Question: We've been trying to potty train our son since he turned two years old, so far without success. We've been at it for several months now, but we're not making any progress. Is this normal?


Potty training is a touchy subject. It's the source of a great deal of unnecessary stress and anxiety for moms and dads, especially those who are experiencing parenthood for the first time. Our advice to you at this point is simple: relax. There's no reason to be concerned about a two-and-a-half-year-old who isn't toilet trained yet. The average age for potty training is three, and that's just an average. In other words, it suggests that while some kids are trained closer to two, others don't reach that milestone until they're four.

Pressure from other family members

We'd be willing to guess that one of the biggest reasons for the stress you're experiencing is the amount of pressure you're receiving from family and friends. Maybe grandma is telling you that in her day babies were toilet trained by the time they were eighteen months old. If that's the case, grandma needs to give your kid a break. If she thinks that children nowadays are potty training later than they did when she was a young mom (and it's always possible that her memory on this point isn't as accurate as she supposes), there may actually be a reasonable explanation for this. Grandma probably used cloth diapers, whereas most parents today use disposables. Since disposables are far more absorbent than cloth, kids don't feel the same degree of discomfort when they're wet. As a result, they're not in such a hurry to toilet train as they were in the past.

Signs that your child is ready

Here's a key principle to bear in mind: The toddler who succeeds in potty training is the one who is developmentally ready and wants to be trained. If kids are forced into toilet training before both of these factors emerge, they may develop a negative attitude that will only prolong the process. Here are a few signs that can help you decide if your child is mature enough to begin:

  • He demonstrates some awareness that elimination (especially of the stool) is going on.
  • The time between wet diapers is increasing. This indicates that a specific spinal cord reflex, which automatically empties an infant's bladder, is now being inhibited by signals from the brain.
  • He is able to understand and carry out two or three simple commands in sequence.
  • Predictable bowel movements. Regularity can help you figure out the times of day when training attempts are most likely to succeed.
  • He tries to imitate some of the things you do every day.
  • Can he pull his pants down and pull them back up by himself? For obvious reasons, this skill is vital to his success.
  • Does he want to wear "big boy" underwear? This symbol of independence can be a tremendous asset. Underwear can actually be used to reward a child for his or her interest in toilet training.
  • He is not embroiled in negativism. If your child's favourite word is still no and you're still neck deep in a daily struggle for control, this is not the best time to start potty training.

How you can be ready to teach

In addition to your two-year-old being ready to learn, you must also be ready to teach. We suggest you begin by talking about the subject in such a way as to spark your child's interest. Direct his mind to the excitement of the future when his toilet habits will prove to everyone how "grown up" he is. Let him know how happy you will be for him whenever he succeeds. Then sit him on the potty chair and begin to exercise some patience. Be prepared for mistakes, and don't let them upset you. Praise and reward successes. Above all, try to maintain a casual attitude throughout, and avoid the use of punishment. As we've already indicated, a few children are not ready for potty training until they are three or four years of age, though most will make the grade much sooner. Above all, don't worry when all the other children you know are trained and your child is not. Everyone eventually learns to use the toilet.

© 2010 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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