- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 12, 2000

There is no set age to begin toilet training a child, the American Academy of Pediatrics points out in its toilet-training guidelines. There are, however, signs that a child might be developmentally ready to begin.

These signs usually appear sometime after a child is 18 months old. They include:

• The child stays dry for at least two hours during the day or wakes up dry from naps.

• Bowel movements become regular and predictable.

• Facial expressions, posture or words communicate that the child is about to urinate or have a bowel movement.

• The child can follow simple instructions.

• The child can walk to and from the bathroom and help you undress him.

• The child seems uncom-fortable in soiled diapers and wants to be changed.

• The child asks to use the toilet or asks to wear underwear.

If a child shows readiness, it does not matter which way the potty is introduced, says Dr. Beth Edgerton, a pediatrician at Chil-dren's National Medical Center in the District. A child-sized potty is fine, as is the adult-sized toilet. Getting a child to sit on the toilet at various times during the day may help establish a routine.

Going straight to underpants or cloth training pants may help a child make the association with using the toilet, she says.

"You want to make it a positive experience," Dr. Edgerton says. "Let the child lead. Children like to please."

Parents should be aware that some children are afraid of losing parts of themselves, Dr. Edgerton says. They may see a bowel movement in the toilet and be frightened. Parents should explain what stools are and reassure children that everything is OK, she says.

"Conceptually, at that age, they are not used to losing things," Dr. Edgerton says. Parents also should keep in mind that night training is a slower process, she says. At age 5, 25 percent of children still are not night trained, according to the Amer-ican Academy of Pediatrics.

Even if children are fully trained, accidents happen.

"Parents shouldn't get mad about an accident," says Charles Schaefer, a New Jersey child psychologist and co-author of the book "Toilet Training Without Tears." "They should just remind [the child] and get right back on track, saying, 'I'm sure you'll remember tomorrow.' It is not a problem unless a pattern is developing."

Parents should not set a deadline for toilet training, Mr. Schaefer says, because it puts too much pressure on both parents and child. Most preschools have a policy that children must be trained; however, many preschools are willing to work with the family if the training process has begun.

"A deadline does in some ways motivate parents," Mr. Schaefer says, "but it also may cause them to overreact. Most preschools are reasonable and will work with you."

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