7 Steps to Successful Potty Training

Elizabeth Wilcox

You’ve determined your child is ready for potty-training, what do you do next?

As a parent, you can help your child master this important milestone while making the process empowering for you both.

“Children learn through observation, modeling, guidance,” says Beginnings Founder and clinical psychologist, Dr. Donna Housman. “How we respond is very important,” she says.

To ensure success, Dr. Housman recommends the following steps after you've determined your child is ready for potty-training.

1) Initiate Potty Training at the Right Time

Make certain children are ready physically, that they can communicate to you when they want or need to go, and that they understand and can follow directions. Best not to introduce potty training during times of change, such as birth of a sibling, moves, divorce or holidays.

2) Help Children Understand Why

Explain to children that we go to the potty or toilet to get rid of what is no longer needed in our body and to help make us healthy and strong. Giving children reason also clears up confusion and reduces fear.

3) Get Out Equipment

Learning and comfort involve practice. Ensure the potty is in a place where children can access it easily and get on and off the potty independently. If you use a toilet, ensure the seat is small enough and you've put a stool below it for children's feet to be firmly grounded. Start with urinating then bowel movements. Move to standing for boys when bowel training is complete.

4) Establish Routines

Schedule times after meals or when children show the need through holding self, fidgeting, hiding or other telltale cues you’ve learned to read. Introduce children to the potty briefly at first and then lengthen time, providing a book if convenient. Encourage children to sit regularly, trying every few hours even if they don't need to go.

5) Incentivize through Encouragement and Praise

Use your words. Words of encouragement and praise are far more motivating than candy or toys. Tell children you are proud of them, even if for trying.

6) Celebrate the Transition from Diapers to Underpants

After several weeks of success, move to underpants. This transition is a time to celebrate. Have children participate by allowing them to pick out their own underwear. Remember, you want to encourage independence and a sense of control so clothing needs to be able to be easily removed (no belts, overalls, or tiny buttons!)

7) Provide Ongoing Support

Talk with your child about their questions, feelings, concerns, worries or excitement. Reading books are a great way to share information, spur questions, and provide answers!

Recommended Books:

Flush the Potty

By Ken Wilson-Max

Potty Superhero: Get ready for big boy pants!

By Parragon Books

Even Firefighters Go to the Potty: A Potty Training Lift-the-Flap Story

By Wendy Wax, Naomi Wax

Big Girl Panties

By Fran Manushkin

Big Boy Underpants

By Fran Manushkin


By Leslie Patricelli

It Hurts When I Poop! A Story for Children Who are Scared to Use the Potty

By Howard J. Bennett, M.D.

The Potty Chronicles: A Story to Help Children Adjust to Toilet Training

By Annie Reiner

You Can Go to the Potty

By William Sears, Martha Sears, Christie Watts Kelly

My Big Girl Potty

By Joanna Cole

My Big Boy Potty

By Joanna Cole

The Potty Book: For Boys

By Alyssa Satin Capucilli

Potty Time

By Caroline Jayne Church

Diapers Are Not Forever

By Elizabeth Verdick and Marieka Heinlen

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