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The Right Time to Potty Train

Fortunately, or unfortunately, I had six children in eight years, and was so busy that I waited until one brought me a dry diaper, and said, in a polite, complete sentence, “Would you please change my diaper? I’m wet.”

Most people want to begin this process sooner than that. With my second husband, we adopted a daughter, and our Polynesian nanny, Sanni, taught me some strategies I had never considered with the first batch of children. Sanni announced one day that it was time to train Kathryn, and she would not be wearing diapers for a few days. Sure enough, eight hours diaper-free was sufficient—Kat was trained. Both night and day trained. Wow!

As it turns out, most European and Asian parents potty-train their children much earlier than parents in the U.S. and from all accounts, generally faster and with less stress. Interestingly, less developed countries do it earlier than the more modernized ones. When I began researching this subject, I discovered that all the experts agreed that somewhere around the age of two is the proper time. Three pediatricians confirmed that two years is “about right.”   

The reason for the “when” is easy to understand: two is when most children develop the muscle control necessary for potty training. But what about the “how”?

There is a fast method and a slow method, and different children require different time schedules. Either way, a few key ideas to keep in mind:

  • Diapers impede potty training because they do such a great job of disguising wetness and discomfort. Moisture shields and absorbency are great—until its time to potty train. This is why less developed countries are able to potty train earlier and faster. A child wrapped in cotton cloth feels wet immediately. A child running around without a diaper sees and feels what’s happening immediately.
  • Rewards work well, while punishment is not a good idea. Positive rewards can be as simple as hugs, cheers, stickers placed on a calendar, or playing or singing a special song.  

If you’d like more strategies, check out our book, Parent’s Guide to Potty Training Your Child. (As if anyone else besides a parent would take on this task!) The book spells out the slow steps and the fast steps for potty training. We also provide a DVD How-To’s for Parents: Helping Your Child Learn Potty Training. The DVD is a documentary of real children learning this important behavioral change. The DVD and accompanying book have useful ideas about educating children and changing their behavior in a positive manner.  

Because the methods you use to train your child can have far-reaching results, I encourage you to hear from some experts on this subject and consult your pediatrician. If your child is not trained by age five, you need professional help.

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