When and how to help your child learn to use the potty depends on how ready your child is, as well as your own beliefs and values about toilet training. There is not one “right” way or one “right” age to learn. Here are some questions and thoughts to keep in mind as you help your child learn to use the toilet.
Signs That Your Child Is Ready for Potty Training
Most children develop control over their bowel and bladder by 18 months. This skill is necessary for children to physically be able to use the toilet. How ready a child is emotionally to begin learning to use the potty depends on the individual child. Some children are ready at 18 months, and others are ready at 3. While every child is different, about 22% of children are out of diapers by 2½, and 88% of children are out of diapers by 3½.
Your Child Is Ready To Learn To Use The Toilet When They:
- Stay dry for at least 2 hours at a time, or after naps
- Recognize that they are urinating or having a bowel movement. For example, your child might go into another room or under the table when they have a bowel movement. This is important—if your child does not realize they are having a bowel movement, they won’t be successful at potty training.
- Is developing physical skills that are critical to potty training—the ability to walk, to pull pants up and down, and to get onto/off the potty (with some help).
- Copy a parent’s toileting behavior.
- Can follow simple instructions.
- Most importantly, your child wants to use the potty. They may tell you that he wants to wear ‘big kid’ underpants or learn to go potty “Like Daddy does.” They may feel uncomfortable in a soiled diaper and ask to be changed or ask to use the toilet himself.
When Not to Start Potty Training
There are some issues that can sometimes get in the way of successful potty training. For example, when children are going through a significant change or several changes at once (see list below) it might be smart to hold off on adventures in potty training. At these times, children often feel overwhelmed and sometimes lose skills they have already learned or were making progress on, like potty training. Common situations that can cause stress and are generally not good times to start training include:
- An upcoming or recent family move
- Beginning new or changing existing childcare arrangements
- Switching from crib to bed
- When you are expecting or have recently had a new baby.
- A major illness, a recent death, or some other family crisis
- If your child is in the middle of potty training during a stressful time and seems to be having more accidents than usual, know that this is normal. Your child needs all of your patience and support right now. They will return to her previous level of potty training once things have gotten back to normal.
Starting Potty Training
It can be helpful to think of potty training as a process in which both you and your child have your own “jobs” to do.
It is the parent’s responsibility to create a supportive learning environment. This means that you:
- Recognize that your child is in control of his or her body
- Let your child decide whether to use the potty or a diaper/pull-up each day
- Teach your child words for body parts, urine, and bowel movements
- Offer your child the tools they need to be successful at toileting (such as a small potty, potty seat, stool, etc.)
- Expect and handle potty accidents without anger
- Avoid punishment as well as too much praise around toilet use. (This can make children feel bad when they aren’t successful.)
It is your child’s responsibility to:
- Decide whether to use the toilet or a diaper/pull-up
- Learn his body’s signals for when he needs to use the toilet
- Use the toilet at his own speed
Finding a toilet training method that works for your family is the key. No matter how you do it, remember this is a learning process that takes time, with many accidents along the way. Being patient is the best way you can support your child as they learn.
Keep in mind that children with special needs may take longer to learn to use the potty. They may also need special equipment and a lot of help and support from you. If you need assistance with your child’s toilet training, talk with your child’s health care provider or community service coordinator.
What to Avoid When Potty Training
Toddlers are all about trying to gain some control over their world. They are using their growing physical, thinking, and language skills to gain some power over themselves, their bodies, and their surroundings. This natural and healthy desire for control can lead to power struggles, as children quickly figure out that one way to feel in charge is by refusing to do something they know their parent wants them to do. And, for better or worse, learning to use the potty is way up there on most parents’ list of what they really, really, really want their children to do—and children quickly pick up on that. (Just picture mom and dad clapping and jumping up and down when they see their child’s first bowel movement in the potty.) Toilet training is particularly ripe for power struggles because it is so tied up with toddlers wanting to have control over their own bodies.
So it’s important to approach toilet training matter-of-factly and without a lot of emotion. Think of it as just another skill you are helping your child learn. If you show anger or disappointment when it’s not going well, or overwhelming joy when it is, it lets your child know this is something you want him to do badly. Refusing to do it becomes a very powerful way for your child to feel in control. The more emotional you are, the more it shows your child how much it matters to you that they use the potty.
It is also very important not to force your child to use the potty because it can cause intense power struggles. These power struggles sometimes lead to children trying to regain control over their bodies by withholding urine or bowel movements. This can create physical problems, like constipation. So if you are starting to see power struggles developing over potty training, it might help to take the pressure off. Stop talking about potty training or doing anything about it for a little while, until your child shows signs of readiness and interest again.
To Use Rewards for Potty Training or Not
Many parents wonder about offering rewards for using the potty- a sticker, an extra sweet, or a little toy every time their child is successful on the toilet. Although these kinds of rewards may encourage progress in the short run, the concern is that for some children, the pressure of “success” in the form of the reward creates anxiety or feelings of failure when they have a (very normal and even expected) potty accident. The other risk is that the use of rewards for toileting can lead children to expect rewards for doing almost anything—finishing a meal, brushing teeth, etc. When parents are matter-of-fact about potty training and don’t make a big deal about it, children are more likely to follow their own internal desire to reach this important milestone.
Oftentimes, the desire to be clean is what truly motivates a child to stop playing and go to the bathroom. When your child has an accident, encourage them to change their own clothes. This is not a punishment! It can encourage independence and accountability.
-Article from Zero To Three
Time to Try! A Message From an LPP Teacher, Jamie Paustian
Toilet training often takes a long weekend. Once your child shows the signs, hang around the house for two-four days and focus on the process. Prior to training your child, talk about why you think they are ready to pee on the potty and how exciting it is. Make a special trip to the store to buy “special” big kid underwear. Model how to go on the potty and introduce them to the toilet.
Step 1 On the first day put your child in underwear. You can also buy training pants. These are reusable, specially designed cotton underpants with extra layers of fabric between the legs. Department and baby-specialty stores usually stock them in the underwear section. If they have an accident in them, they’ll definitely feel wet! (Pull-ups can send mixed messages for times other than sleep—they feel dry!)
Step 2 Coax your child to listen to their body and sit on the potty when they know that pee or poop is coming.
Step 3 Throughout the weekend, direct your child to the bathroom first thing in the morning, before and after naps, after meals, before bedtime, and every two hours if they don’t already do so themselves.
If by end of the last day your child still leaves puddles on the floor or doesn’t care about having numerous accidents in his/her training pants, they’re not ready. Go back to diapers and try again another weekend. Your child won’t transition to the toilet any faster if you keep them in underwear. It only results in more cleanup and frustration for you- and a sense of failure for them. If they wear underwear for the weekend and regret having an accident or two, mission accomplished! They can wear them every day. Once your child moves to wearing underwear every day, do not put them back in a diaper, even if it is a long car ride! This can cause confusion and regression. Remember, accidents happen! Don’t get discouraged.
Most importantly, wait for the signs that your child is ready before doing potty training boot camp. Pushing your child too early can cause a negative experience. We want your child to feel successful! Once your child reaches regular potty training, we will be more than happy to mirror
When Preschoolers Are Still Not Interested in Potty Training
Reach out to your child’s health care provider with your questions or concerns about potty training. Occasionally, children have physical issues that make potty training more difficult, so a check-up is always a good idea. You may also want to sit down with a child development specialist who can help you figure out what the challenges around potty training might be for your individual child and can help you identify toilet learning strategies that might be more successful.
For more information on potty training or to talk with an expert, visit our partner, Janeen at Swellbeing, at swellbeing.com. We hope you can join us the next time she hosts an event for LPP!