Your toddler is walking, talking, and doing all sorts of other big kid stuff these days. You might be wondering when you can add potty training to that list.
The thing is, the answer isn’t the same for each and every child. Even siblings may not be ready for potty training at the same age. But every kiddo has to start at some point.
Here’s what you need to know before you ditch the diapers (hurray!), as well as some tips to keep you sane along the way.
Many experts say that toddlers are ready to start potty training sometime between the ages of 18 months and 2.5 years old. Your little one may be ready sooner or later than this range, though starting before your child is 2 years old isn’t necessarily recommended.
Why? Starting too soon may make the process take longer overall or lead to issues, like frequent accidents.
Rather than waiting until your child reaches a certain age to start potty training, you’ll want to look for their signs of readiness.
For example, your child may show interest when you or their siblings are using the potty. Your child may even stop in their tracks, hide, or make certain faces when they’re going to the bathroom in their diaper.
Other signs your tot might be ready include if they:
- can tell you they need to go to the toilet
- have regular bowel movements each day
- don’t have bowel movements overnight
- tell you when their diaper is dirty
- keep diapers dry for a few hours at a time
- can put their pants on and take them off by themselves
- understand simple commands
- show a desire to be independent
Girls tend to develop readiness skills sooner than boys, but that’s not true in every case. And while you may be encouraged if your child shows one or two of these signs, you may have more success if you wait until your child shows multiple signs of readiness.
Related: Potty training a boy, step by step
In theory, all you need to start potty training is your child, a toilet, and underwear. Toddlers are small humans, so using a standard toilet may be difficult or intimidating — especially at first.
There are also all sorts of other products, like training underwear and flushable wipes, that can help make the process a little less messy.
Consider gathering the following must-have supplies:
- potty chair or nesting toilet seat
- step stool
- regular underwear
- training underwear
- faucet extender
- flushable wipes
- hand soap
- progress chart, stickers, or other motivational tools
- books or other tools about different potty training methods
Boys may benefit from some added supplies, including toilet targets (to help with aim), and practice urinal (to help with peeing standing up), or a potty with a splash guard (self-explainable).
And if you’re on the go a lot, you may want to consider a travel potty that won’t leak all over your car or a folding seat cover to use in public restrooms.
Another thing you may not have thought about is the clothing your child wears. You’ll want to have them wear loose-fitting bottoms that can easily be pulled up or down when the moment strikes.
Your tot is showing readiness signs and you have all the tools you need, so now it’s all about starting the process.
Kids can understand more than you might think. Simply explain that you, your partner, or siblings all use the potty when you need to go to the bathroom. Now it’s your child’s turn to learn this new and exciting skill.
Language can be important here. Use words that clearly communicate what you’re talking about — pee, poop, etc. — and don’t load these terms with negative connotations (like gross, stinky, dirty).
Beyond that, you may explain what your process will look like (“We are going to start using a potty chair and wearing underwear”) and any other things that you think may be helpful.
You may also want to chat with your child’s day care provider to let them know you’re starting potty training at home. This way, you both can be on the same page and encourage the same skills throughout the day to keep things consistent for your little one.
While there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong way to start potty training, following a few tips and tricks may help maximize your efforts.
You may also want to give your pediatrician a call to discuss any concerns you have about your child or to get specific guidance on any issues you anticipate having.
Decide on a method
There are a number of different toilet training methods you can follow. There’s a boot camp approach that may take only a few days, child-led potty training that tends to be more gentle, and all sorts of other methods you might try.
The destination is the same, so the approach that’s best is the one that works for you and your child. And the only way you’ll know what works is by trying. If one method isn’t jibing, take a step back and try again.
Wait until life is calm
Don’t start potty training when life is stressful in your home. This might include:
- when you bring a new baby sibling home from the hospital
- when your child is starting at a new day care or preschool
- when your little one is sick
- when there’s any other major life change going on
It’s better to start something new when life is back to its usual rhythm.
Do practice runs
If your child makes a motion or face like they need to use the potty, encourage them to run over, pull down their pants, and try to go. You can even do this fully clothed at first if your child seems overwhelmed.
If their signals aren’t super clear, you might try using the potty 20 minutes after meal time, after naps, or if you notice they have a dry diaper after 2 hours.
Keep the mood light and coax them along by saying something like “That pee (or poop) wants to come out — let’s put it in the potty!”
You don’t want to bribe your tot to use the pot, but positive reinforcement can help things along. Praise can be very effective and doesn’t cost a dime.
Try saying something like “You did such a great job sitting on the potty — I’m proud of you!”
You may also offer a small prize (animal cookies, stickers, etc.) for sitting or going pee or poop on the potty. Save bigger rewards for when your child uses the potty themselves without any prompting.
Clean up accidents and move on
Learning a new skill takes time and practice. Your child will likely have accidents along the way. While accidents aren’t fun to clean up, scolding or punishing your toddler may work against you in the long run.
If your child pees or poops in their pants, try offering some sympathy. Say, “I’m so sorry that you peed in your pants. You wanted to pee in the potty. Let’s get you changed and we’ll try again later.”
Model good hygiene habits
Throughout potty training, make sure you’re instructing your child on how to wipe (front to back), flush, and then wash their hands properly. Using tools, like a step stool or foaming soap, can help tremendously.
By the way, your child may need help wiping their bottom after pooping for some time even after being fully potty trained. Keep modeling good behaviors and they’ll get it in time.
You can stop practice runs with your child once they’ve gone to the potty themselves three or more times. Potty independence is the goal here.
Keep the praise and encouragement coming, though. If you notice they’re distracted or forgetting their cues, you can always go back to parent-led practice runs again.
Some kids may potty train quickly without any trouble. Others may need a bit more time and encouragement to make their way. Still others may be downright resistant to the entire process — or might even regress.
You’re in good company. Up to 80 percent of families will experience some type of setback with potty training.
So, what’s a typical setback?
- Accidents. While messy, accidents are a totally expected part of the process. Clean them up, explain to your child that pee and poop go into the toilet, but don’t dwell. If accidents are excessive, your child may not be ready or there may be something else going on (like sickness), and you might consider taking a break and starting again at a later time.
- Not wanting to sit on the potty. Some kids may not like sitting on the potty. After all, it’s a new thing and isn’t always the most comfortable. If your child doesn’t want to sit, don’t force them to or hold them on the toilet until they go. If they haven’t gone and it’s been close to 5 minutes, you may want to take a break so potty training doesn’t become a dreaded part of the day.
- Training more slowly than you expected. If your best friend’s child sailed through potty training and your kiddo isn’t loving it, that can also be perfectly OK. Potty training is largely developmental, and studies (including
this one from 2013) have shown that on average, girls are ready to potty train at a slightly younger age than boys — though many factors can influence readiness and how quickly a toddler takes to the toilet.
- Resistance. Your child may just need more time. Regardless of sex, experts say that early training (before 24 months) may not be worth the struggle. In kids who started training before they turned 2, 68 percent were fully trained by age 3. In kids who started training after they turned 2, 54 percent were fully trained by age 3.
- Nighttime accidents. Staying dry overnight is another milestone entirely and doesn’t always go along with daytime training. It may take until your child is 4 or 5 years old to be dry overnight. In fact, around 20 percent of children may still wet the bed on occasion at age 5.
Contact your pediatrician if you think your child isn’t showing any signs of readiness for potty training by age 2 1/2 to 3.
Otherwise, you may want to chat with your child’s doctor if your little one seems to be constipated, has pain during urination, or if you have some other concern.
If potty training just isn’t clicking after the first attempt or you’re experiencing some typical setbacks, consider stopping and starting again 2 or 3 months down the line.
You will say goodbye to diapers for good, it may just take a little more time.