Brazelton Toilet Training

parents using brazelton toilet training to help their daughter potty train

The methods for teaching toddlers the skill using the toilet have changed over time. When parents forced training on children during the first half of the twentieth century, failures of that approach led experts to develop alternatives.

Pediatrician Dr. T. Berry Brazelton developed his own child-centered, slower-paced potty training method over years working with children and their parents. In 1962, the medical journal Pediatrics published the successful results of a study he did using this technique with his patients. In 2004, he published “Toilet Training the Brazelton Way.”

The book covers Brazelton’s toilet training in great detail and encourages a child to set the pace, encouraging her to want to use the toilet. This way, she will not get angry and oppositional because her parents are trying to force her.

Readiness for Toilet Training

Before starting with Brazelton toilet training, a child must be ready. He lists seven specifics your child should exhibit to indicate readiness for potty training. You need to see that:

  • She’s not as excited about walking and being on her feet all the time. Your child can stay still long enough to sit on the potty.
  • She has receptive language. She can understand your instructions.
  • She can say, “No!” She can make up her own mind. When she learns something, she feels like it is her idea, too.
  • She will start putting things where they belong. She knows that different things belong in different places.
  • She imitates your behavior. She wants to do things like you do, which can include using the potty.
  • The child starts to urinate and move her bowels at predictable times. This makes knowing when to use the potty easier.
  • She becomes aware of her body. She is starting to understand when she is going to urinate or have a bowel movement.

Brazelton believes that most children are ready for toilet training around two years of age. If your child is going through the terrible twos and is not cooperative, you have to wait until she is.

Brazelton Toilet Training Steps

If you think your child is ready for toilet training, there are five main steps. You will repeat each step until she seems to understand. If your child gets upset at any time, stop and wait. Brazelton toilet training emphasizes that the child’s interest, cooperation, and lack of fear are all key. There is never any punishment.

Step 1. Pick out a potty with your child, one that she likes. This is her potty.

Step 2. Let her sit on her potty with her clothes on, if she seems interested. Her potty should be next to your potty, so you sit down on yours. You can add fun activities while sitting, like playing a game, singing, or telling a story.

Step 3. Take her to the bathroom to empty her diaper contents into her potty. Help her understand that diaper contents belong in the potty. This is a good time to teach handwashing.

Step 4. This is the “big step.” Ask her if she wants to take off her diaper off. She will spend time with nothing on below the waist in a specific area of your home. Put the potty in this area. You can ask her if she wants to try using the potty herself, or she might do it without prompting. If any of this succeeds, don’t get too excited. Compliment her calmly.

Step 5. If she continues to use the potty, ask her if she wants training pants that will be easy to pull up and down so she can use the potty without your help.

After this, everything else depends on your child’s level of interest and success with potty training. Nothing should be forced. Other steps should be explained when she is interested, like emptying the potty into a big toilet and flushing it. Boys should be taught to urinate standing up when they express interest.

The Brazelton toilet training is one of many child-centered approaches that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends. There is no one potty training method that works for every child. You have to try and decide what will work best for yours. The AAP has a number of helpful articles that you can read on its Healthy Children Website.

Additional Potty Training Resources:

Toilet Training 

Potty Training Boot Camp 

Anna Kaplan, MD

Dr. Anna Kaplan is a writer and a licensed physician. She completed a 3-year residency and board certification in Family Practice and was in active practice for 15 years. A parent herself, Anna still remembers the "I know how to use the potty" song that her children sang.

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