Two words Yolanda Casey dreads thinking about: potty training.

She has her fingers crossed that it will be less traumatic to train Brianna, now just 5 months old, than it was to train Mikaela, nearly 4."For every two steps forward," says Casey, a trainer and consultant for Hallmark Cards Inc., "we took three steps backward."

There were seemingly endless hours in the bathroom, where songs were sung and stories told. And, of course, there were accidents. In all, it was seven months before mother considered daughter fail-proof - for No. 1 and No. 2, day and night.

What the Caseys went through would be fairly "typical" if, as the experts say, there were such a thing. But trite as it sounds, every kid is different, and parents need to remember that, says Mary Jo Crowe of Children's Mercy Hospital.

"How long it takes and at what age really is up to the child," says Crowe, a parent herself and coordinator of the nurse telephone information line.

Between the ages of 2 and 3 is the time many children begin to show signs of readiness, she says. Some of those signals:

- Knows diaper is wet.

- Announces when she's about to go.

- Watches or wants to watch family members use the toilet.

- Shows interest in that area of the body.

- Understands what a toilet is for.

- Stays dry an hour or two at a time.

Once training begins, be aware that success won't come overnight. Training usually happens in stages - bladder control, bowel control, days, nights - and takes practice.

"Children respond to praise just like adults," Crowe says. "If what you want isn't accomplished, thank them for at least trying."

Crowe's best advice to parents: Do your homework. Moms and dads should observe their child's habits and take them to the potty accordingly. Tips from other experts:

- Read your child a book about going to the potty.

- Let your child watch you or other family members in the bathroom.

- Put your child in clothes that are easy to get on and off.

- Get a potty chair and explain how it's used. (A debate still rages whether a potty chair or the big toilet is better.)

Some kids can be trained in a few weeks; others take as long as a year. It depends on several factors, Crowe says, including physical development (older children have better muscle control); the child's sex (girls usually are ready before boys); and even the time of year (allergies may be a distraction in the spring and fall, as is playing outside in the summer).

If progress is really slow, Crowe advises just backing off.

"The parents should tell the child, `I know you've tried the way grown-ups do and are having trouble,' " Crowe says. "And I tell the parents: `Relax. It'll happen.' "