Bye Bye Diapers

The economic crisis, strife in the Middle East, natural disasters and the latest celebrity scandal may feature big in the daily news, but eavesdrop on any group of parents of preschoolers and one of the top conversations will probably be potty training.


Questions abound, from when to start to the best way to go about it. The most important thing for parents to know is that, much like crawling or walking, potty readiness is a developmental milestone. Every child will reach this step at a different age, when physically and emotionally ready to ditch the diapers and take the trip to the toilet.


Q: How can I tell if my daughter is ready to start potty training?


A: Most children are ready between ages 2 and 4, but there are factors more important than age.


Diapers may be on the way out if your child:


  • Stays dry for at least two hours at a time
  •  Can follow simple instructions
  •  Is becoming uncomfortable with dirty diapers and wants them changed
  •  Goes and hides to urinate or have a bowel movement
  •  Asks to use a potty or the toilet
  •  Asks to use regular underwear


Q: My 3-year-old son is asking to use the potty. What’s the best way to start training?


A: Start by swapping the diapers with some thick cotton underwear that has several layers. Diapers are amazingly absorbent, so your son needs to experience what it’s like to be wet to encourage him that getting to the toilet or potty will help him feel a lot more comfortable.


Avoid pull-ups, as they have the same absorbency as diapers and children can get very attached to them – especially if they picture a favorite princess or superhero!


If your son is showing signs of readiness, it’s an opportune time to prepare him by letting him see others using the toilet, introducing books or DVDs on the subject and talking to him about using the potty. Be encouraging and praise success!


If he resists, don’t insist. You don’t want toilet training to be a stressful time by pushing him too fast or punishing mistakes. Accidents and mistakes are bound to happen.


Essentially, potty training should take one day, if you pick the right day. If it’s taking weeks, months or years, it’s likely that you are trying to make it happen before your child is ready.


Q: My 3-year-old daughter has been potty trained for a while. But since her little baby brother came along, she has been having accidents again. What should I do?


A: Any change, especially such an important one as a new sibling, can make a child regress. These accidents can also occur because your child is seeking your attention. Remain matter-of-fact and give the accident as little attention as possible – otherwise she’ll learn this is the best way to get your full attention. Ask her to help you clean up the mess, then move on to something else. Praise her next time she uses the toilet in time.


Q: My daughter is showing signs of being ready to use the toilet, but is very attached to her diapers. What’s the best way to wean her from them?


A: Try the following four-week plan to ease her into toilet training:


  • Week one: Let her wear a diaper, but make sure she goes into the bathroom to get down to business.
  •  Week two: Allow her to keep the diaper on, but encourage her to sit on the toilet or potty when she needs to go.
  •  Week three: Cut a hole in the diaper, so that when she sits on the toilet to urinate or have a bowel movement, it goes into the toilet.
  •  Week four: Graduate to underwear and using the toilet or potty.


Remember that although it might feel like your daughter will never let go of her beloved diapers, this is just a stage and she will soon prefer regular underwear and using the toilet.


Q: My 5-year-old son never has an accident during the day, but still wets his bed at night. What should I do?


A: Nighttime dryness is a completely separate developmental milestone from daytime potty training, and may take a lot longer to reach. Many children under 7 still wet the bed at night, and this is considered very much within the normal range. Simply continue to use a diaper at night to keep him dry. Children older than 7 can use a bedwetting alarm that is triggered by moisture and wakes the child up, so he or she can get up and use the bathroom. Speak to your doctor if you are at all concerned about your son’s bedwetting. However, know that he will most likely outgrow this issue.


Iris Kaddis Hanna, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Mountain View Center. Advice is not intended to take the place of an exam or diagnosis by a physician.




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