First and foremost, for optimal success wait until your child is ready. There is no single “right age” to start potty training. Remember, you know your child best. So, if you sense your child is not ready then wait! If potty training is started and forced on a child too young, it becomes a frustrating power struggle, to say the least. Additionally, girls tend to be ready to potty train a little earlier than boys, but the readiness signs for both boys and girls are the same. So, how do you know when they are ready? We will tell you how!
General Signs of Readiness for Potty Training:
*Your child does not have to exhibit all of these, rather, if they exhibit any or most of them, that is typically a marker of readiness*
Your child is…
Developmentally AT LEAST 18 months old in cognitive and social development.
Showing interest in learning to use the potty.
Becoming more independent and is enjoying doing things for themselves.
Keeping a diaper dry for at least 2 hours.
Following simple instructions.
Copying your behavior – including bathroom habits.
Able to pull down/pull up their own diaper, training pants, or underwear.
Making the connection between having the urge to pee or poop and using the potty.
Verbalizing to you when they need to go potty.
Showing pride when learning new skills in life and in their accomplishments.
Preparing Your Child for Potty Training:
Familiarize your child with the concept of the toilet before starting the training. This will help normalize the experience and makes the process less scary and confusing.
Have your child pick out their own potty seat/chair to use, which will be exciting for them. It also offers choice/control, which will aid in success.
Use the words “pee” and “poop” so your child learns what is happening when using the toilet or when you change their dirty diaper.
Show your child where the pee/poop go (flushing it down the toilet and where you dispose of dirty diapers).
If possible, allow your child to watch when a family member of the same sex uses the toilet.
5 Initial Steps for Potty Training:
STEP 1- Have your child practice simply sitting on the toilet with their diaper and clothes on. Introduce it casually and let your child look at the toilet, touch it, and sit on it without any expectations at first. If using a potty chair, have it in the bathroom next to the actual toilet to help your child associate it with toileting.
STEP 2 - Transition your child to practicing other aspects like taking pants on/off, flushing, etc. to help with exposure and normalizing the process. Make it fun, stress free, and use conversations and answer any questions they may have honestly.
STEP 3 - Next try to have your child sit on the potty with their diaper off. They don’t necessarily even have to go to the bathroom – just practice sitting on the potty without a diaper. Once comfortable with this, try changing their diaper while on the potty. If there is poop in the diaper, show your child how to drop the poop into the potty chair or toilet.
STEP 4 - Start to introduce proper hand washing every time your child gets off the potty – whether they void or not.
STEP 5 – Since bowel control is usually achieved earlier than bladder control, start with bowel training that is focused on using the potty when your child is pooping or about to poop. Peeing will naturally happen during the pooping. Once bowel training is established and your child is successfully pooping in their potty chair or toilet, most children will begin to relate the pooping with peeing and then start to understand the difference between them.
For boys they usually learn best by sitting down on the toilet when peeing. With time, they can learn to pee standing up. Watching a sibling of the same gender to imitate along with books that show how boys can pee standing up are great starting points to aid in this transition.
As your child can take more responsibility with toileting, they will start to tell you often when they need to use the toilet, remove their own clothes, flush the toilet independently, and begin to learn how to wipe themselves. During this phase be sure your child is wearing simple and easy to remove underpants and clothes. This may also be the time you notice them start to walk to the bathroom alone. Follow behind (giving some distance) and stay nearby so they can call for help as needed. At this time utilize a low footstool to help your child get on/off the toilet if needed. Your child will likely need reminders (and even some assistance still) with wiping. Teach wiping away from the genitals. Have your child practice wiping themselves even after you have wiped them. As their wiping skills improve, let them wipe first. If they need help still, be casual and quick.
When to Delay Potty Training:
If your child is sick and/or hospitalized
If you’re traveling
Around the birth of a sibling
If your child is transitioning from the crib to a bed
If you are moving homes
Experiencing a trauma, loss, or severe stress
Extra Tips for Stress-Free Potty Training Success:
Never force your child to sit on the potty if they do not want to.
In the beginning children should sit on the potty for only 1-2 minutes, and never more than 5 minutes.
Keep the experience positive and praise your child for any successes – big or small.
Be patient and remember that accidents for the first year after training begins is normal. Never scold or shame for accidents.
Complete night control usually occurs later then daytime control, typically not until 3+ years of age.
Choose a potty chair or a child-size adaptive toilet seat according to your child’s physical needs, comfort, and individual preference – as this will help them feel most secure and safe throughout this process.
Try to “catch” your child by taking them to the potty when they show clear signs of needing to go.
Place your child on the potty while dry when they wake up in the morning and from naps, as these are typically good times for success.
Take your child to the toilet cheerfully and matter-of-factly. Avoid appearing rushed, inpatient, angry, etc.
Stay with your child while they are on the toilet for safety, comfort, and support.
If your child is seemingly frightened by the flushing sound wait until they are off the seat or until they have left the bathroom to flush until they become more comfortable with the sound.
Teach your child consistent words to use to let you know when they need to go to the bathroom and help them learn about their gestures and bodily signs that indicate the need to go. It is important for them to become familiar with their own body.
Treat accidents matter-of-factly, e.g., “Oh well, your pants are wet, let’s put on some dry ones.”
Picture books are a great way to learn and discuss toilet training!
Suggest using the toilet before going out and make it a part of the household routine.
When your child is in a new environment be sure to show them where the bathroom is and tell them who to let know when they need to use the toilet.
We hope you find this information helpful as you consider or start the process of potty training with your child! If you have further questions or concerns regarding potty training, our Child Life Specialists are here to help.
Book a free consult with a Certified Child Life Specialist here!