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Potty Training In Time for Preschool

Q. We've signed our 3-year-old up for preschool, but he's not potty-trained yet. How can we have him trained by September?


A. First things first: Does the preschool require that kids be toilet-trained? Some, like my daughter Elsa's preschool, have a gentle policy and allow pull-on diapers for a few months.

If the preschool does ask that the children arrive in underwear, and not diapers, the next question is: Does your son show signs that he's ready to be potty-trained? For instance:

  • Does he have words for urine and stool?
  • Does he stay dry for longer periods of time than he used to (e.g., he's dry after a nap)?
  • Is he physically capable of pulling down his pants and getting on and off a potty or toilet?
  • Does he seem bothered by having a wet or soiled diaper on?
  • Is he showing some interest in training (he likes to watch people use the bathroom and is willing to sit on the toilet or potty)?

Most kids will be ready between 2 and 4  -- so at 3 your son could go either way. If he's not showing signs of readiness, potty training is likely to be an exercise in frustration for all of you. If that's the case, or if he just isn't getting the hang of it or is feeling upset, back off. Wait at least a couple of weeks before you try again. But don't lose hope. It's not uncommon for a child who wasn't using the toilet in, say, June to turn around and be potty-trained a month later. You just never know what'll do the trick. For instance, my friend Lisa's son, Ian, is the same age as my youngest, Natasha, and the two of them are very close. When Lisa told Ian, who'd been having trouble with potty training, that Natasha didn't wear diapers anymore, he insisted on wearing underwear, too.

Another encouraging example is my 12-year-old, Zack: When he was 3, he was perfectly content to be wet and made puddles whenever I took off his diaper. But when he was told he couldn't go in the big pool at summer camp until he was out of diapers, he was trained within just a few days!

If your child does seem interested in toilet training, then be positive; any attempt on his part, including sitting on the potty fully clothed, deserves major hurrahs. Let him pick out his own underwear at the store, so he can wear them instead of diapers as you train. (Diapers are so absorbent, they don't give a child much incentive to urinate in a potty instead.) And don't scold him for accidents; they're completely normal.

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