There are three main steps to successful potty training. The first of these three is to stop using diapers. For most kids, it’s easiest to go to the bathroom in their diaper, and so switching to underwear takes that option away. Some parents choose to keep a pull-up on their child overnight, which does not usually affect daytime potty training. If your child has an accident during the day, respond in a neutral manner and get them involved in the clean up process.
The second step is to develop a “sitting schedule.” A sitting schedule entails having your child sit at specified times of the day, everyday. This increases the likelihood that your child will have an opportunity to go potty in the potty. A good starting sitting schedule is to have your child sit on the potty after waking in the morning, after any naps, after each meal, and before bed. You can then add in additional times to sit if you notice your child tends to have accidents at certain times of the day. A good rule of thumb is to have a potty break every two hours or less. Sitting should last 5-10 minutes, or until your child goes to the bathroom.
The final component to potty training is reinforcement. At first, you want to reinforce sitting, even if your child does not actually urinate or defecate in the potty. The most effective way of doing this is to plan for a fun activity while your child is seated. It’s often best to have this activity be something your child doesn’t often get to do, like play with your phone, for instance. This fun activity has the added benefit of relaxing your child, which increases the chance they will go on the potty. You also want to reinforce your child when they urinate or defecate on the potty. For most kids, simple rewards, like a sticker chart or heavy praise and cheering from mom and dad is enough.
Carolyn Kessler, Ph.D., is a child psychologist with more than 10 years of experience working with children, adolescents, and their families on issues related to behavior management and parenting, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, developmental disabilities, and ADHD. Family training is a key component of her therapy. Dr. Kessler specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders. She is a Codirector of Psychology Services at the New York University Child Study Center’s Institute for Pediatric Neuroscience and is in private practice in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where she provides assessment, treatment, and consultation to families and schools. In addition to standardized testing of IQ, achievement, memory, and behavior, her assessment skills include the use of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), an instrument on which Dr. Kessler trains other professionals, as well as the Autism Diagnostic Interview- Revised (ADI-R).