Potty Training School for parents: A happy course to dryness

Stay positive during potty training! The first step is getting your child to practice sit times.Course description: Potty training is a big step for kids and their parents. With so much information to take in, it can be confusing for parents to help guide their child. Take this “class” to learn tips and pitfalls from a specialist, and stay positive during the transition to the toilet!

Potty professor: Dr. Barb Felt is a developmental behavioral pediatrician, with a passion for elimination disorders and sleep disorders. At the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital multidisciplinary Eliminations Disorders Clinic, Dr. Felt works closely with a pediatric psychologist. Together, they evaluate and propose a plan for families, seeing them through until they are stable and healthy.

Potty prerequisites: Before we go any further, it is important to remember that each family and child has a unique situation. There is no fit-all method. But, a helpful rule to get started with potty training is to stay positive and support your child. Some children will naturally need more time to adapt to using the toilet so be ready for several months of positive effort. Still, if you see any signs of developmental, health or behavioral change that are a concern to you along the way, visit your pediatrician or family practitioner for guidance. With that in mind, we hope this crash course will help your family get an A+ for potty training effort!

Syllabus check list: Is my child ready to potty train?

  • Can your child communicate to you when they’ve had an accident or need to go?
  • Does your child show interest in the potty? (Do they try to follow a sibling into the bathroom or ask about it?)  Does your child ask for a change of diaper when they have an accident?
  • Can your child stay dry for 2 hours during the day?
  • Is your child having regular bowel movements?
  • Can your child get to the bathroom on their own?

Training 101: The first steps toward the potty

  1. Sit down and discuss the game plan with the child and any other primary care givers.
  2. Establish the end goal and tell your child you are a support team to help get there.
  3. Evaluate the comfort and safety of your potty training seat. If your child is on the adult-sized toilet, using a special seat top or not, they will feel more safe and comfortable if they can support their feet on a stool.
  4. Designate times of the day that would work best for your child’s “sit times.” The best times may be transition points, like after waking up and after meals.
  5. When it is “sit time,” tell your child to give the potty a try. Keep this as a direction or statement, not a question. Young children may misjudge the time needed to get to the toilet in time to go, so  the sit times provide regular opportunities that will help promote a cycle of being dry and clean.
  6. Use praise as an immediate reward for sitting. Some children also benefit from having a fun or special activity that can follow the sit times and encourage cooperation. Getting to sitting is the first step.

The advanced course: Pools and prizes

  1. As your child begins to stay dry for longer periods of time during the day, it can be helpful to let them wear big kid undies instead of diapers. Identify the time of day that is most typically dry for your child and when you are able to help them in case of an accident, and move away from the diaper for a few hours. You can continue to build on that success and extend it further into the day.
  2. If you are traveling with your child-in-training, you may have to let go of some control. Try to allow for similarly scheduled sit times as at home, keeping a portable potty or receptacle on hand in case you cannot make it to a rest stop. Be sure to keep up fluid and good fiber foods to avoid constipation.
  3. When it comes to pool time, water proof pants is a must for several months after your child has mastered day-time dryness. Ask your child to come out each hour for a sunscreen and bathroom break.
  4. If your child is heading to stay with a family member or to a school program, discuss the schedule you’ve worked to establish with the care providers. Try to keep the sit times on track and request only positive enforcement from caregivers.
  5. Even as your child grows a bit older and has established routine dryness, keep in mind that pit stops are not always natural for them. In particular, young girls have a tendency to wait too long to visit the bathroom. Insist on stops when you know they will be waiting a while before the next opportunity to go.

Study guide: Myths and tips to consider


Our tips

My child should start staying dry through the night soon after they are during the day. About 1 out of 6 kids ages 5-6 years wets the bed. The average age for night dryness varies, but for some it can take an additional 32-35 months after daytime dryness. Give it time!
Now that my child has begun potty training, they are ready to take ownership and manage their potty routine themselves. It’s great to ask kids to do things that are in their control, like to sit on the potty. But, the ability to hold it in or make it to the potty on time may not be in their control yet. Many children at potty training age are also asserting autonomy by doing things, which may include demanding or refusing potty visits. “Sit times” strategically placed at transition points of day (after meals, before and after bed) should be a direction, not a question, to help guide children to success.
My child should only be rewarded when they go to the bathroom on the potty. If your child agrees to try a planned “sit time,” but doesn’t go, they would still benefit from immediate, positive reinforcement for listening and trying.
It’s best to start potty training early. Some data shows that if you begin potty training earlier, it may actually take longer to accomplish. On average, potty training is completed at 3 years of age.
Making a sticker chart or reward system that includes all of my child’s behavior and discipline will help motivate them to potty train. Some kids are able to use a chart system that targets a lot of things at once, but others would benefit from a focused effort that hones in on the most important task. No matter what, stick to positives and try not to take points or stars away for failure at this younger age.
Limiting  my child’s fluids before bedtime will help them stay dry through the night. Again, about 15% of 5 year olds do not stay dry through the night. Allow up to 3 years after your child is dry during the day to catch up at night. Hydration is very important for kids at this age, as many experience natural constipation.

Congratulations on completing the potty training course! Do any of these tips work well for you and your child? Have any pointers of your own? Post your thoughts to start a study group using the comment section below!


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About Mott Children’s Hospital

University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” including #3 in the country for heart and heart surgery. In November, the hospital moves to a new state-of-the-art facility that will be home to cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.