Key Take aways:
- Every child is unique, so don't worry about starting at a certain age or time based on other people's suggestions. Rather, watch for tell-tale signs that your child is ready and start when it makes sense for your child and family.
- You can determine how ready they are by examining their physical, mental, and emotional developments.
- Keep in mind other big events happening in your life and try to avoid times of disruption.
- Be patient and stay focused on your child. It's all gonna be ok.
article summary: You probably have a neighbor who boasts her child was potty trained before her second birthday. Or perhaps you talked to a mom at dance class whose preschooler is still struggling on the potty. And maybe your own mother told you she had you potty trained by 30 months with little effort whatsoever. The fact is, every child is unique, so their own potty training journey will be unique, too. Some children will easily train around 18-24 months, whereas others will be successful closer to 30 months.
While every little human being is different, certain signs of potty readiness are congruent across most children. The following are some common signs that your child may be ready to start potty training if they:
- Are staying drier for longer between diaper changes (at least 2 hours), meaning you are changing fewer wet diapers.
- Sometimes stay dry throughout a whole nap or even bedtime.
- Start to hide when they poop or pee, or
- Communicate when they are pooping and peeing or tell you they have a soiled diaper.
- Can walk and get up and down from the potty independently.
- Participate in dressing and undressing.
- Show interest in you or other people using the toilet.
- Are excited to wear big girl/boy undies.
- Can follow simple instructions like “please put your book back on the bookshelf.”
Timing is almost equally important, although most of us will find there is never a "perfect time" to start. Indeed, there will always be something that makes us decide we would rather hold off till next weekend. So, we have to base our timing on certain factors that actually could disrupt the process. (Camping each weekend in the summer is not a valid excuse to put potty training off- trust us, we've tried to put it off for those excuses but it doesn't help anyone in the end). Here are some timing considerations that you need to think about before you start training:
- Will there be a new baby soon?
- Are you going through a separation or divorce?
- Has there been trauma in your child’s life?
- Have you moved recently, or will you be moving?
- Has there been a big transition in their life, like switching from a crib to bed?
Finally, you do have to consider your child's readiness overall. Just like when it comes to seeing signs, there are certain developmental stages where a child will be more ready to potty train than others. Generally speaking, most children will be ready to potty train somewhere between 20-30 months. Many experts agree that is the ideal window. Some children show interest as early as 18 months, and others will do better closer to 36 months. You know your child best, so keep an eye on their signs, think about when the timing might be best for your family, and get after it!
Signs are the most important tool you can use to potty train your child. Reading their signs will help you understand how they want to learn, what stage they're in, and what they're ready to tackle. Signs will also be your guide for any troubleshooting that you need to do.
Learning to listen to your child, observe them, and understand how those behaviors relate to stages of potty training is your first task when it comes to embarking on this potty training journey.
Why you should wait for the right signs
It probably feels intuitive to you already, but your child's behavior tells you a lot about what they are thinking and how they are feeling. Indeed, they don't usually have the communication skills to vocalize their feelings or to let you know when they are ready for a new step in life. (Let's be real, this is even hard for us adults at times.) So, your child will not point blank tell you when they are ready to potty train. Rather, they will show certain behaviors that indicate they may be ready for this next milestone.
If you wait for them to show signs, you will undoubtedly have an easier time getting them trained. If they aren't showing signs yet, it will feel like an uphill battle and may not end up successfully for a long time.
The fact is, every human being on earth is unique, with their own mix of DNA and experiences that shape how they approach things in their world. If you have multiple children or siblings, you will know this all too well - no matter how similar your home environment and your genetics are, each of us will go about things in life differently. And, potty training should be no different. So, if your first child started potty training at 22 months but your second child is 22 months and isn't showing you the right signs, don't push it. They are on their own journey and as parents, our job is to help support them along the way.
Physical and Behavioral Signs of Readiness
Your child will start to show physical and behavioral signs that they are ready to start potty training, including:
- Able to identify body parts
- Able to identify when they need to go, or have gone
- Able to walk to the toilet and get pants down on their own
- Can stay dry for several hours at a time
- Bowel movements are full and well-formed
- Asks you questions about his body, his potty time, and your body and potty time
- Pulling at their diaper when it is soiled
- Hiding when they go in their diaper
- Can follow simple instructions
Your child will also start to develop poop and pee patterns. For example, they may poop consistently each day 20-30 minutes after breakfast. If that is the case, they are probably ready to take on potty training and you have the added advantage of knowing when it is likely they will succeed on the potty.
Can your child's signs help you choose potty training method?
There are 3 main potty training methods we see most parents adhere to:
- Slow and Steady Method
- 3-Day Method
- Deadline Method
Aside from deciding when to start, parents also can have difficulty deciding what method they want to choose. Before you get anxious about this step, please know that you don't have to choose a method. Maybe it is your very own special method that works just fine for you and your child. But, you can look at these methods and take bits and pieces of what you like, or subscribe to one altogether. It's your choice based on what you think will work best for your child.
Your child's signs may help you decide which method to use. For example, if your child is totally invested in the potty and is showing all the right signs, take advantage, friend, and use a long weekend to teach your little one independence with the potty.
What if your child is showing the signs but they are in a phase of independence?
It is completely normal for children to go through phases of independence. If your child is in an "it's my way or the highway" phase, wait until they are in a more cooperative phase to begin potty training. If you do it during one of these phases, there will be conflict and tension. Waiting until they are more cooperative can lower everyone's stress, including your child's.
My child shows all of the signs. Should we start today?
You probably have been reading about potty stuff for a while now, and you certainly have been thinking about it for months. Many experts say that you should give yourself about 2 weeks off entirely from thinking about potty training after you have read all you want to and have decided you are ready to start. The reason for this is to give yourself a break because once you start potty training, you're going to be focusing on your child's potty habits for a long time, even if you are a 3-day method family. Your child will still need guidance, support, and encouragement well after the long weekend is over.
However, if you feel mentally ready, your house is prepared, and you have given your child a head's up on what you going to be doing together, have at it!
My child isn't showing signs. What now?
If you child isn't showing signs and they are under 36 months, it's okay to take a deep breath and relax. Seriously. Children will show sign of readiness in their own time. With that being said, your child will hopefully be displaying some of the physical signs of readiness that are age appropriate like helping dress themselves after 24 months. If your child is behind in expected developmental milestones, you may want to check in with your pediatrician.
It is completely normal for some children to show no interest in using the potty. You can help subtly build their interest by taking them to the bathroom with you, letting them take on more responsibilities with other parts of their care like helping wash their plates after breakfast or letting them put their clothes in the washer with your help. Giving them independence in other areas may excite them and make them yearn for more independence - perhaps even on the potty!
Just like signs, timing is also important. Even if your child shows all of the right signs, starting to potty train at a bad time can make potty learning quite difficult and can frustrate both you and your child. There are certain scenarios where it is generally not a good idea to start potty training, including:
- Times of chaos or stress.
- Family trauma or divorce that has occurred recently
- Moving homes
- Bringing home a new baby
- Switching from a crib to a bed
- Long-haul airline travel within the next few weeks
Accept there will never be a perfect time.
When you are thinking about potty training, you probably won't look at your calendar and find there is a perfect time. Likely, there will always be something that will be in the way or that will come up that will make you postpone. Try not to keep pushing potty learning off unless there is a real timing conflict (such as the above) where it will not best serve your child.
If you can, try to take some time off of work, cancel other obligations, or get additional help the first few days you start potty training so your child has your whole attention. Also, try to clear your schedule of needing to go anywhere for a few days to give your child a chance to get in a rhythm with potty going.
There are a few other considerations as well. If you live in a place with warmer and colder seasons, try to take advantage of the warmer months as it is easier to let your child go nude and explore potty learning outside where it is less risky if poop or pee miss the potty.
Children also go through periods of independence, where they are resistant to instruction and want to do things their way. Independent streaks are a normal part of development, and it is best to wait until they are a little less set in their ways before you start potty training.
Parent to parent advice on timing
Please recognize there is no reason to rush or worry about doing potty training early in most families. Be patient and wait for the time to help your child make the transition with confidence and the least amount of stress or conflict. Being patient can end up being faster.
Your child's readiness to start potty training is quite dependent on where they are developmentally. While not every child meets developmental milestones at the same time, most children will reach them within a specific age range.
There are a few different opinions on the best age to potty train.
Between Ages 20-30 Months
According to Jamie Glowacki, author of Oh Crap! Potty Training and a handful of pediatricians we have spoken with, somewhere within the 20-30 month window is the ideal time to potty train your child. Here's why:
- Within this time frame, most children can identify or show signs that they are ready to potty train.
- There happens to be a lull in large developmental milestones during these months. So, there aren’t really any big physical things they are simultaneously trying to tackle, like walking or learning to feed themselves.
- They are physically capable of doing things older children can (like climbing on a stool, washing hands, etc.), and are mentally capable as well.
Another important argument for potty training between 20-30 months is that children after 30 months generally become more independent and set in their ways, meaning they are less interested in following your commands or doing what you ask of them. Before 30 months, children are more accepting and willing to do what you ask them to do.
As early as 18 months
Some experts suggest that many children are able to grasp the concept of using the potty as early as 18 months of age. Indeed, it is thought that many children this age can anticipate bladder and bowel needs. Children this age often show incredible interest in using the potty as well, but many parents blow it off because they are 'too young' to start.
If your child is showing interest around 18 months, why not give it a go? If it flops and they lose interest or are not quite ready physically to anticipate bathroom needs, give it a break for a few months and try again when they show more signs of readiness.
Trained by age 3
Most experts agree that it is easiest to potty train your child by age 3. If you wait until after 36 months, it can be hard to help them relinquish the security of their diaper and also train them once they are more independent.
General Timeline of Child Capacity
Inspired by the experts who authored The Toilet Training Book, take a look at this general timeline of developmental readiness for potty training based on age. Keep in mind, not all children will fall into these categories, but it is a generalization of what you can anticipate.
- Has no awareness of bladder sensations and is unable to control bladder or bowels
- Begins to understand bladder fullness and can hold pee for a bit
- Can sit on a toilet seat on their own and is able to wash and dry their hands
- Showing an interest in the potty, stays dry for several hours
- Can pull down pants and indicate when they need to use the potty
- Can anticipate bladder and bowel needs
- Can distinguish between having to poo or pee
- Can be independent in potty activities but may need help wiping
- Can use toilet paper to clean themselves, remembers to flush and wash hands, and has few accidents
As you can see above, the ability to anticipate bowel and bladder needs spans 24-48 months of age. If your child seems to struggle with anticipating the need to go to the bathroom, rest assured this is a skill that can take many months to nail down. However, if you have concerns, always check in with your pediatrician to make sure your child is on track.