Becoming reliably potty-trained is no doubt a major toddler milestone. While it’s something all parents look forward to, the actual training process can often be stressful and frustrating. But it doesn’t have to be. With a little bit of patience (okay, a lot of patience) and strategic planning, you can effectively potty train your child.
1. Start Potty Training At “The Right Time”
Most kids are ready for toilet training somewhere between the ages of two and three. For boys, the average age to be potty trained is around 31 months and for girls it’s about 29 months. About 98% of children are successfully potty trained by the age of three.1 That said, your child could gain and master this skill earlier or later than that. So the “right time” totally depends on their physical development, specifically their ability to control their bladder and bowels.
2. Watch For Cues From Your Child
Believe it or not, your child will tell you when they are developmentally ready to ditch the diaper. It’s time to initiate toilet training when your child:
- can imitate your actions
- shows interest in following you to the bathroom
- seeks independence (“I can do it myself”)
- wants to please you and enjoys praise
- can walk to the toilet, get on it, and pull down their pants
- can go about 2 hours without soiling their diaper
- can follow simple step-by-step instructions
- can tell you (verbally/non-verbally) when they feel the urge to pee/poop
You should only start potty training when your child shows most of these readiness cues. Don’t be pressured to begin earlier just because family members, other moms, or caregivers think it’s time to start. If you feel pressured, your child will be able to sense your anxiety and become anxious, and if you start too early, you may end up prolonging training time.
3. Understand Your Child’s Temperament
Before you start toilet training, consider your child’s behavior, personality, and temperament. What time of day is your child most eager to learn and cooperative? Are they withdrawn or shy? What is their attention span? How easily do they get frustrated or upset? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you plan your approach to training. It is important to not start toilet training if your child is sick or stressed due to major life changes like moving, a new sibling, new daycare etc.2
4. Create a Potty Training Plan
Once your child is developmentally ready, it’s time to create a plan. Of course, you’ll need to modify this plan as needed, but it helps to have one. Consider the following:
Read To Your Child
Get your child curious about using the toilet by reading to them from potty training books. Books are a great aid in motivating toddlers before and during potty training to use the potty in order to become big boys and girls. P is for Potty!, Princess Potty, The Potty Train, Where’s the Poop?, Everyone Poops, and Once Upon a Potty are some tried and tested favorites. Reading these books together helps your child realize that using the potty is a privilege (older kids do it!) and that it’s something they can also do.3 Reading also helps your child relax, brings fun and laughter to the potty training process, and reduces some of the stress.
Buy A Good Potty Chair Or Seat
Give your toddler their own special potty chair. They should be able to sit on it and rest their feet on the ground. Let your child choose them own chair in their favorite color and/or theme, making it exciting for them. Many parents also choose to use potty seats instead of standalone chairs. Toddler potty seats fit on top of the adult toilet seat to reduce the size of the toilet, thereby ensuring that your little one doesn’t fall in. Make sure to use a footrest if using a toddler potty seat so your child feels secure.4
Let Your Toddler Become Comfortable
Whether you use a potty chair or seat, let your child play and become familiar with it before using it. Let them sit on it fully clothed the first time just to get a feel for it. It’s okay if they play with a toy or read a book while sitting on the potty fully clothed. The goal is to make them comfortable and remove any fear.5 Talk to your child about sensations they may experience while using the potty and show them where the pee or poop is supposed to go so.
Create A Schedule
It is crucial to have a potty routine. Take your child to the potty about 3 times a day – first thing in the morning, after mealtimes, and again before bedtime. It should become part of their daily routine. About 30 minutes after a meal is a good time to try. Also watch for facial expressions or poses that may signal that they need to “go.” If you take your toddler to the potty and they are reluctant to use it, don’t force them. But if they agree to get on it, lavish praise on them and give a small reward even if they don’t actually poop or pee.
Over time, your child will get the hang of what they’re supposed to do. It takes about 3–6 months to reliably potty train your toddler, so patience is key. Most kids still wear diapers overnight until age 5, because nighttime control is more difficult to attain.6
Praise, Praise, Praise
This is the most crucial part of the plan! It is extremely important that you reward your child with praise, claps, hugs, treats, and rewards when they try to use the potty and when they use it successfully.
Many parents will use a healthy snack as a reward while others use stickers or star charts. Big kid underwear in their favorite colors and themes is also a huge incentive for your toddler once they realize they can wear cool underwear if they start using the potty. Rewards don’t have to be expensive.7 Every time your toddler successfully pees or poops the right way, or even tells you that they need to use the potty, make sure to heap on the praise and let them know how proud you are.8
Patience Is A Virtue!
As a parent, you play a key role in teaching your child how to use the toilet. Remain as calm and relaxed as possible, especially when setbacks occur. If you become frustrated or anxious while potty training your toddler, they’ll be able to sense it. Be gentle, encouraging, and maintain a sense of humor!
5. Stick To These Potty Training Dos
- Set time aside every day to work on potty training.
- Have reasonable and realistic expectations from your child.
- Postpone potty training if your child shows no interest or does not seem to get it.
- Let your child be in charge of the potty training process, ask questions, and make decisions. This gives them a feeling of control.
- Have daddy partake when toilet training boys so they can observe and learn.
- Teach girls to wipe themselves front to back after using the potty. The reverse motion increases the chances of passing bacteria from the anus to the vaginal area.
- Teach your toddler to always, always, always wash their hands thoroughly after using the potty.
- Always be prepared for accidents, setbacks, and even regression. This is a very normal part of the training process.
- If your child suddenly becomes resistant to potty training, it’s time to take a break. Be casual about it and don’t push or it becomes a power struggle.9
6. And Steer Clear Of These Don’ts!
There are some things you should never do or say when toilet training your toddler:
- Do not, under any circumstances, scold, shame, embarrass, threaten or punish your child during potty training or if they have an accident.
- Never strap your child to the potty. They should be able to get off it when they want.
- Do not dress your toddler in clothes that cannot easily get out of. Doing so can cause them unnecessary stress if they can’t undress in time.
- Do not make your child sit on the potty for longer than 5–7 minutes. Forcing them to do so can make going to the potty an unpleasant experience for them.
- Do not use words like “dirty” or “stinky.”
- Do not compare your child with other kids.
- And lastly, and probably most importantly, do not expect your child to be trained overnight.10
|↑1, ↑6, ↑9||Toilet Training. University of Michigan.|
|↑2, ↑5||Toilet Training Guidelines: Parents—The Role of the Parents in Toilet Training. American Academy of Pediatrics.|
|↑3, ↑7||Potty Training Tips. University of Utah Health.|
|↑4||Toilet-Training. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.|
|↑8||Potty Training your Toddler. Purdue University.|
|↑10||THE FOUR STAGES OF TOILET LEARNING. Northern Illinois University.|