Most children start potty training between the ages of 18 months to three years of age. Developmentally, a child younger than 12 months of age cannot control their bladder or bowel movements, and it’s important to keep in mind that each child develops at his or her own rate.
It’s also good to know the signals that it’s time to begin potty training. Look for cues that your child:
- notices when his diaper is wet or full, or verbalizes that he has to go potty.
- wakes up dry from a nap, or stays dry for several hours.
- hides or looks for a private place to go potty.
- can pull her pants up or down on her own.
- can follow directions or do an activity for a few minutes without becoming distracted.
Give Your Child the Tools for Success
You’ve decided to begin potty training! To set your toddler up for success, make sure you have the following in place:
- A child potty seat. We recommend the NextStep2 Child/Adult Potty Seat. Sized for a toddler, the plastic child seat secures magnetically to the cover. It’s a seat the whole family can use.
- Potty training books. They’ll teach your child the terms she will use, and reading them when she is using the potty seat provides a nice distraction.
- A reward system. If your child is motivated by rewards, consider a sticker chart or a jar filled with squares of paper, listing favorite activities.
- Pants that are easy to pull down. When you make that mad dash to the bathroom, pants with buttons or zippers only slow the process.
- Consider using “big kid” undies, which will serve as a mental “transition” for your child.
Create a Routine
Children thrive on routine! It helps them know what to expect and gives them a sense of order. Potty training is no different, but don’t be too rigid about it. This should be a process your child feels part of, so create a routine that works for both of you.
- Put your child on the potty seat right after she wakes up and again after meals.
- During the day, have your child sit on the potty seat. Even if nothing happens, it’s a good habit.
- Teach good hygiene. After each visit to the bathroom, show your child how to wash her hands.
Expect That Things Won’t Always Go Smoothly
It’s normal for children to have accidents or to become so engrossed in play that they forget to use the toilet. It’s also normal for the potty training process to have “stops” and “starts” instead of being a steady progression. If your toddler feels too much pressure to meet expectations, she may regress as a way to maintain control.
All of this can be frustrating, but it is a normal part of potty training. If it happens, here are a few ways to cope with it:
- Nighttime bladder control happens later than daytime bladder control. Complete control at night may not happen until your child is four or five years old.
- If your child regresses, be patient and do not punish him. Instead, consider hitting the “pause” button on potty training and starting again in a week or a month. If there are big changes happening in your house – an upcoming move, or a new babysitter – this might be causing the regression.
- Keep calm. Your child will pick up on this and be more willing to start again when he sees your attitude doesn’t hinge on his “success” at potty training.
- Don’t compare. Children potty train at their own rate, and while it’s natural to wonder why your son is taking longer to potty train than his older brother did, it won’t help to mention it.
Above all, consider this a family undertaking! It’s important for your toddler to feel supported and encouraged as she works toward this milestone. Check out The Reading Room for other helpful articles, including: