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Potty party

Steve Harmon and his son, Nathan, 2, celebrate after Nathan goes to the potty at their Akron, Ohio, home.
 (Knight-Ridder / The Spokesman-Review)
Steve Harmon and his son, Nathan, 2, celebrate after Nathan goes to the potty at their Akron, Ohio, home. (Knight-Ridder / The Spokesman-Review)
Cheryl Powell Knight Ridder

AKRON, Ohio — There’s an awful lot of potty talk going on in my house. My 1 1/2 -year-old is increasingly intrigued by toilets and bodily functions, much to my delight. “Poop!” he’ll announce after filling his diaper with a particularly smelly load.

He’s even started dragging his Sesame Street toilet seat to our commode and proudly climbing aboard his new throne.

Each time, his efforts are rewarded with a huge grin and an outrageous amount of praise from me, regardless of the end result. (Well, except for that time he decided to stick his foot in the bowl and try wading in the water.)

All this makes me wonder: Could my days of wrestling soggy diapers off his wiggling body be coming to an end soon?

When it comes to toilet training, there’s no shortage of advice, whether or not you want it.

From syndicated columnists to well-meaning family and friends, plenty of people have strong opinions about the best methods and ideal timing for trading in diapers for underwear.

Here’s the poop on potty training from a few of the pros, including several fellow parents who, like me, have found themselves becoming instant experts by necessity.

Pre-toilet training

Ever hear the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink?” The same can be said for leading a toddler to a toilet, according to Dr. Michael McCabe, a pediatrician with North Canton Medical Foundation.

“There are a few things parents can’t make their children do,” he said. “They can’t make them eat, they can’t make them go to sleep and they can’t make them poop in a toilet. But they can teach them to do these things.”

Instead of turning toilet time into a power struggle, start getting little ones comfortable with the bathroom when they’re between 15 and 18 months old, he said.

Let them watch you or siblings use the toilet. Encourage them – but don’t force them – to try sitting on the potty, even if they’re not quite ready to use it.

“They can see it as a positive,” he said.

Turn your toddler into the teacher, said Teri Crane, a mother with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

Crane developed her own strategies when her child needed to get potty trained to get into preschool several years ago.

She will be sharing her tips in a book scheduled to be released by Simon & Schuster next year.

During “potty training boot camps” she leads at Babies R Us stores, Crane recommends parents encourage their children to teach a doll or favorite stuffed animal to use the toilet before potty training turns serious.

“This ‘learning-by-teaching’ method has been around for years and years,” she said.

That’s the approach Bill Glass is taking with his 2-year-old son, Billy “B.G.” Glass.

For the past couple of months, the Akron father has been encouraging B.G. to play with a talking Elmo doll that comes with its own minipotty.

B.G. feeds Elmo some pretend juice from a toy cup until the little red monster announces, “Oh, oh, oh! Elmo has to go potty!” Then B.G. rushes Elmo to the play potty as his furry friend urges, “Hurry! Hurry!”

When placed on the potty, Elmo sings with joy, prompting a big grin from B.G.

“The more fun you make it,” Crane said, “the more success you’re going to have.

To get started, lead children to the toilet regularly at times you know they usually need to go, said Dr. John Duby, a developmental pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital and state chapter president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Some good times include first thing in the morning, immediately after meals or drinks, before leaving the home and before bedtime, he said.

Amy and Steve Harmon have found success by urging their 2-year-old son, Nathan, to use his child-sized potty as soon as he gets up in the morning and every two hours throughout the day.

The Akron couple encourages Nathan’s other caregivers, including his grandmother and Kid’s Play daycare, to stick to the same schedule.

“It’s no longer, ‘Do you have to go to the potty?’ it’s, ‘Let’s go to the potty,”’ his mother said.

“We don’t give him the option. We take him right away.”

Whether to use disposable training pants or go straight to underwear is a question that’s open to considerable debate.

Disposable pants can help keep things from getting too messy until a child is successful at least 75 percent of the time, McCabe said.

But they also can keep parents from pushing forward with toilet training “because it hasn’t become inconvenient yet,” he added.

Keep training light and fun. If you see your child doing the “potty dance,” Crane said, playfully announce: “Mommy has to go potty! I’ll race you there.” Once you have your child seated, provide distractions, she said.

Sing songs.

Look at books.

Blow bubbles.

“If you don’t keep them seated, they’re going to jump up and run out of there,” she said. “To keep them against their will is going to completely backfire.” Incentives help, too, she said.

Stickers and stamps on a special chart and words of praise can motivate children just as well as candy.

When Nathan uses his potty, his parents react enthusiastically, saying things like, “Good job! You made a potty!”

His parents also encourage him by rewarding him with one of his favorite treats – M&Ms or a small squirt of whipped cream.

“If he does something, he gets something,” his father said.

Don’t get frustrated if toilet training takes weeks or even months.

Expect an accident or two – or more.

Respond by calmly leading your child into the nearest bathroom to clean up the mess, Duby said.

“Don’t talk a lot or make it fun, but don’t punish, either,” he said. “Remind them of toileting steps.” Consider backing off for a few weeks if a child is really resistant, Duby said.

“Many children will still be accidentally wet and soiled on and off before they get it consistently,” he said. “Every child is different.”

Keep in mind staying dry at night is often difficult for children, he added. In fact, about 15 percent of youngsters still urinate on the bed at night at age 5.

Talk with a doctor if your child is having problems with constipation, weak urine streams, pain with urination or frequent urination to rule out possible medical problems, Duby said.

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