One of the more important decisions you’ll make during your children’s early years are when (and how) to start potty-training them. Your child’s self-esteem is important to you, and you don’t want to push them too early – but you also fear they’ll be behind their peers if you wait too late. Family members and friends often offer their helpful (or not-so-helpful) thoughts on what age is right, how long it’ll take, and how to do it – but you’re still unsure.
First of all, let’s remember that toilet training is not a contest or competition. If your best friend’s toddler was potty-trained by 18 months, that’s great for them! However, this is actually quite rare – MOST children accomplish this goal somewhere between ages 2 and 3. Children develop at different rates in different areas, and the age at which they’re ready to potty-train is in no way indicative of how smart they are, or how successful they’ll be in life.
For toddlers, the idea of toileting is very much wrapped up in their sense of control and competence, and it can lead to feelings of shame and self-doubt if not handled properly. Take the pressure off of them, as well as off of yourself, by not trying to force this milestone before it’s time.
So when will your child be ready? The right window of opportunity for toilet training your toddler depends on three areas – physical, mental, and emotional development, which are discussed in detail below. Your child may not show every sign here, but they should definitely be exhibiting readiness in all three of these areas before you attempt training.
Signs your child is physically ready for potty-training:
- They know the feelings that signal the need to use the bathroom, and can let you know either nonverbally (dancing around, crossing legs, holding crotch), or even verbally (letting you know that they’ve gone to the bathroom or are about to go).
- They can stay dry for longer periods of time, so you’re changing fewer diapers. If your child can’t stay dry through a 2-hour nap, they’re definitely not ready!
- They can pull pants on/off without help (not including pants with zippers or difficult latches).
- They can climb onto the toilet with little to no help.
Signs your child is mentally ready for potty-training:
- They express discomfort with being in a wet or soiled diaper. If they don’t notice or care about being wet, they’re not ready.
- They can understand and use the family’s words for bathroom functions and body parts.
- They ask about wearing big-kid underwear.
- They can follow 2-step directions, such as, “Flush the potty, and then wash your hands.”
Signs your child is emotionally ready for potty-training:
- They’re not fearful of the toilet.
- They seek privacy when going in diaper (such as by hiding behind furniture).
- They show interest in using the toilet by watching you or others, wanting to flush toilet paper, or actually asking to try the toilet themselves.
- They express a desire to be independent or “in charge” in other ways.
When it comes to potty-training, the rule of thumb is NOT the earlier you start, the earlier it’ll be completed. If you try before your child is ready, the process will more than likely end up taking longer than if you’d just waited. Success in potty-training is much more dependent on children’s readiness than their specific age.