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No More Diapers!

Last year, I approached the task of potty training with both some trepidation  -- I can barely tolerate messes of any kind, let alone those that involve bodily fluids and large amounts of laundry  -- and a bit of smug confidence. After all, my daughter, Matilda, had handled other major toddler transitions, like giving up the bottle and her pacifier, without a backward glance. And the time seemed right: She was almost 2 1/2, it was summer (fewer clothes), and she'd been entertaining an off-and-on interest in the potty for about six months.

The end result: Mission accomplished in five weeks. Not the one week I'd hoped for, but a pretty quick turnaround. And as with everything else about child rearing, I learned that there's no single, guaranteed method for toilet training. You've got to pick and choose from all the available advice, based on your and your toddler's individual personalities.

More important, you've got to know when your child is truly ready. She should be the right age (between 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 years for the majority of kids, according to most experts) and managing to stay dry in her diapers for an hour or two. Another sign? She may want go somewhere private and "hide" during her bowel movements.

But there are also subtle behavioral clues that parents might miss, notes Peter Gorski, M.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. "A child's newfound interest in imitation  -- dressing up, cooking pretend dinners, going to work  -- is an important cue," he says. "So is a desire to put things in order  -- like organizing toys  -- because toileting is a way of putting bodily functions in order too. And kids who are ready usually take pleasure in the responsibilities they have, such as helping to dress themselves."

Here are six popular approaches to taming the toilet. One isn't necessarily better than any other, nor are they mutually exclusive. To help you decide what's right for your family, we've gathered testimonials straight from the trenches.

Stephanie Wood writes frequently about child rearing.