Skip to Content
Alert IconDue to inclement weather, some clinics and facilities are closed. View a list of clinic and facility closures.

Published on August 21, 2013

Little girl sitting on potty chair with toilet paper in her hands

It’s Potty Training Time: Let’s Go!

Your child is showing readiness signs for potty training, things are going well at home, mom and dad are ready…let’s give this a whirl!

Set a Time Limit

A good recommendation is to set a time limit for potty training. This will usually be four to six weeks. Mark it on the calendar. For instance, potty training will begin on August 1 and on September 15 we will evaluate. If after six weeks you think your child is making progress, keep going. If you decide that very little progress has been made, you may want to stop for a few months and then try again.

A time limit helps parents focus and avoids a lackadaisical attitude that doesn’t help the child make progress. A time limit also lets you off the hook if progress is not made. Instead of feeling like a failure, parents can simply say, “We worked on it for six weeks like we planned. Now let’s take a little break before we try again.”

Do Books Help?

Reading books about potty training will be interesting to many children going through this process, but whether or not this actually helps with potty training is debatable.

Set a Schedule

At first, you may have to take your child to the potty about every two hours. Set a timer if you need to. If the child goes, you can wait another two hours. If the child does not go, you will need to try again in a half hour or so. What you are trying to do is “catch” them going potty so they start to make the connection between the feeling of a full bladder and the feeling of releasing the muscles. For bowel movements, look for cues that your child is about to go—she stops playing, turns red in the face, or hides behind the couch.

Getting to the Chair

Try to use positive statements to move your child to the potty chair.

  • “It’s time to go potty now.”
  • “You need to sit on the potty and try.”

Avoid asking a child if they need to go to the bathroom. The answer will likely be “no.”

Leave children on the potty chair for short periods of time, otherwise the process will be associated with boredom or control. Keep a small basket of special books or toys near the potty. Sing songs, read or tell stories while you wait.

What Comes First?

Many children will train for one function at a time.  It is not unusual for some children to have some success urinating in the toilet, but refuse to have a bowel movement there. Other children are very obvious when having a bowel movement and you may be able to “catch” them and move to the potty chair.

Location, Location, Location

Some children train at one PLACE or another first. They may be making good progress at daycare, but not at home. This may be due to their stage of concrete thinking. They want things to always be the same so they can predict what will happen. If there is too much difference in the procedure from home to daycare, it might be more than they can handle right away.

Self-Esteem Factor

The goal of potty training is not only to become trained for bowel and bladder function, but to do so with a high self esteem. Try to focus on the process rather than the product, and be positive.

Some experts suggest avoiding labels like “big boy” or “good girl” in potty training because they might imply that the child is a “baby” or “a bad girl” if they are not successful.

Try not to go overboard with praise or rewards. We want the motivation to be internal—feeling good about a new skill—rather than external—going potty to get M&M’s. A good middle ground might be a piece of paper on the bathroom wall and a drawer with stickers. Every time the child goes or tries, he or she can put a sticker on the paper.

Addressing Accidents

Deal with accidents matter-of-factly; never use punishment or shaming. Be prepared for regression during times of high stress. Some children go through periods where they are “over confident” and wait too long to use the bathroom, resulting in accidents. These stages are all normal.

Some children may tolerate potty training for only part of the day. If your child does well in the morning, but by 3 p.m. he or she is having nothing but accidents, you may want to limit training to part of the day.

About a third of all three-year-olds and a fourth of all four-year-olds are not dry all night. You can still have your child wear a pull-on diaper for nighttime. You may have to invest in waterproof sheets or pads until your child achieves this skill.

Diapering is an Emotional Time

When diapering is eliminated, the child loses a very close, emotional connection with parents and caregivers. During diapering, the child has your full attention and eye contact. Adults sometimes play little games like tickling toes and tummies. It’s hard for a child to lose that. Try adding other special times during the day for cuddling and undivided attention.

Curiosity Accompanies Potty Training

Your child may become very curious about body parts—his or her own and those of others, including who has which parts! Some children become very interested in the flushing process, so keep track of your keys and cell phone. Checking out the bathroom in every store or restaurant will interest many children.  Be prepared to laugh a lot and to be embarrassed, too!

Our favorite story about potty training involves 3 ½ year old “Jacob.” (Name has been changed for anonymity.) He urinates in the potty all the time, but has refused to have a bowel movement in the toilet. One day, Jacob is at a home improvement store with his parents. He is running up and down the aisles as his parents shop. Suddenly, they hear him yell, “Mom, Dad, come quick!” Mom and Dad run to the next aisle where Jacob proudly shows them that he has pooped in one of the store’s display toilets—the ones that aren’t hooked up to the plumbing…

Is Life Easier After Potty Training?

Not for awhile! You will still have the primary responsibility for this function for at least a year.

  • You will need to keep track of when your child used the bathroom and give reminders.
  • You will need to supervise wiping, flushing, hand washing and clothing.
  • You will need to know where every bathroom is in the shopping mall and how to get there quickly.
  • You will need to plan trips carefully to allow for frequent potty breaks.

We wish you success on your potty training journey! Once your child has achieved this major developmental task, be prepared for that bittersweet feeling you will get when you realize that your baby is growing up and becoming more independent.

Subscribe to our

wellness e-newsletter

Moving Health Forward

Avera is a health ministry rooted in the Gospel. Our mission is to make a positive impact in the lives and health of persons and communities by providing quality services guided by Christian values.

© 2022 Avera Health, Sioux Falls, SD. All Rights Reserved.