You're excited and surprised at how quickly this day came - but also a little nervous and bewildered at what it will take to get your child to wear "big girl" underpants. She's been showing some interest in the potty and you are more than willing to permanently cross "diapers" off on your grocery list. But then you wonder, "Is she really ready? Where do I even begin?"

Many parents have felt your anxiety and readiness to ditch the diaper, including myself. There is a wide range for the right age to begin potty training, anywhere from 18 months to 3 years of age - and sometimes older. According to the Mayo Clinic, having a successful potty training experience is contingent on a child's emotional and physical maturity. Here are just a few things to keep in mind if you're unsure whether it's time to trade your diapers for undies.

You child might be ready for potty training if he can:

  • Stay dry for longer than two hours at a time or during naps.

  • Shows interest in bathroom habits and wearing underwear.

  • Can pull down and pull up pants with little or no help.

  • Generally seems to show signs of independence.

  • Has regular bowel movements.

  • Seems uncomfortable with, or tells you when he has, soiled diapers.

  • Can follow simple commands or directions.

Each child is different and may show just a couple or all signs. If you feel strongly it's time to begin toilet training, here are a few tips to make it a positive experience for both of you.

Get your child as involved as possible

. This is unexplored territory for both of you, so try to make it a fun, new experience. Have your child pick out his own potty at the store and let him choose his new underwear. This will encourage readiness and get him excited to be diaper-free.

Start out slow

For my son, everything needed to be his idea and on his terms. If you have a strong-willed child, consider asking him to use his potty just in the morning or evening for the first few weeks. This will not only get him familiar with recognizing the feeling of needing "to go," but will also keep it from becoming a power struggle or negative experience from the get-go.

Consider offering rewards

Figure out what motivates your child and offer it as an incentive to stay dry. For some kids, it could be as simple as getting to wear big kid undies. Stickers, favorite treats and small toys are all good enticements. Also, consider changing things up if the reward loses its novelty. My son enjoyed getting little treats when he stayed dry, but after a week or two, I had to make it more appealing in order for him to do "number two" in the toilet. I let him pick out a toy he reallywanted and kept it in plain sight. I told him if he had his bowel movements in the toilet for a certain number of times, he could have the toy. With just a little encouragement, the coveted toy was all it took to free us from diapers forever.

Run water

Sometimes my son would wait for several minutes on the potty and say "I just don't need to go." I found that running just a little water in the sink encouraged him to relax and do his duty. He also learned to recognize the feeling of needing "to go."

Consider the three-day potty training method

Some parents swear by this approach, others haven't seen success. Basically your child is practicing the "bare-bottomed" method for three solid days. Parents clear schedules as well as put a potty seat in every main room and bathroom in their home. It's kind of like a crash course to potty training. Some kids do great with this style, others aren't emotionally or physically ready for it. Do what feels right for you and your child.

Remember nighttime dryness usually comes later

For many kids, even if they are wearing undies in the daytime, staying dry at night won't come until months or even years later. This is completely normal. Also, genetics play a role in being able to stay diaper-free while sleeping. If you, your husband or another family member struggled with wetting the bed at night, there is a chance your child is wired the same way. If you have concerns about your child not being able to stay dry all night, talk to your pediatrician. He can offer suggestions and let you know what is normal for your child's age.

Expect accidents and stay positive

Even the most seasoned, potty-trained child will have an occasional accident. It's a busy age and sometimes playing with friends is just more fun than stopping to use to toilet. Learn to roll with the set-backs and try not to overreact to accidents. If the accidents happen consistently, go back to what worked for you and your little one when you started potty training.

In the end, if you've tried some or all potty training tips and your child is still not getting the hang of it, revisit the process in a few months. Chances are she isn't quite ready. And that's just fine. Staying positive and being sensitive to your child's readiness is key to having a successful potty training experience.

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