Play up the pottying positives. Before your first diaper-free trial run, highlight the benefits of using the toilet. You might say, "Wearing underwear is fun!" or "Pretty soon you can flush, just like Mommy and Daddy!" But don't knock diapers or call your child's old habits babyish — that could provoke your tot’s contrarian streak and lead to real resistance.
- Establish standard bathroom talk. Some experts recommend using formal words (defecate, urinate) rather than slang so kids won't be embarrassed by babyish terms when they're older — but what's more important is to be consistent in your usage. And never refer to your child's diaper contents as "smelly" or "gross"; she'll be much more comfortable with toileting if she views elimination as a natural, non-"yucky" process.
- Commend grown-up behavior in general. Let your child know that you support her burgeoning maturity by praising feats such as drinking from a cup without spilling and sharing toys with a pal. Don't demand too much sophistication, however — if she feels pressured to perform, she may start yearning for the simpler days of babyhood (and acting accordingly).
- Read all about it. Seek out a potty-training book geared to toddlers and read it together. But don't feel you need to hammer home a lesson or compare your toddler to the characters — just hearing about other kids using the potty will help her feel more comfortable when making the leap.
- Provide easy access. Get in the habit of dressing your toddler in the right potty training clothes (pants that pull up and down without any fiddling — no overalls or tricky buttons), and then practice the all-important pull-down maneuver. Ask your toddler to pull down his or her pants before diaper changes and then pull them back up after. You can even have a contest: “Let’s see if you can pull down your pants before I could to three!” or “Let’s see who can pull down pants faster!” Remember, there will be no time to spare when nature calls your potty newbie, so the more practice the better.
- Show 'em how it's done. Sure, you could explain to your child how to squat, wipe, and flush, but it's much more effective — not to mention efficient — to simply bring her to the bathroom and demonstrate. Not all parents are comfortable parting with their modesty, though, so don't feel bad about skipping this step if it’s not quite your speed.
- Bridge the gap between diapers and the potty. If possible, change your tot's diapers in the room where her potty is stashed — this subtly reinforces the connection between the two. After she has a BM in her diaper, bring her to the bathroom so she can watch you flush the poop. If she's frightened of the flushing sound, just dump and flush later.
- Let your child be the teacher. Buy or borrow a special doll that wets and encourage your child to help the doll "learn" to use the potty. This can boost her sense of mastery and provide a greater sense of control over a pretty daunting process.
- Pick the right potty. Look for a model that's durable and won't tip over when your child jumps up to check her progress. (For an added dose of excitement, shop together for the potty and wrap it as a "gift.") Once the potty is home, allow your child to personalize the base with stickers while you add her name in permanent marker. If she wants to, allow her to carry around the clean potty and sit on it while clothed. Then remind her what the potty is for: "Whenever you feel ready, you can use this potty instead of a diaper to pee and poop in."
- Or opt for a potty seat. Some children balk at the "baby" potty and demand to use the "grown-up" one instead. In that case, buy a potty seat, which simply attaches to the toilet. Look for a stable fit — a shaky seat can spook a child back into diapers for weeks — and a built-in footrest, which offers something to push against during bowel movements. And skip the plastic urine deflector, which can scrape your child during dismounts.
If you notice that your little one is about to poop or pee (most tots show obvious signs that a poop is coming, while around half indicate they’re about to pee), suggest to your toddler that he or she do it on the potty instead of in the diaper. If the answer is a resounding “no!”, leave it alone.
And if all this potty talk starts rubbing your toddler the wrong way, boredom starts to set in or it becomes clear that the time isn’t right after all, give it a rest for a while. Pushing the potty — whether you’ve started the training process or are just gearing up for it — rarely works.