The little known hazard with potty training

Potty training is something all parents must tackle. It can be a frustrating and even messy time that is supposed to end with a child who uses the toilet. But it’s also a time that has a major hazard: child abuse.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, potty training is the developmental step during which child abuse occurs most often. It doesn’t need to be that way.

“So many times parents have expectations of a child that are just unrealistic when it comes to potty training,” said Stephen Wright, M.D., pediatrician, medical director of Norton Children’s Hospital and chair of the Partnership to Eliminate Child Abuse. “During potty training, kids aren’t trying to be bad. They just aren’t able to control their bodies.”

How do parents and caregivers keep frustration to a minimum?

“The most important thing is to make sure your child is ready for potty training,” Dr. Wright said. “And during the process, realize there are going to be setbacks. Make sure babysitters know this too.”

When is a child ready for potty training?

Most children are ready to be potty trained between the age 2 and 3 — but there are exceptions. Your child may be ready for potty training if he or she:

  • Is interested in trying to use the toilet or in watching others use it
  • Can express toilet terms (pee, poop or whatever you designate as terms to use) and tell you when he or she needs to go
  • Can tell you when he or she has soiled a diaper or pull-up
  • Begins to stay dry for longer periods of time
  • Can pull down his or her own pants

The more ready your child is, the easier it will be to successfully potty train. Remember, each child is different and it is a process. You may have immediate success and then experience setbacks. There is no “normal.” The important thing is for parents and babysitters to be patient and understanding. That will build your child’s confidence and lead to more immediate success.

Ways to potty train

There are many different ways in which parents go about potty training. Some do a one-weekend process and remove a child’s pants altogether. Some use a longer-term approach with pull-ups and rewards.

Research options that have worked well for others and decide what is best for your child — and you. Not every method works for every family.

If you start the process and it’s just not working, your child may not be ready. There is no shame in abandoning plans and starting over at a later date.

No matter what you do, avoid the frustration that can lead to child abuse. It’s never OK to hit or punch or push a child.

Get more tips on how to prevent child abuse at Download a special babysitter instruction sheet that will help you remember some of these tips.

If you need support or someone to talk to (also consider leaving this information for your babysitter):

• Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky or Indiana(800) CHILDREN/(800) 244-5373

• Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline(800) 4-A-CHILD/(800) 422-4453

Do you suspect your child has been abused?

  • Learn some of the early signs of child abuse: Children under age 4 should not have bruising on the torso, ears or neck. Infants should never have any bruises.
  • Take your child to Norton Children’s Hospital or the nearest emergency department for evaluation.

To make a confidential, anonymous report:

  • In Kentucky, call the Kentucky Child Protection Hotline toll-free 24/7 at (877) KYSAFE1 / (877) 597-2331. To report nonemergency situations that do not require an immediate response, you can use a Web-based reporting system at The Web option is available from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday, except for state holidays.
  • In Indiana, call the Indiana Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline toll-free 24/7 at (800) 800-5556.

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