Dr. Mom: Some common problems to avoid during potty training

01/24/2012 12:00 AM

02/26/2013 8:10 PM

Potty training seems to incite fear and stress among parents. And with all the horror stories we hear from family, friends and others, it's no wonder. It doesn't help that there's a stark paucity of science to support one strategy over the other. Even timing is up for debate.

So, what's a potty training parent to do?

First, take a deep breath, relax, and know that your child will progress on to big-kid underwear. I promise. It will happen. I'm a huge believer in "follow your child's lead," and the rest will eventually fall into place. I also advocate for keeping it as low-key and stress-free as possible.

I've got two potty trained kiddos under my parenting belt. One was trained at 3 1/2 years old after much encouragement and positive reinforcement. The other practically potty trained herself at 2 1/2 years old.

That brings me to my next potty training mantra. Tailor your approach to match the temperament and development stage of each unique child.

Parents frequently get hung up on common potty training pitfalls. Here are the five most common ones I encounter. And yes, I've gotten hung up myself. Save yourself and your child time, stress, and worry by making sure you don't get hung up on these:

Comparing your child to your friend's child. In general, it's never a great idea to compare milestones with other moms.

Kids develop on their own timelines. Potty training is no different. Just because your friend's daughter was completely trained by 2 does not mean your 3-year-old is delayed or that your friend has superior parenting skills.

In fact, the age at which a child is trained to go to the bathroom is not a reflection of good or bad parenting. It's ultimately up to the child. It is, after all, the child's success, not ours to own.

What matters most is to get started with the process once your child displays readiness signs such as an ability to help dress or undress, interest in using the toilet, telling you when he has to go, displaying pride in his independence, and expresses interest in big kid underwear. In general, this can happen anytime between 18 months and 3 years old.

Some studies actually show that initiation of potty training prior to 27 months old does not lead to completion any sooner than if you waited. Both my children fell on the latter end of the spectrum and the upside to that is they reached completion fairly quickly. No long, drawn-out process.

Potty training matters more to you than to your child. Toddlers are incredibly intuitive. They know when you're stressed, anxious or upset. And if you're any of these things when it comes to potty training, you can bet your little one will put up quite the fight. Your child must want this. If not, you'll just be banging your head against the wall.

Punishing or getting upset when your child has an accident. Do your best to stay positive, even on accident-filled days. Accidents will happen. The first few days will be a steep learning curve for everyone. Praise for effort, and by all means, if your child is motivated by reward charts, use them.

All-or-nothing approach to using the toilet. Parents often expect nighttime dryness to coincide with daytime potty training. In most cases, this simply doesn't happen. And it's completely normal. It often takes months to years for children to become dry at night. It's OK for your child to wear pull-ups at night. This is not considered a potty training failure or setback by any means.

Also, many children will not have a bowel movement in the toilet for months after being potty trained. Be patient. It will happen. There is no need to force the issue.

Constipation. If it hurts for your child to have a bowel movement, you can bet he'll be resistant to try it in the toilet. Make sure your child's stools are soft and regular by offering fiber-rich foods and plenty of water daily.

Potty training, like many parenting issues, is not an exact science. Take heart in knowing that you can support and guide your child through the process and that the potty training days don't have to be stress-filled. Instead, keep it low-key and do your best to avoid these common hang-ups.

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