’s no true step-by-step potty training guide out there (after all, all kids do everything in their own way in their own time), here are our potty training tips for making sure this wonderful accomplishment (and it really is) is positive for you and your child, too.

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1. Watch for Signs of Potty-Training Readiness

This is an essential first step. Waiting until your child is ready will make the process positive (and a lot easier). But it’s not always easy to know when to get started. Here are some potty training readiness signs to look for:

  • Interest in using the toilet. We like this straightforward advice from The American Academy of Pediatrics: “If they clearly enjoy sitting on their potty or talking about potty use,” they may be truly ready to get started.
  • Ability to “hold it” for a couple of hours. (A dry diaper after two hours could be a positive sign.)
  • Ability to pull pants up and down independently.
  • Ability to communicate the need to go to the bathroom and the ability to follow simple instructions.
  • Still not sure? Talk to your child's teacher to see if they have seen signs of readiness or interest at school.

2. Get the Conversation Started

Fun and enthusiasm from you begets fun and enthusiasm from your toddler. When you talk about the toilet, do so in an upbeat and positive way.

  • Encourage them to sit on the potty, even fully clothed, to build familiarity. (You can do this even before they're ready to start potty training).
  • Offer your kiddo the option to use the toilet. Pro tip: If you simply ask, “Do you want to use the toilet?” You'll often get an emphatic “no.” It can help to phrase the question more positively, to keep your little one focused on what's exciting and new about the potty: “Do you want to wear your new underpants?"
  • Don’t force it. If your child resists or seems anxious, stop and try again later.
  • Many children will take an interest when they see other children using the bathroom. If you’re comfortable, let your child see trusted friends or grown-ups use the toilet. Describe what is happening and show excitement about the process.
  • Incorporate books about potty training into your routine. They not only expose children to characters who learn to use the potty, they are great forms of entertainment while children are sitting on the toilet waiting for the magic to happen!

Photo by Jessica Byrum / 1092651
Photo by Jessica Byrum / Stocksy

3. Train Yourself, Too

Once your child is really ready, consistency is key. Now it’s time to gear up to be your child’s potty champion and guide. When we first start potty training, parents tend to be good about making sure the child goes to the bathroom at regular intervals, but it can be easy to get busy and let it slide. Some kids make this change quickly while others take more time, so be prepared to stay in the potty-training mode for as long as your little guy or gal needs.

  • Avoid potty training when other big changes are happening, like welcoming a new sibling or moving your child from the crib to a big-kid bed.
  • Make sure your child remembers that they are wearing underwear and not a diaper. “Remember, you’re wearing underwear, so let’s use the toilet when it’s time!”
  • To get yourself in the regular-potty-reminder habit, you may wish to set a timer. Take your child to the toilet every 30 minutes to 1½ hours, depending on your child’s needs.
  • Get your child involved! For example, if you choose to employ a timer, have them set it. When it goes off, ask enthusiastically, “What time is it?” and exclaim that it’s “Potty break time!”
  • Praise and hugs are your top training tools. Praise for every success and don’t react negatively to accidents. If an accident happens, simply tell them that they’ll do better next time and invite them to help you clean up without judgment.
  • Don’t forget the hand-washing routine. The time to build this lifelong healthy habit is definitely now (and consistency is key)!

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4. There Is No Such Thing as a One-Size-Fits-All Approach

Each child is unique. Some respond well to a more structured approach; others like to direct their own choices.

Work with your child to help them reach their milestones, however they learn best—and know that it’s okay to step back. Potty training is a process, and with your support, they'll master it in their own way and in their own time.

One thing is certain: All children respond to praise and encouragement, so heap the love and praise on freely when they make progress toward this big potty goal!

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