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To make potty training as smooth a process as possible for you and your toddler, take a moment to learn about not only what works, but what doesn't:
Starting too soon
Starting potty training before your toddler is ready will only make it more difficult and prolong the process. There's no magic time when it's right to begin. Most toddlers have the necessary physical and mental skills between 18 and 24 months, while some aren't ready until they're closer to age 3 or even 4. Keep an eye out for physical, cognitive, and behavioral signs that your toddler is set to give it a try.
It may take up to three months or even longer to potty-train your child, and it's important to be patient and supportive throughout. If you've been trying for several weeks without success, your toddler may not be ready – wait a few more weeks and try again.
Starting at the wrong time
It's not a good idea to begin training a week before the new baby is due, when you're changing caregivers, or during any other disruptive time in your child's life. Toddlers are creatures of routine, and any changes to the usual program are likely to cause setbacks. So wait until things have settled down before you start.
Putting on the pressure
If your toddler has started to show an interest in potty training, that's great. But don't push her to get through it faster than she can handle. If she gets nervous, she could start holding in her stool, which can lead to constipation and other problems.
Let her take her time and get used to this new, multipart process step by step. She'll move from one stage to the next at her own speed. It's fine to try to motivate with gentle reminders and encouragement, but if she balks, don't push it.
Following someone else's timetable
It will get harder with each week, but no matter how many times you hear your parents, your in-laws, or someone else from an earlier generation tell you that you should hurry up and start training, let it roll off your back.
Potty training methods change from one generation to the next, and what was standard practice when you were a child may no longer be the norm. These days it's typical to wait for signals your child is ready rather than impose a schedule of your own. And research suggests children can't voluntarily control the muscles for their bladder and rectum until they're at least 18 months old.
So if you hear any more stories about Cousin Jim's son who was trained by his first birthday, smile, nod, and say, "We have a plan. We're not worried about it." For support and advice from other parents, visit our potty training community forum.
Punishing your child
It won't accomplish a thing to get angry or penalize your toddler if she's not interested in training, won't sit on the potty, has an accident, or has any of the other common problems kids have while potty training. Setbacks are natural, and scolding will only make her less interested in training – she'll be afraid any mistakes will upset you. If you can, respond to messes and other challenges calmly – and if you can't, bite your tongue and count to ten, then try again.