There’s no single, guaranteed method for success in potty training. You’ve got to choose your strategy based on the kind of kid your child is, and the kind of parent you are, too.
Here are six popular approaches to taming the toilet.
1. The Wait-and-Pee (or Poop)
The Method: Starting at around age 2, watch for signals that your child is ready, but don’t pressure him. Put a potty seat in the bathroom, for example, but don’t insist that he use it. Just be supportive and praise him when he does.
Pros: Less frustration and fewer accidents because (theoretically, at least) a child succeeds quickly once he’s ready.
Cons: More than likely, your child will be in diapers longer than with other methods (though he won’t be alone—40 percent of kids aren’t trained by age 3).
Is It Right for You? This approach is especially good for a kid who’s accomplishment-oriented.
2. The Potty Planner
The Method: Set aside some time—say, the month before preschool—and make a focused effort to promote potty use. Stay close to home and gently steer your toddler to the bathroom at predictable intervals (also ask if she needs to go, to help her recognize the sensations). At the end of the allotted time, your child will be at least partly trained. Some parents declare “booty camp,” where a day or even a week is structured entirely around potty use.
Pros: Making a concerted effort helps your little one concentrate on the task at hand.
Cons: You’ll have to structure your time so that you’re home a lot, and your efforts can backfire if you’re too intense.
Is It Right for You? Yes, if you’ve got a generally cooperative child who thrives on routine. But if you or your child gets distracted or frustrated easily, pick another strategy.
3. The Training-Pants Transition
The Method: Switch your child from diapers to disposable training pants. Take him to the bathroom at intervals, ask him often if he has to go, and praise him when he gets to the potty in time. Or you could try “wet sensation” diapers that cause a coolness when he pees, and ask him to tell you when he does, so you can start timing his potty trips.
Pros: Disposable trainers contain accidents. Wet-sensation diapers do, too, and can increase your child’s awareness of his own bodily functions.
Cons: Training pants and wet-sensation diapers both can be more expensive than traditional diapers.
Is It Right for You? Sure, if you don’t mind waiting a little longer for results and you know you’ll get annoyed if your child fails to perform, disposables will reduce the anxiety for both of you.
4. Eyes on the Prize
The Method: Reward your child after her potty triumphs with something small, like a sticker. You’ll combine this method with one of the others above.
Pros: For some kids, the thought of a trip to the children’s park or Grandma’s house is motivating.
Cons: You run the risk of having your child demand compensation for every “performance.” “There are many other milestones your child must reach, and this sets a precedent for regular rewards,” warns Stavinoha.
Is It Right for You? It can be, if you know when to draw the line. Try eventually switching to rewards related to potty use, like fancy underwear.
5. The Panty Raid
The Method: Let your child pick out fun underpants. Put them on and let the spills fall where they may.
Pros: Your kid will feel grown up—and also feel accidents acutely, so she might get to the potty sooner next time.
Cons: Well, this is certainly the messiest route!
Is It Right for You? If you’re very patient and you’ve got a washing machine and dryer handy, it might be easier than going through boxes of disposables.
6. I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Pee
The Method: Each time your child uses the potty correctly, sing his praises. Ask relatives to fuss over him, too.
Pros: Internalized rewards build self-esteem, and kids usually relish attention more than any toy.
Cons: Avoid going overboard, says Christophersen. “Then, when your child has an accident, he may be deflated by the lack of support.” Tell him that accidents happen!
Is It Right for You? Words of encouragement are always a smart choice. Soon you’ll be patting yourself on the back, too—for escaping the changing of diapers bondage.