It’s important to start training when your child is ready, both physiologically and developmentally. They need to be able to sit on the potty, tell you when they have the urge to pee or poop and pull down their own diapers or training pants.
They also need to be able to stay dry for at least two hours and wake up from naptime or sleep without wetting their bed.
Ages to Start
A good time to start potty training is around 18 months or 2 years, but that’s just a rough estimate. It depends on several largely uncontrollable factors, including the child’s physical and cognitive readiness.
The most important indicator of physical and cognitive readiness is whether a child can control their sphincter, the muscle that holds and empties the bladder and rectum. They also need to be able to follow a routine, including sitting on the potty and taking off their pants or shorts. They need to be able to communicate with you or other caregivers that they need to go to the potty.
It’s also best to avoid power struggles during potty training, as these can make the process more difficult for everyone involved. If your child refuses to sit on the potty or throws tantrums during toilet training, that’s a sign they’re not ready. Trying to force them to use the potty will just lead to a frustrated parent and an unhappy, resistant child.
Children need praise and encouragement during potty training, even when they have accidents. They commonly have occasional “oopses” while they’re still learning, especially if they’re tired or sick, or preoccupied with something fun. It’s important to avoid language that implies guilt and instead focus on helping them clean up and reassuring them that setbacks are normal.
If you’re having trouble, talking to a pediatrician about your child’s potty training might be helpful. They can give you tips and advice specific to your child and may suggest a physical assessment, equipment suggestions, and other resources. Getting family and friends involved in your potty-training efforts is also a great idea, so they can help encourage your child and offer support when things don’t go as planned. Remember, though, that every kid is different, and it’s perfectly normal for some kids to be fully potty trained at age 6 while others still wear diapers during naps and at night. So don’t feel pressure from anyone to train your kids on a particular timeline.
Ages to Finish
Most kids are ready to stop wearing diapers at about the time of their 2nd birthday. However, many kids aren’t fully potty trained until a few months past their third birthday (Gesell and Ilg 1943; McKeith 1973; Schulenberg 2002). Some boys don’t give up diapers until well after age 3. This can be due to the difference in development between boys and girls or because of an underlying medical condition like constipation or inflammatory bowel disease that can delay the process.
Children who are ready to potty train will show signs of both physiological and cognitive readiness. For instance, they will be able to express the sensation of having to pee or poop, and they will be able to walk well enough to get to the potty chair. They should also be able to sit down on it and pull their pants up and down. It’s a good idea to help kids with these steps at first, but as they get more comfortable, they should be able to do it on their own.
You should expect some hesitancy from your child when they’re trying to use the toilet. They may be accustomed to having their parents take care of their needs and want them to continue to do so. But this is part of the learning process, so try to encourage them to keep moving forward and make trips to the potty a regular part of their daily routine. Try setting aside a specific time, such as first thing in the morning and before naptime or bedtime, to seat your child on the potty chair without asking them if they have to go or not.
Once your child is demonstrating a level of toileting independence, you can start to gradually reduce the number of liquids they drink during the day and begin encouraging them to poop on the potty instead. Be sure to have them wear underwear so that it won’t be too messy if they have an accident. Some kids will still have occasional accidents through age 5 or 6, and even some older children have wet or soiled pants at night. It’s important not to put too much pressure on your child and avoid blaming them for their mistakes.
Preparing for Toilet Training
Before attempting toilet training, your child must be physically and emotionally ready. They must be able to understand your explanation of how the potty works and be able to tell you when they need to pee or poop. They must also be able to sit on the potty for an extended period of time. Some children are able to do this from 18 months, but for others, it may take until their second birthday.
If your toddler has a strong interest in wearing underwear and can pull down their pants and pull them back up without assistance, they are ready for the potty. It’s a good idea to start with training pants, which are available at most drugstores and supermarkets, or “pull-ups,” which look like regular underwear but offer a bit more protection. These can help your toddler get used to sitting on the potty for longer periods of time and can provide a smoother transition to underwear.
You should also be prepared for your toddler to have accidents while they’re still learning. It’s normal for kids to have some setbacks during toilet training, especially in emotional situations, such as moving houses or having a new baby in the family. If your child has a history of accidents or frequent nipple blowouts, you should consider waiting for a bit before beginning toilet training.
Once your child is ready to begin potty training, ensure they have a comfortable seat and a place to put their clothes and shoes. You’ll want to create a bathroom routine that involves taking your child to the potty on a regular schedule, including when they wake up, after meals and before and after naps, and before bedtime. You should also choose a word for pooping and peeing, such as “wee” or “poo,” and stick with it — your child will be much more comfortable if they don’t have to think about what the different words mean every time they use the potty.
In addition, you should talk to your child’s doctor about the best time for them to begin toilet training and discuss your concerns and expectations. Some doctors recommend that you wait until your child’s first birthday to start, while other experts believe it is important to train a kid as early as possible.
When a child is ready for a potty training toilet, you can help them learn to use the potty. Establish a routine by sitting them on the potty at regular times of the day, such as after meals and after drinking lots of fluids. Ask them to tell you when their diaper is wet or soiled. Praise them for their efforts in the bathroom and encourage them to try again if they have an accident.
Some kids show signs of toileting readiness at 18 months, while others may not be ready until they’re 3 or older. Other factors, like family and cultural attitudes and a child’s health and physical development, can play a role in when potty training is best for them.
Toddlers tend to have short attention spans, so ensure they’re well-equipped for sitting on the potty for extended periods. They might need a special book or a potty toy that’s fun for them to sit on and play with, or you could put on an audiobook to keep them entertained. It’s also a good idea to let them wear loose pants that you can easily pull down and up, as opposed to pants with buttons or zippers.
Be patient and calm when they have accidents in the bathroom. Punishing them or showing disappointment can turn them off from using the potty, and if they aren’t physically or emotionally ready to do it, you won’t be able to force them. If they have an accident in their underwear or wet the bed, don’t scold them — instead, help them clean up and get into new clothes.
It’s normal for children to have occasional accidents during potty training. But if they’re having accidents every time they go to the bathroom or wet themselves or their beds at night, it’s probably a good idea to talk to your pediatrician. They might recommend a medication or treatment to treat nocturnal enuresis, which is very common in kids between the ages of 4 and 5. They may also suggest other strategies for helping your child become fully potty trained.