Helping toddlers learn to use the toilet

August 04, 2011|By AMY DULEBOHN |
  • Michele Feigley, senior staff coordinator at The Learning Center in Hagerstown shows the "potty super stars door" that children get their names added to when they become potty trained.
By Yvette May/Staff Photographer

Parents of toddlers are often warned by well-meaning friends, family members and co-workers about the “terrible twos,” a time in a child’s life when they might become strong-willed and temperamental.

While this phase is challenging for parents, another phenomenon often takes place around the same time, which, while challenging, can also reap rewards for children and their parents — potty training.

Michele Feigley, senior staff coordinator at The Learning Center in Hagerstown, says when it comes to potty training, young children are all “very different,” but 2 is the average age for the process to begin.

She also says children must be at least somewhat verbal by the time they are ready to begin the process, including being able to ask to use the toilet, or ask for a dry diaper if they are wet or soiled.  

Dr. Paul Shuster, pediatrician with Weiss, Becker, Shuster & Budi in Hagerstown, agrees, and notes that some children will show an early interest through mimicking using the toilet or a potty chair, based on what they have seen older siblings or adults in the home do.

At first, he advises to let the child keep his or her clothes and diaper on, until he or she gets used to the seat. Shuster also says it is important that children have “access to the toilet,” as they begin showing interest in training.

Shuster says another important part of potty training is to “wait for the child to be ready. Forcing the issue creates fear and anxiety (for the child).”

“The term potty training is a misnomer. Kids potty train themselves and adults try not to screw it up too much,” he said.  

At the daycare facility, staff members walk toddler-age children through the entire “bathroom process” Feigley says, from explaining how the toilet works to reading books about potty training to help educate toddlers about the process.

Rather than using potty chairs, children who attend the center are given stools so they can climb directly onto the toilet.

“We cut out the middle man,” Feigley says.

This technique allows the trainees to “be more comfortable and more independent,” she says.

An added bonus for the parents or child-care provider is that there is no seat that must be cleaned in between uses.

On average, it can take about six months for a toddler to be fully potty trained, but Feigley says at times it can take as little as three months. An indication of success is when a child can sleep through their naptime without an accident, or needing to wear training pants.

At The Learning Center, Feigley says she sees the toddlers getting a lot of encouragement from their friends when it comes to learning to use the toilet. A kind of “buddy system,” works well when two children are training at the same time. When they are successful, the toddlers get a star-shaped sticker added to the bathroom door, known as the “potty super stars door.”

“That is a huge deal for them,” Feigley says.   

Shuster and Feigley agree, too, that girls generally train at an earlier age than boys. Some tips to help boys become more interested in using the toilet that are used at the Learning Center, include dropping a few Cheerios into the toilet bowl, and encouraging the child to aim, and “sink” them; a few drops of blue food coloring in the toilet bowl will cause the water to turn green when urine is added; and a few drops of dishwashing soap will create bubbles when the toilet is urinated into.

Regardless of the age of a child who begins to potty train, or the length of time it takes for him or her to be successful, Feigley says it is important for parents to be patient with their children. “We have a common goal of wanting children to be successful. We just keep working at it.”  

Tips for potty training
Here are some tips provided by staff at The Learning Center to help parents and caregivers guide their children through the potty-training process.
• Talk about the toilet and how it works
• Use “potty” lingo that you are comfortable with
• Read aloud children’s potty books
• Offer stickers on a sticker chart as a reward.

Bathroom prep:
• Place a child-sized stool in front of the toilet
• Have a sticker chart hanging within view
• Place stool in front of sink for hand washing
• Keep a basket of special books within the child’s reach

Tips for parents:
• Be consistent, make potty time part of your routine
• Be patient — don’t give up
• Stay positive; accidents happen
• Offer praise, verbal and nonverbal
• Communicate with other caregivers regarding potty-training progress

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