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Toilet Training: Trials and Triumphs

What's it worth?

Most kids, unlike Elsa, do like praise, and that's where all that smiling and encouraging come in. Try not to scold your child for accidents -- they're totally normal, and you don't want your child to feel pressured or shamed.

Clapping and cheering, though, may motivate a child only so much. Incentives are an important part of potty training. I'm not advocating that you buy your child something every time she sits on the potty, but hey, we're all more interested in doing something if it's worth our while. You can use small rewards, like stickers or an extra bedtime story, for little successes, or bigger ones -- like a much-wanted toy or a special outing -- when the diapers are gone (or when the end is in sight).

Sometimes the best motivation won't come from you. We enrolled Zack in a summer program just before his third birthday. The program had a pool -- but you couldn't go into it if you were still in diapers. Zack took one look at that pool and was trained within days.

Peer pressure can work for you, too. Preschoolers want to do what their pals are doing, and that includes being potty trained. The cool underwear or wanting to be like older siblings has helped others.

Back to Natasha (now 5). She seemed ready by 2½, but I saw two problems. First, she always needs to be in charge. Second, we weren't ready. It was September, and with three kids starting school, we were way too busy to take on potty training.

So we put it off. We talked about doing it, and she characteristically said no. Of course not now, we told her. When you're 3. We took her to see the preschool she was going to attend the following year, which absolutely fascinated her, and we pointed out that the children there weren't wearing diapers. "But I don't want to use the potty," she said. Of course not now, we told her. When you're 3. We went to the store and she picked out pretty panties. You can't wear them now, we told her. You have to wait until you're 3. She looked at the panties a bit wistfully and, little by little, began to talk about using the potty when she turned 3.

Finally, her third birthday arrived. We got the potty out of the attic, took the panties out of the package, and told her it was time. "Okay," she said. After my years of frustrating moments, cleaning up puddles, and trying idea upon idea, she was toilet trained.