Whether you’ve reached the end of your patience changing diapers or your child wants to join an activity that requires them to be potty trained, you’ve decided the time has come to start potty training.
Whatever life event has led you to this point, you may quickly be realizing that you don’t actually know much about the specifics of potty training. (You can just tell your child to use the toilet instead of their diaper, right?)
In talking to people or beginning your own research on potty training, you’re likely feeling overwhelmed with the differences in opinions and styles. How are you supposed to know what works best?
While we can’t decide for you, we are here to give you the pros, cons, and processes involved in some of the most popular potty training methods. (Also, to help you make sure that your child’s really ready to potty train!)
If you think your child is ready to begin potty training, the next step is considering what style of potty training is the best fit for your family. There is no one right method of potty training, and no potty training method comes without its share of advantages and disadvantages.
There are many different types of potty training methods including infant potty training, child-oriented potty training, 3-day potty training, and adult-led potty training. Here we’ll discuss and compare each style.
Child-oriented potty training
First introduced by pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton in 1962, the concept of following a child’s readiness signs for each step of the toilet training process is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Who uses it: Parents who are not in a rush to potty train and fine with their child potentially using diapers for a few more months.
Age: Between 2 and 3 years of age, but usually closer to 3 years of age. It can be started whenever your child is telling you they want to use the potty or need to go to the bathroom.
Pros: This type of potty training does not require a parent to focus exclusively on potty training or set aside significant amounts of time for it. Because the child is instigating it, there tends to be less resistance and regression.
Cons: This is may not be a quick potty training plan, and can require parents to continue paying for/changing diapers for longer than some of the other potty training methods.
The process: Parents can talk about using the toilet and offer it, but there should not be extensive efforts to push their child toward it. Instead, parents should watch for their child’s natural interests to develop and encourage a child to act on their own desires to use the toilet or mimic adults/peers.
Parents allow children to take the lead in instigating trips to the bathroom, and frequently continue using diapers or pull-up training pants with this method until a child is going to the bathroom before doing so in the diaper.
3-day potty training:
This train-in-days method has roots in a 1974 book by psychologists Nathan Azrin and Richard Foxx.
Who uses it: A popular choice for parents who desire their child to be potty trained quickly.
Age: Typically works best when a child is at least 22 months old.
Pros: This is a quick potty training plan, particularly useful if a child needs to be potty trained to join a new school or activity.
Cons: It requires that a family’s schedule be put on pause to focus solely on potty training during the 3-day period. There will also be a lot of accidents along the way!
The process: On day 1 all the child’s diapers are thrown out. Children are then dressed in just a T-shirt and big kid underwear. It’s important to stock up on plenty of underwear and liquids to encourage peeing before starting this type of potty training!)
Parents show their children the toilet and instruct the child to let them know when they need to go to the bathroom to keep their new underwear dry.
Then, come the inevitable accidents. (Be prepared for many, many accidents over these 3 days!) Parents should scoop the child up if they start to have an accident, run them to the toilet, and have them finish on the toilet.
This process continues and requires parents to stay calm, praise heavily, and use accidents as a chance to teach their child when they need to go to the bathroom.
Parent-led potty training:
If schedules are your thing, this organized method may appeal to you.
Who uses it: Parents who want to stick to a schedule. In situations with multiple caregivers, this method can be easy to implement.
Age: Whenever a child is showing readiness signs.
Pros: It’s easy for many adults interacting with a child to be consistent with this approach. There is no need to drastically shift a family’s schedule or block out several days to focus solely on potty training.
Cons: Because the child is not initiating many of the bathroom visits, they may not recognize their own bodily signs as quickly.
The process: There are many variations on parent-led potty training, but these methods share the idea that parents (or caregivers) initiate a child using the toilet on a set schedule or based on certain time intervals.
For example, a child may be led to the bathroom to try to use the toilet every 2 to 3 hours during the day. Alternatively, a child might be encouraged to use the bathroom before/after every meal, in between activities, and before sleeping.
Of course, even in parent-led potty training if a child requests to use the toilet at other times of the day, parents and caregivers would support this.
Infant potty training
This method is sometimes referred to as elimination communication or natural infant hygiene.
Who uses it: Popular among families in Asia and Africa. Some have also considered it an extension of attachment parenting.
Age: Generally begun around 1 to 4 months of age and completed by the time a child can walk. If beginning with a baby over 6 months of age, it may be necessary to modify the method.
Pros: You’ll save a lot of money on diapers! Infants also tend to have fewer rashes since they won’t be sitting in a wet or soiled diaper. Additionally, many parents feel that they develop a close bond with their baby through this process.
Cons: This can be messy. It also requires that individuals be very focused on the baby’s cues and may not work if there are many caretakers for a child or caretakers change frequently. The amount of time and dedication involved is substantial, making this impractical for some families.
And this isn’t potty training in the typical sense — parental involvement is needed and there isn’t toileting independence until the child is much older.
The process: In infant potty training methods, diapers may be avoided all together. Disposable diapers in particular are to be avoided from a young age. If a parent wants to use a diaper during the night for example, a cloth diaper that allows a baby to feel when they are wet is preferred.
Instead of relying on diapers, a parent works with their baby’s signals to know when they are about to poop or pee. These signals can include timing, patterns (in relation to eating and sleeping), vocalizations, or just trusting a parent’s intuition.
When a parent senses that their child needs to go to the bathroom, they rush them to the toilet (or other acceptable location) to relieve themselves there.
Before picking a potty training method, it’s important to take a moment to consider if your child is ready to give up their diapers. Just because you’re ready to start potty training may not mean that your little one is ready, and no potty training method can change that!
When deciding if your child is ready to potty train, it’s important to look for signs of readiness. For example, they may:
- express a desire to use the bathroom
- display an interest in the toilet and how people use it
- have the physical coordination necessary to pull down/up pants, wash hands, etc.
- show signs of bladder control (diapers remain dry for prolonged periods)
- have the ability to follow multi-step directions
- want to please and imitate adults
- show an increasing desire for independence
In Western society most children show these signs and being potty trained between 18 months and 3 years. The average age of potty training falls around 27 months.
Research has shown that beginning earlier may lead to earlier training, but the time it takes to train in order to get there takes longer. Every child is unique and different though!
Before you begin potty training:
- Make sure to stock up on any supplies you might need, such as toilet seat rings, small step stools for the bathroom, and big kid underwear.
- Allow your child to get used to the potty chair or toilet before you begin potty training. Read books or sing songs together as they sit on their chair or the toilet fully dressed.
- Before heading outside, be prepared with Post-its to cover automatic flush toilets in public and whatever kid toilet seats, etc. you might need!
If your child shows signs of regression — refusing to use the toilet, withholding stools — it’s important to stay calm and not punish your child.
Make sure to offer your child positive reinforcement for good choices they make, and continue to encourage them to use the toilet. If frustration starts to run too high, know it’s OK to take a break for a bit from potty training.
Regardless of which potty training method you choose, remember that your child will likely need a nighttime diaper long after they are daytime potty trained. Most children are capable of staying dry through the night around 4 to 5 years of age.
If you and your child are ready to begin the process of potty training, it’s important to choose the right potty training method for your family. When deciding on a method, consider your child’s personality, your parenting style, and the realities of your daily life.
Being potty trained won’t happen overnight! It requires a great deal of patience and persistence regardless of the method you choose, but it can certainly be less stressful if you choose a method that matches your child and family!