I don't know about you, but I'm personally super pumped for that perfect day in the admittedly far-off future when I throw that last diaper away — and then throw myself a party. If you're currently in the midst of toilet training, I salute you, and I also know you have a lot of questions. Whether it's going well or not, you're probably wondering things like, "how often should I take my toddler to the potty?"
According to an article in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), independent toilet use is a major milestone for your child, combining new physical capabilities with an understanding of social expectations, and their own motivation to become more autonomous. The article noted that toilet training is also one of the most difficult milestones for children and their parents, and that it can become highly emotional. Self-esteem can be fragile at this time, so it's important to toilet train gently, letting your child lead the way. Additionally, it's unwise to begin potty training unless your child is truly ready. Take this potty training readiness quiz featured in Parents before you begin.
Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Potty Training Solution, explained in an excerpt on Child Development Info that most toddlers pee four to eight times per day. On top of that, toddlers have one or two bowel movements a day. But every toddler is an individual. Some will go more often than that, and others will last a couple days without having a bowel movement at all.
In terms of actually getting your toddler to the potty, Pantley suggested setting up a potty routine. Potty first thing in the morning, after eating, and before other activities, like riding in the car or going to sleep. Of course, you can adapt this routine to your lifestyle, and you still must be on the lookout for signs your toddler has to go ahead of schedule. If he or she looks squirmy, take them to the potty. But if you miss the signal, and there's a mess, it's no big deal. Practice makes perfect, after all. Don't let emotions get the better of you, even if your little girl or guy pees on an expensive piece of furniture.
Try to get your toddler to the toilet frequently, but remember that it's OK if she needs a day off. According to Becoming the Parent You Want To Be by Laura Davis and Janis Keyser, it's common for children to go back and forth — somedays preferring diapers, and other days selecting to use the toilet. They recommended thinking of "accidents" as "opportunities."
Pantley also suggested visiting new restrooms when you're on the go. Frequent visits to toilets far and near may help habituate your child to independent toilet use. Keep in mind that not all children will want to use strange bathrooms, and don't force anything. Davis and Keyser stressed the importance of keeping your own emotions in check throughout the toilet training process.
The bottom line: when it comes to potty time, there's no magic number, but it's a good idea to take your toddler to the toilet often. Begin by following a schedule — morning pee, before nap time pee — and remember to look for signs that they're holding it. You can only take your child to the bathroom too much if it begins to feel stressful or punitive. If negative emotions attach themselves to toilet time, it's OK to take a break. It might take some time to achieve that no-more-diapers party, but that's fine. You'll just have that much longer to plan a good one.