Mini Milestone: Ditching Diapers

Guidelines for the Right Time and Positive Practices for Learning to Use the Toilet

By the Brighter Futures Indiana Team

You can call it potty training, toilet learning or “big kid restroom time.” But no matter your terminology, helping little ones graduate from diapers to toilets can be an emotional minefield for families. There are a lot of factors to consider (and worry about) – from when to start to how to approach the whole process. And there are no limits to opinions on the matter. Some people will insist it should be finished by age two, others will argue that age three is the magic number.

But the reality is this: Learning to use the potty is a process that should begin only when your child is ready.

So, how do you know when that is? Experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend looking for these readiness signs:

  • Your child imitates your behavior.
  • Your child is able to put things where they belong.
  • Your child demonstrates independence by saying “no.”
  • Your child expresses interest in toilet training.
  • Your child can walk and is ready to sit down.
  • Your child can communicate her need to go potty.
  • Your child is able to put her clothes on and take them off.

When your child is potty training and going to child care, take the time for ongoing conversations about the process at home and in care. When all the adults are on the same page, you minimize your child's frustrations and confusion. Your child care providers should be culturally sensitive and respectful of possible differences in your beliefs and approaches to every topic – including learning to use the toilet.

In all kinds of early childhood programs, teachers and staff normally provide a routine for children who are potty training. If you and your child’s caregivers use the same routine, methods and words (e.g., potty vs. toilet, bathroom vs. restroom, pee vs. urine, etc.), it helps eliminate confusion for your child and brings a common sense of purpose to the overall effort. Communication is key – for all parties.

Taking a “no pressure” approach typically leads to the best results. Helping your child notice when it’s time to potty, and helping them learn the signs can make a big difference. This allows your child to become comfortable with and responsible for her own potty needs. Here are the kinds of phrases you can use to guide that awareness:

  • I noticed that you’re doing a little dance. Is your body telling you it’s time to go to the restroom?
  • We’re about to leave the house. I always like to take a potty break before I go. Let’s make sure you get to go before you put your coat on.
  • It looks like you have the toilet wiggles. Is it time for a trip to the restroom?

If your child experiences a fear of the loud noise of the toilet, the toilet seat itself or falling in, taking a moment to reassure them and responding with care to their concerns goes a long way. Reading books and watching friends or family members use the potty can help normalize the experience and curb any fears.

And remember…accidents are inevitable and should not result in punishment. Remaining calm and accepting that not every day will be a dry pants day helps your child stay on track. Every child is different and learns at her own pace. If your child isn’t ready, it’s best to put diapers back on for a few weeks and try again later.

It’s important to keep these key points in mind:

  • There isn’t much evidence that supports any specific methods of potty training – so, every child may benefit from a different strategy.
  • Learning to use the toilet is a process that should begin when both you and your child are willing and able to participate.
  • A positive, consistent approach to potty training creates a good experience for everyone involved – and helps your child feel supported.
  • Don’t forget to celebrate the small victories in the process – a happy high five after washing hands or a hug to tell your little learner that you are excited about their dry undies builds a sense of excitement around their wins.

Are you and your little one ready to begin? Good luck!