Ask Dr. Sears: Potty-Training Problems

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Ask Dr. Sears: Potty-Training Problems

Q. We’re trying to potty-train our 2-year-old, but he doesn’t seem interested in it. Everyone around me tells me that he should already be trained. Please help!

A. First of all, the people around you are exaggerating. It’s unlikely that all of their boys were perfectly potty-trained by the age of 2. There are at least two reasons why: Boys tend to potty-train later than girls, and the age at which a child is trained varies greatly. More to the point, how early a child is potty-trained has nothing to do with good parenting. That said, you may need to encourage your son’s interest in learning to use the toilet. Here are some methods we’ve used successfully in our family and in our pediatric practice:

  • Watch your toddler. When you see “about to go” signs — grabbing and peering inside his diaper, squatting, crossing his legs, grimacing, grunting and retreating to a corner — it means that he is neurologically ready for toilet training. In other words, he’s aware of the signals from his bladder and bowels.


  • Be sure your training is timely. Wait for your toddler to be in a generally positive mood before you try to teach him anything about going to the potty.


  • Show and tell. Little ones love to imitate, so let your son watch Daddy go to the bathroom.


  • Try some gentle peer pressure. If your toddler has a few slightly older friends also in training or if he’s in daycare, they may be of help by showing him that going to the potty is what big kids do.


  • Play the pick-a-potty game. Children are more likely to use the potty they choose, as well as any associated props. (Our sons loved what we called “tinkle toys” — tiny, dissolvable targets that float around and teach little boys proper aim.) If you teach him to go to the bathroom in an adult toilet, be sure he can rest his feet on a stool. Dangling feet tense the rectal muscles, making it harder to have a bowel movement.


  • Remind your toddler. Busy toddlers often ignore their body’s signals and need a few prompts. Shadow your child and as soon as you notice the “about to go” signs, issue a prompt “It’s time to go potty,” as you usher him in the direction of the nearest toilet. These frequent reminders will help your son make the connection between “feeling” and “going.” Bare bottoms make training easier, too. We let our beginning toilet-trainers run around diaperless, clad only in a T-shirt.


  • There’s one reminder for parents, too, when it comes to potty-training: As with all developmental milestones, toddlers take two steps forward and one step back. Expect regressions and days when your son would rather be a baby than a big boy.