At age 2, it’s easier to keep toilet training a shared process between parent and child, taken one step at a time. Each step is introduced when the child is interested.

Negativism is near the surface at 2. If it hits at any point, pull back to the previous step.

You may even need to start back at the beginning. The goal is to let the child lead you. She may understand the idea of toilet training, but don’t confuse this with her readiness to go along with it. You’ll be less likely to hit a brick wall of refusal or withholding.

If your child senses your eagerness, she may feel you’ll rob her of her triumph to come. Then she’s bound to shut down. Her sensitivity to you is great. Can you match it with your own sensitivity to her?

Toilet training is a task she needs to control. It demands that she be ready to contain herself and to go to a place you specify. To perform for you demands an enormous amount of compliance. She can’t help feeling a twinge of distress if she loses her own control.

Step 1: When she’s ready for her own potty, take her with you to pick one out. She’ll need a potty that sits on the floor — one that’s hers, for her favorite doll or stuffed animal to try when she begins to understand your wish. Talk about it: “That one’s yours. This is mine and Daddy’s (or Mommy’s). But you have your own and someday you’ll use it like we do.”

Step 2: If the child shows interest in her new potty, let her sit on it in her diapers, or fully clothed, while you sit on “yours.” Only sit her there as long as she’s interested. Read her a story, or make one up, or sing to her. When she wants to run off, let her.

You’re simply introducing the routine — once a day. It’s too soon to have her sit down on the potty undressed.

Step 3: Once she’s gotten used to the routine of sitting while you sit, and of communicating together as you both sit, take her to the bathroom to undo her diaper and empty it into the potty. She may resist. One of my child patients said to her mother, “That’s my potty. Don’t you get it dirty!”

If your child doesn’t want to empty her diaper into the potty, pull back. But if she’s willing, take her once or twice a day after she’s wet or dirty to dump the diaper contents into her potty to help make the connection. She may even let you know when it’s time for your bathroom trips. She may say “Go to potty” when she’s wet or dirty.

You might want to start hand washing afterward as a routine. Get her a stool to stand on. Let her wash her hands “like you do.” Watch to see whether she’s getting involved in these routines.

Step 4: This is big. Offer to take off her diaper and let her run around bare-bottomed. Put the potty in her room. Ask her whether she’d like you to help her “go potty” herself. Amazingly, she may have gotten the idea. And she may even be ready to use it.

If she is, don’t go overboard. Let her know in a calm voice that that’s what you had in mind. “You went potty just like Mommy and Daddy do.”

Be calm, no matter how thrilled you are. If you get too excited you’ll overwhelm her. And in the process, you may interfere with her chance to be proud of herself.

Step 5: If she’s really involved in her success, rather than just trying to get you excited each day, offer her training pants that she can pull up and pull down by herself. Then she’ll be on her way.

You can get her a stool or step to climb up to the big toilet to sit on it “like Mommy, like Daddy, like brother.” But it may be wise to seat her backward, facing in. This gives her a chance to watch her pee sprinkle into the toilet water — a fascinating event for any child this age.

Or use a potty seat that adapts to the big toilet seat to make it smaller, and safe. Too often children slip and feel like they’re falling into the toilet. This is frightening! It’s bound to put off another try for a long time.

When a boy is interested, after learning to use the potty sitting down, he can learn to stand “like Daddy, or big brother.”

Try training pants at nap time, but don’t be surprised if she’s wet afterward. Don’t let her feel defeated. Go back to diapers quickly. If you can be confident that this is only a temporary delay, you can offer her the reassurance and encouragement she’ll need.

This article is adapted from “Toilet Training” by Dr. T. Berry Brazelton and Dr. Joshua D. Sparrow, published by Da Capo Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.

Questions or comments should be addressed to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton and Dr. Joshua Sparrow, care of The New York Times Syndicate, 620 Eighth Ave., 5th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10018. Questions may also be sent by email to:

[email protected]

— New York Times Syndicate