By: Keri Ann Wilmot
There may be no greater example of how differently children advance in terms of skill and cognitive development than potty training.
After nearly two decades as a pediatric occupational therapist, I know that what one child may achieve in mere weeks, may take many months of practice and patience in another child. So, try to relax; there is no rule-book. And here’s what I tell my clients as they work through the process:
Potty Training Tips
Like most difficult tasks, breaking down the mission into many, smaller achievable steps can help make all the difference in how long the process of potty training might take.
While their language skills may still be emerging, anticipate your child’s needs by paying extra attention to their expressions, the time between eating or drinking and a diaper change, or the times in the day you’ve come to expect the need to change their diapers. Help make the connections for your child by pointing out and naming what is happening to them.
The Right Clothing Matters When Potty Training
Long before you focus on the details of potty training, dress your kids in tee-shirts, pants with elastic waistbands and soft dresses. Get your child to practice putting on and taking off their simple, loose-fitting clothing with ease. And then, in those weeks or months when doing the actual training, continue to dress them in easy-on/easy-off clothing.
Model and Demonstrations are Key
Because children learn new routines best if they can see pictures and watch others in the process, demonstrate how to use the potty by watching videos, reading potty training books and – most importantly, allowing kids into the bathroom to watch parents or siblings use the toilet. Keep it simple, and without embarrassment or angst.
Make it Fun. Make it repetitive. Make it your own.
Singing songs or using rhymes with catchy phrases can help kids remember the steps in going to the potty. There are lots of books and videos on the market with these rhymes. But kids also love watching themselves as the star of their own show. Use your phone to make a video of your child during the potty training routine. Narrate the steps and tell your child’s unique story. Let them watch it many times throughout the day to help them remember the steps correctly when they finally get the urge to “go” on their own.
Get a Potty Training Doll
One of the most effective ways to teach children a new concept is to make the task fun and playful. In this regard, I’ve found a potty training doll to be a valuable tool. Children enjoy being in control of teaching the doll how to use the potty, which will, in turn, help them learn the process, too.
There are lots of dolls on the market, but here are the things I think are important: A potty training doll should come with its own potty chair. And the doll must have easily-removable clothing that allows children to practice the process of dressing and undressing, before and after using the potty. Just like they do. If the doll also comes with a little song or jingle that can make you both smile, or remind a child of each step to take, all the better.
Baby’s First has a simple, soft, huggable potty training doll in versions for boys and girls, that I think does the trick. Here’s a link to learn more: Shop Dolls.
While not anatomically correct, and with nothing too complicated or glitzy, this doll has everything you need to engage your child in the kind of role-playing that can be so instructive and supportive. The fact that the doll is also machine washable is another great advantage.
Encourage play around the subject of teaching the doll to use the potty. Enter into their world. Ask questions and make sweet comments to help your child think through the exercise.
“Uh-oh, your baby is sitting on the potty with her underwear on! That does not seem like a good idea! Let’s think about it. What should she do first?”
A Potty Chair or Toilet Insert? Or Both?
Some parents opt for a potty chair that sits on the floor, others purchase an insert that fits on top of the traditional toilet seat. I often suggest that the potty chair can lead to the toilet insert, as the child becomes more confident. A sturdy step stool may help kids safely get on and off the toilet, too.
Regardless of which you are using, make sure you monitor and help your child practice getting on and off the potty chair or the toilet seat until you are absolutely sure they have the right coordination and balance to use it safely. It is, after all, another skill to learn.
7. Rewards Play a Big Role
Sing, clap, cheer, use incentives or rewards. Enticements and encouragement can play a big role in motivating kids to keep on trying.
Expect setbacks. Reward good times. Remember to play, and stay positive.
And at some point, I promise, this difficult obstacle will be a distant memory, allowing you to be a support system full of expert tips for your friends, too!
Keri Wilmot is a full-time pediatric occupational therapist with nearly two decades of clinical experience, working with infants, young children and their families. To further her work, she developed a talent for discovering developmental toys that might promote a child’s skills in natural and playful ways, and has shared those insights with parents and caregivers through her website, ToyQueen.com.