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Signs of Progress for Potty Training

How to Tell if You're Making Potty Training Progress

You may believe your child is well on his way to being potty trained. But every once in a while, doubt creeps in. Here are some key signs that your child is on the right path to potty training success!

Seeing the Signs

One clue your child is making progress with training is if she asks to use the potty nearly every time she has to go instead of needing you to remind her to take a potty break. Another sign is your child may ask to wear underwear, just like her parents, older siblings or some of her peers do.

That's how Dr. Jennifer Shu, an instructor of pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School and co-author of the book Heading Home with Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2005), knew her son was ready for the next step in his potty training.

"[At first, when he was only 2-1/2] he was totally capable of using the potty long before he was mentally ready to use it consistently," says Dr. Shu. But then, influenced by his older peers at daycare who were farther along in the process, "he aspired to use the potty like his older friends did and easily became fully trained when exposed to the older children in his new class," she says. Dr. Shu's son, who is now 5, was in underwear by age 31/2.

Children on their way to becoming fully toilet trained also will remember – and carry out – other steps each time they use the potty. These include wiping themselves and thoroughly washing their hands every time they urinate or have a bowel movement.

Of course, another obvious sign of progress is your child will have fewer and fewer accidents – though they still may occur. Accidents at this stage are normal, as are some kids' desire to withhold bowel movements. According to the AAP, for some children, seeing their stools flushed away could be frightening and difficult for them to understand.

Danielle Wheeler's daughter, Ava, nearly 3, quickly figured out how to deal with any separation anxiety she may have had, moving her closer to potty-training success. "Ava learns at preschool to 'walk away' from a situation where she's annoying another child or being disruptive," says the Portland, Ore., mom. "She just started pooping in the potty and got so excited she yelled at the poop as it was being flushed, 'Walk away, poop!'"

When to Keep Things Status Quo

"Often toilet training seems to be going well, and then the process stalls," says Dr. Alan Green, pediatrician, author and main advisor to DrGreen.com. A child who starts having more frequent accidents, for example, may be communicating the need to slow down the toilet-training process, he says. This behavior may coincide with a period of stress in the family or at school.

Experts agree the best antidote to this problem is just to wait a while. Dr. Shu says there is nothing wrong with delaying moving forward with potty training, nor does it mean there is anything wrong, developmentally or emotionally, with a child who is not yet in underwear, even though some of his peers are. "When in doubt, I would advise [parents] to discuss these individual cases with their pediatrician," says Dr. Shu.

Praise and Rewards

Heaping praise and rewards on a child who is nearly out of diapers is all part of the process. Dr. Shu offered her son stickers and M&M'S® candies.

Jennifer Raber, of Portland, Ore., promised son Jack, then 3, an underwear parade. After he'd gone five days in undies with no accidents, Jennifer and husband, Barry, broke out noisemakers so Jack could lead his folks - and friends gathered for a Super Bowl party – in a parade around their house. The party culminated with a trip to the ice cream parlor to celebrate. And Jack has been in underpants ever since, Raber says.

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