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Help your child know when to go

Potty training is a bittersweet time in every parent’s life. It’s a sign that your little one is growing up and taking the next step, which may bring a tear to your eye. But there’s little doubt that nostalgia will wear off quickly once you realize you won’t have a seemingly endless stream of dirty diapers to change.

"Potty training is an important milestone in your child’s life," explained Dr. Laurie Campfield, a Geisinger pediatrician. "However, it doesn’t happen overnight, and you should be prepared for both forward progress and the inevitable setbacks."

Keeping a few tips in mind before you start the potty training process will help make the transition from diapers go as smoothly as possible.

Don’t rush it

The worst thing you can do is rush potty training. Starting too early will likely result in frustration — both yours and your child’s. You’ll arrive at the endpoint at the same time as you would have if you started later.

"There are physical, behavioral and cognitive signs that your child is ready," said Dr. Campfield.

Physically, they should have predictable periods of dryness and relatively regular bowel movements. Behaviorally, they should be able to pull their underwear up and down and dislike having wet pants. Cognitively, they should recognize and communicate the feeling of "having to go."

Monkey see, monkey do

Your child learns by watching you, which is no different when it comes to potty training. It’s a natural first step in the process and will also help them learn the difference between how men and women use the toilet.

Use the correct terminology

Even if it’s awkward for you, use the terms penis, vagina and bottom when talking about their body parts. Your child knows the correct terms for their other body parts, and using comical names may make them think their genitals are a source of embarrassment.

Downsize the equipment

Invest in a child-sized toilet during the potty training process. The regular toilet is too big for small children, who may have a fear of falling in or be afraid of the loud flushing sounds.

"When a child has their own toilet, it gives them a sense of pride and ownership that can help with the process," said Dr. Campfield.

Invite superheroes and princesses to the potty party

Wearing their very own set of "big boy" or "big girl" underwear can be a great motivator for kids during potty training. Make a special trip to the store and allow them to pick out their favorite pairs.

Use positive reinforcement

Potty training is not the time to withhold praise. Make a big deal out of even small accomplishments during the process, even if everything doesn’t go smoothly. Be specific about your praise. For example, you may point out that you are happy they recognized when it was time to go, even if they didn’t make it in time.

Expect accidents

"Be forgiving of accidents during this time, even if they are very inconvenient and messy," said Dr. Campfield. "Your child will already be embarrassed, so provide them with comfort instead of criticism when it happens — and it most certainly will."

In addition to child-sized toilets, there are also specific seats parents can buy that attach directly to their existing toilet, or inserts that are easily taken on and off.

"It's an option if you don't want to clean out the potty all the time," said Dr. Campfield. "Just place a child’s step stool at the foot of the toilet so they can climb up. This also may help some kids feel ‘grown up’ because they are sitting on the regular toilet. It all depends on your child’s personality."

If you have any questions about potty training, be sure to ask your child’s pediatrician for additional advice.

Laurie Campfield, DO, is a pediatrician at Geisinger Mt. Pleasant in Scranton. To schedule an appointment for your child with Dr. Campfield or another Geisinger pediatrician, please call 1-800-275-6401 or visit

Child sitting on potty
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