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TOILET TRAINING   One of the first big responsibilities that your child will have is keeping him or herself clean and dry. This can be a difficult problem, for the parent as well as the child. The following are recommendations on how to know when your child is ready and how to help him/her master this responsibility.

The age that your child is ready for toilet training varies, usually between 2 & 3 years old. Staying dry at night normally doesn't happen until between 3 to 5. Several factors play a role. Readiness is a function of physical maturity and mental and emotional development. The physical skills to look for are as follows. He should be able to recognize the sensation of a full bladder and the urge to have a bowel movement. He should have muscle control of his anus, as well as control of the flow of urine. He should be able to get in and out of his clothes. He should be able to position himself on the toilet or training seat.

With regard to emotional and mental development, he should prefer a dry, clean diaper. He should understand the relationship of being dry and using the training seat. He should understand the terms used for urination and defecation. He should be able to understand your instructions for using the training seat.

There are several things you can do to help him get ready for learning this skill. You can start the teaching process before the age he is ready to be toilet trained. Even before he can use it, keep a training seat in the bathroom so he becomes familiar with it. Read your child some of the special toilet learning books to help him know what you expect of him. Let him learn what the toilet is for by watching parents and siblings using the toilet. Use words to describe body parts, urine, and bowel movements that are not euphemisms. He will not have to unlearn words when he gets older. Also, if your child uses proper terms, other caregivers will be able to understand him. Change your child's diaper in the bathroom. Your toddler will begin to see that you consider certain activities appropriate for the bathroom. Help your child practice self-control by removing his diaper for a little while each day. If accidents happen, explain that this action is not acceptable to you instead of punishing or shaming your child.

You should learn to recognize your child's signs that he is about to urinate or have a bowel movement. Some children turn red and others make straining noises. Some squat, pace, or jump up and down. He may hold the genital area or pull at his pants. Still others suddenly stop what they're doing. When you notice these signs, lead your child to the bathroom. If he resists, you can encourage him by doing something fun. You could have a race to see who can get to the bathroom first. Boys can practice aiming their urine at a tissue in the bowl. You could read a story. Be generous with praise, even if he is unsuccessful. Use stars and stickers on the calendar or notebook. You can offer tangible incentives, such as a new superhero or character underwear or special privileges. Give the reward soon after his bathroom success. When your child does succeed, clap and congratulate him.

In other words, I recommend using behavioral modification with positive reinforcement to train your child. Like learning anything new, this can be stressful to your child. Learning to keep himself clean is a step toward greater independents and more control in his life. While your child desires this control, he may regress in the beginning with frequent accidents. He may even regress in other areas of development. This can be normal. Please be patient. Remember the old saying, "Don't worry. I never saw a child go off to college wearing diapers."

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