Don't let anxiety derail plans to ditch your toddler's diapers

"Must Be Potty Trained." They're the four words on a preschool application that many parents fear most. And now those who enrolled their toddlers for this fall face a deadline: Will they ditch the training pants by the first day of preschool?

Sara Patchen tried everything to toilet-train her son -- offering stickers and toys, even putting slits in his pull-ups so he needn't remove them to go potty.

"He would have nothing to do with it," the Clintonville mother said. One month into preschool at North Broadway Children's Center, the nearly 4-year-old Sam was still having accidents. Patchen was forced to pull him out.

"I didn't know what else to do," she said. "I would do the gamut: I was calm and rational and then I was frustrated. I'd say, 'You're making Mommy sad.' "

Unfortunately, kids are like little radio antennae, masters at picking up and rebroadcasting parental stress.

"Sometimes our anxiety becomes their anxiety -- definitely something you want to avoid," said Sherri Thomas, a developmental behavioral pediatric fellow at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

Stress over potty training can lead to more accidents, unsuccessful toilet-training sessions and tantrums -- and not just from the kids. So try to keep it positive, Thomas said.

"Though internally the parents may be feeling anxious, you don't want that to spill over onto the kids. It's a process of learning for the children."

Most training doesn't happen in a day or a few weeks, Thomas said, but can take three to six months. Boys usually take longer.

If September arrives and the SpongeBob undies are still getting soiled, don't stop training. Regroup. Consider an alternative school program that allows diapers.

When 3-year-old Lilly Spitznagle kept having accidents at Overbrook Preschool, parents Adam and Liz put her in the school's Parents Day Out program instead. (The program doesn't require potty training.)

"She dug in her heels and wouldn't tell us when she had to go," said Adam Spitznagle, pictured above with Lilly. "So we gave it up, figuring eventually it will work itself out."

The family's new strategy -- putting Lilly alone in her bedroom with her potty -- is meeting with success. They hope she will be fully trained when she begins attending Xenos Christian Preschool this fall.

"I take solace in the fact that I don't know any teenagers who aren't potty trained," Spitznagle said.

And you can add Sam Patchen to the ranks of the pull-up-free: He and his big boy underwear begin kindergarten this fall.