Knowing when to start the process of potty learning (also called potty training) can be tricky—and there’s no shortage of opinions on the subject 🙃 Ultimately, the best timing depends on your child and your family.
Learning how to use the toilet requires a whole range of skills, and your toddler’s age on its own won’t tell you much about their readiness, child development experts agree. Whenever you decide to begin, be prepared for some false starts, accidents, and regressions. Having realistic expectations will take pressure off you and your toddler.
How will you know your child is ready?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends watching your child for signs that they’re physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared to use a potty. Of course, those signs may be difficult to spot and can differ from child to child. Most children start displaying these cues between 18 and 36 months—a big range.
Your toddler may be ready to start learning to use the toilet if they do a few of the following:
- Hide or want privacy when peeing or pooping
- Regularly go two hours or more without a wet diaper
- Alert you to a soiled diaper and want to be changed right away
- Show interest when you go to the bathroom and flush the toilet
- Has some of the physical skills they need to use a toilet, such as walking, pulling their pants up and down, and getting on and off the potty with some support
If your toddler is showing some of these signs, a good way to start is by incorporating a few low-key times during the day to sit on the potty, like after breakfast and after a nap, says Gabrielle Felman, Lovevery’s senior child development expert.
Does age make a difference?
A common time to start potty training is when a toddler is between 18 months and 2 years. Plenty of families start earlier, however, or wait until a child is older than 2.
Regardless of when they begin, the vast majority of children don’t achieve potty independence until age 3 or older. Starting with a gradual, low-pressure approach before your toddler’s second birthday may make it less stressful. If your child hasn’t started trying to use the potty by about 2 1/2 years of age, it might be worth testing the waters.
What if you aren’t ready to potty train?
Timing is everything when it comes to potty learning, and your child’s readiness isn’t the only factor. Consider other big transitions happening with your family. If you just had another baby or are in the middle of a big move, you may want to delay until you have more time and energy for it.
Setting your toddler up for toileting success later on
Well before your toddler actually uses a potty, you can familiarize them with the concept. This early stage is all about helping your child get comfortable with the toilet and learning to tune into their body’s signals, says Felman. Follow these early potty-learning tips:
- Describe your toddler’s diaper changes in a matter-of-fact way: “First, we’re going to pull down your pants. Now, we’re going to take off your diaper and wipe your bottom.”
- Use plain words for “pee” and “poop.” Avoid negative terms like “yucky,” “stinky,” or “gross” or making a face.
- Point out when family members or pets pee and poop. This helps to normalize the behaviors.
- Change your toddler’s diaper as they stand in the bathroom on occasion.
- Invite your toddler to hand you a clean diaper so they feel involved in the process.
- Put poop from their diaper into the toilet together and flush it down.
- Let them hang out in the bathroom when you use the toilet, if you’re comfortable with it.
- Read books about going to the bathroom. Try these favorites:
- “Potty” by Leslie Patricelli
- “Everyone Poops” by Taro Gomi
- “Going to the Potty” by Fred Rogers
- “Once Upon a Potty” by Alona Frankel
- “Ready to Go: Pee” and “Ready to Go: Poop” Board Books
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The Potty Learning Course Pack
Whether you’re about to start potty learning or already trying, this Course Pack has the proven paths you need, plus tools to help your child tap into their intrinsic motivation and take the lead.Learn more
The Realist Play Kit
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Having the right books at the right time makes all the difference during your child’s early years. Enjoy even more stage-based books—featuring real stories and families—when you add our Book Bundles to your Play Kits Subscription.Learn more
Learn more about the research
Brazelton, T. B., Christophersen, E. R., Frauman, A. C., Gorski, P. A., Poole, J. M., Stadtler, A. C., & Wright, C. L. (1999). Instruction, timeliness, and medical influences affecting toilet training. Pediatrics, 103(Supplement_3), 1353-1358.
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