Learning to use the toilet is an important milestone. Most children start working on this skill between 18 months and 3 years of age. The average age of potty training falls somewhere around 27 months.
The timeline for your child will depend on their:
- signs of readiness
- developmental skills
- focus on the task
Generally, experts explain that children younger than a year up to 18 months old don’t have control over their bladder and bowels. Training before this time may not yield the best results.
Read on to learn more about potty training, including differences in training boys versus girls, signs of readiness, and tips for successful potty training.
You may have noticed certain facial expressions or changes in activity, like crossing legs or holding the genitals, that indicate your little one’s bladder is full or that they need to empty their bowels.
Other signs of readiness include:
- being able to verbally express wants or needs
- being able to sit on and rise up from a toilet or potty
- having a desire to please (for example, enjoying praise)
- imitating adults or siblings
- having bowel movements on a schedule
- having longer periods of a dry diaper
- following one-step instructions
- showing a desire for more independence in general
Your child doesn’t need to be able to pull their pants up and down, but being able to master this skill can help make potty training more successful.
While there may be a few differences between the sexes with potty training, the concept is the same. It’s all about learning bladder and bowel control and then choosing to use the potty.
Still, you may have heard that potty training boys is harder than training girls. Is this true? Not always.
One older study suggested that girls may be more advanced with expressing the need to use the potty and mastering bowel and bladder control over boys. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics notes these types of studies aren’t always representative of individuals. Overall, the average age of full potty training doesn’t differ between boys and girls.
In the end, it comes down to the child and their own signs of readiness. Boys and girls alike need praise and encouragement while potty training. They also need love and understanding if (and when) accidents happen.
What about children with special needs?
Meet with your child’s pediatrician if you feel your child is ready. They can offer guidance specific to your child, including physical assessment, tips, and equipment suggestions.
How long potty training takes as a process will depend on your individual child and the method you choose. Most children are able to control both bladder and bowels and leave diapers behind sometime between 3 and 4 years old.
What about boot camp methods?
One popular method is the three-day potty training method. While fast, boot camp style plans may offer some helpful tactics and guidance, resist sticking to them too strictly. If your child seems resistant, take their cues and go back to the basics for a while.
And even if your child is out of diapers after a rigorous three days, you should still expect them to have accidents. Nap and nighttime training may take longer, too.
Daytime and nighttime potty training are different skills. While your child may be fully trained in the daytime, it may take many more months or even years for them to stay dry at night.
As an early introduction to toilet training, try placing your fully clothed child on the potty. Let them read a book or sing a song on the potty without focusing on actually going.
Next, move to sitting your child on the potty directly after taking off a wet or dirty diaper. From there, you may encourage your child to use the potty one to three times a day for a few minutes at a time. After mealtimes is an especially good time to try, as it tends to be when children have full bladders and bowels.
You can increase the number of trips or tries your child takes throughout the day over time. It may be helpful to create a loose schedule, such as:
- upon waking
- after mealtimes
- before bed
Following a schedule can help your child get into a rhythm.
Here are some other tips for success:
- Take your child’s lead, progressing however slowly or quickly according to their readiness.
- Resist forming expectations, especially in the beginning.
- Use straightforward terms like “poop” for bowel movements or “pee” for urine.
- Find opportunities to give your child a feeling of control or independence.
- Pay close attention to your child’s cues that their bladder or bowels need to be emptied. Doing so will help your child recognize them, too.
- Offer praise for a job well-done, whether or not your child actually goes.
Remember: Your child may have accidents even after they’ve “graduated” from diapers. This is normal and expected. Point out the accident, but without blame or shame attached. You can simply remind them that pee or poop goes in the potty.
It’s also important to remind your child to use the potty. Just because they’ve graduated to underwear doesn’t mean they’ll always remember to use the toilet. Young children get easily distracted and can be resistant to abandoning play for a bathroom break. Let them know that after the bathroom break, they can return to playing.
The most important thing to remember with potty training is that children are individuals. While there are average timelines for when to start and when you might finish the process, your child may be ready sooner or later than the norm. And that’s OK.
Accidents can be frustrating, but punishment or scolding during or following an accident may lead to regressions and make training take longer overall.
If you’re concerned with your child’s progress or need help with potty training, talk to their pediatrician. They can offer suggestions or let you know if there’s reason to be concerned.