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Toilet Training: Trials and Triumphs

Is he ready?

Before you give potty training a try, I was taught, your child must show signs of readiness. He should, for example:

• Have words for "urine," "stool," and "potty" or "toilet." ("Pee-pee," "poop," or other slang is fine.)

• Be at least somewhat bothered by being (or have some sense that he is) wet or soiled.

• Have an interest in using the potty -- he should be open to sitting on it, and might follow people into the bathroom to see what they're doing in there.

• Have some awareness of when he is about to urinate or have a bowel movement.

Pretty clear, right? The first two are, and they're crucial, because if your child is happy to live in a poopy diaper, or has no way of telling you otherwise, you're not going to get very far.

But the other signs can be murkier. Zack, our second child, had the right words, showed some desire to be changed, and was enchanted by the potty, but he never produced anything there. When we took his diaper off, he blithely made puddles everywhere. (He wound up using one of those seats you put on your toilet so your kid won't fall into it.)

To figure out when your child is ready, you'll ultimately have to guess. Most pediatricians suggest starting to look for the signs around age 2, but some kids are ready even earlier  -- and many won't be for a year or more after that. The best you can do is give it a shot when you notice some of the signals. If it turns out that your child wasn't so ready after all, you can simply try again later.

Are you ready?

Potty training takes energy and patience. It requires countless bathroom visits, not to mention the laundry and puddle cleaning. All of which you're expected to do with an encouraging smile. I don't know about you, but there have definitely been periods in my life when I couldn't have pulled that off, certainly not with a smile. A new job, a new baby, marital stress  -- some things simply don't mix with potty training. You shouldn't feel bad about postponing; it will be far easier if you wait until the time's right for you.

It's important that everyone who looks after your child be on the same page, so talk with your caregiver to be sure she's ready, too. If your child goes to a daycare center, check to see whether it has any toilet-training routines or policies. You may be able to coordinate your efforts and find a solution that's convenient for them, you, and your toddler.