Potty training is a normal developmental task for children, though of all the developmental tasks children achieve, this can be one of the most frustrating for parents! Many parents begin with a child-led approach. This includes modeling how to use the potty, having potty chairs available for the children to explore, allowing kids to sit on the potty to practice as they are ready, and praising the child for successes. This approach works great for many children, though not every child reaches full success with this model. It can be tricky to praise and reward your child for successes if they are not willing to sit on the potty or if they do not have frequent enough success using the potty. This may result in little motivation for potty training. You can make a child sit on the potty, but as parents, we cannot make our child actually pee!
Psychologists Azrin and Foxx developed a method to complete potty training in a day! Research suggests that their very specific approach is successful. While parents may choose not to implement the strategy as rigidly as described, utilizing the principles of this method can be a nice alternative to a child-led approach.
- Stay “dry” for a few hours at a time
- Pull pants up and down independently
- Imitate interactions
- Follow simple directions
- Indicate with words, gestures, or postures when having a bowel movement or urinating.
A child typically achieves these abilities between 22 and 30 months of age. It is a bonus if your child is showing an interest in the potty.
Once you know your child is ready to proceed with the task of potty training, the first phase is teaching the steps of using the potty through the use of a doll. Give the doll a drink, remove the doll’s pants, sit the doll on the potty, and praise the doll for success. Then check the dolls diaper and if the diaper is dry, the doll earns more rewards. Have your child repeat the doll demonstration several times. Then walk through the potty routine with your child completing each of these steps themselves.
The focus is then shifted to maintaining dry pants. Set a timer for intervals of 15 minutes. When the timer goes off, have your child check his pants. If they are dry, reward your child! This allows for lots of frequent rewards. It is a good idea to use a few ounces of one of your child’s favorite drinks as a reward; this will increase the frequency of urination (consider rewards that your child does not typically have access to). You can ask your child if they want to sit on the potty, though it can be his decision. This is how we can decrease the power struggles that arise with some children.
If your child wets his pants, withhold the reward for that time interval. Then use “overcorrection” or repeated practice of the potty routine; walk your child through each of the steps of sitting on the potty several times in a row. Then return to setting the timer and rewarding each interval of dry pants. The desire to maintain dry pants and earn a reward will likely motivate your child to use the potty.
Most importantly, maintain a positive attitude about this challenging task. Choose an approach that fits with your style and the temperament of your child. If you run into roadblocks along the way, take a break for a few weeks; it will be good for everyone involved. And remember, healthy children will achieve this task!