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Potty Training Readiness Checklist

Determine whether now is the right time to start training your child

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There are many reasons that parents think they should start teaching a child to use the potty. Maybe her child care provider or school has age limits for diapers. Maybe you're expecting a new baby and hope to have your older one become a bit more independent. Or perhaps you've noticed that your child's friends and cousins of the same age are already using the bathroom.

It's understandable why those and many other motivating factors might have you planning to start toilet training sooner rather than later. The fact is, though, every child develops at his own pace and needs an individual approach to potty training. The first step is watching your child closely for signs of potty training readiness. Use this checklist to help you determine if your little one seems to be physically, emotionally, and cognitively ready to tackle this milestone.

1. Can your child follow instructions?

Around age 2, cognitive and verbal skills are usually developed well enough to allow your child to follow simple instructional commands such as directions to take is pants down and sit on the seat. Some parents do begin to train babies who are not able to understand these commands, but will allow parents to do the steps for them. In these instances, you can certainly have your child using the potty and even get rid of diapers, but your child is not yet independently able to use the bathroom. Your child will need to be mature enough to comprehend and imitate those actions before you can train her to use the potty.

2. Is your toddler dry for extended periods?

Again, you can take responsibility for getting your child to the potty on time to avoid an accident, but if you're looking for signs that your little one can handle getting to the potty when he needs to without your help, you should wait until he shows that he's able to hold his urine during naps or for a few hours during the day. As you start to see your child staying dry (but not quite free of accidents), you can consider switching her to cotton pants or disposable training pants like Pull Ups. This way, your child will be able to start going to the bathroom and taking down her pants on her own, taking the next step towards being fully trained.

3. Is your child interested in using the potty?

Interest is a big thing -- if you try to train a child who does NOT want to use the potty, you're going to set many frustrating battles and setbacks. On the other hand, interest itself doesn't mean you should dive into a 3-day potty training program. When my 2-year-old started following me into the bathroom everything I went and insisting on sitting on the seat, I went with it. He wasn't showing many other signs, but I didn't want to discourage his interest, so I began by just letting him sit on the seat while fully clothed. Eventually his physical skills caught up and we had a fairly smooth training period since he associated with toilet with easy going times.

4. Does your child have the physical abilities to use the bathroom alone?

Wanting to use the potty, of course, doesn't mean your child can use it. Your child needs to recognize the urge and, beyond that, needs to be able to complete the steps of pottying on his own. Can he pull down his pants and underwear himself? Can she get on and off the potty seat independently? A smaller child may need to use a stand-alone chair that's close enough to the ground to allow him to stand up from it without help. If your child is uncomfortable on the potty (too small or too big) it may also lead to a refusal to use the potty, especially for bowel movements.

5. Does your child know what to expect?

Does your child fully understand what happens behind the bathroom door? During the toddler years, parents should bring a child into the bathroom with them (dads bringing boys, moms bringing girls helps). If you have slightly older children or nieces and nephews who have recently trained, they might be happy to show off what they can do on their own as well. Make sure that you model the entire process for your toddler -- undressing, how to sit/stand, wiping, redressing, washing up. You can also use several potty training books or DVDs to explain the bathroom to your child.

6. Is everyone prepared?

So your child's ready -- are you? As you start to teach your child to use the bathroom independently it helps to have a few key items on hand -- a child-sized potty chair or seat attachment, of course, big kid pants (one that will get your child excited to drop those diapers), and a step or stool that will allow your little one to reach the sink and wash up on her own are all good things to have from day one.
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