Dear Mr. Dad: My baby is nearly two. When's the right time to start potty training, and how do we do it?

A: I've always maintained that changing diapers is a highly underrated bonding experience — especially for dads. But no matter how fondly you recall the experience, most of us are delighted when we can put that stage behind us.

Although most kids look forward to using the toilet on their own, they're easily frustrated by inevitable accidents. And navigating that gray area between diapers and underwear can be hard on you, too. Here are some tips to making toilet training as painless as possible for everyone concerned:

Is he or she ready?

Trying to toilet train a child who's not ready will likely extend the process. And don't start training when there are other big changes in your child's life, such as illness, divorce, a death in the family (even of a pet) or moving to a new home.

Take it one step at a time

Forget the stories you've heard about children who went from diapers to underwear in a day. Toilet training is a process that usually involves distinct steps learned over time. Start by leaving a potty seat on the floor of the bathroom for a few days; tell your child that the little toilet is for her, and the big one is for grown-ups. A few days later, have her sit on the seat (fully clothed is fine). After another few days, ask your child several times every day whether you can take off her diaper so she can sit on her special seat.

Use the right equipment

Potty seats should be low enough that both feet can rest firmly on the floor. Skip the urine deflectors (shields that attach to the front of the seat to keep boys' urine inside the toilet). They seem like a great idea but can sometimes hurt boys who don't sit down exactly right, and the last thing you want is for your child to associate going to the bathroom with pain. Some seats have multiple stages, starting as a child-sized seat that sits on the floor, then converting to an adapter that sits on a regular seat. Some even play music when a child sits down.

Be mindful about flushing

Don't flush in front of the child, at least at first. Some kids are fascinated and want to flush over and over. Others may be terrified, believing that part of them is being sucked down the toilet.

What to do at night

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Reduce or eliminate liquids within an hour of bedtime. This will increase the chances that your child will wake up dry, which will be a big confidence booster. Don't worry about night training until your child is regularly dry after waking from naps and occasionally dry in the morning. Overnight bladder control usually comes a year or so after daytime control.

Learn the signs

When you see that knees-together, bouncing-up-and-down dance, find a bathroom fast.

Be positive, but don't go overboard

Too much excitement about the contents of a diaper can give a toddler the idea that what he's produced is especially valuable, a twisted notion that may result in him wanting to keep it for himself (inside his body if necessary).

Make it fun

Boys in the early stages of toilet training are notoriously bad at aiming. Putting some Cheerios or other targets in the water, or adding some blue food coloring (which turns green when the yellow urine hits it), can make urinating more fun for your son and less messy for you. Boys and girls also might like to have books to look at or a special "potty partner" to keep them company while they're on the throne.

No punishment

Trying to force a child who isn't ready will backfire, guaranteed. Children who feel pressured sometimes try to regain control of the situation by refusing to get out of diapers or by not going to the bathroom at all. This can lead to constipation or other conditions that may require medical intervention.


Follow Armin Brott on Twitter, @mrdad, or send email to armin@mrdad.com.

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