Many parents are unsure about when to start toilet training or "potty training."
Not all kids are ready at the same age, so it's important to watch your child for
signs of readiness, such as stopping an activity for a few seconds or clutching his
or her diaper.
Instead of using age, look for signs that your child may be ready to start heading
for the potty, such as being able to:
follow simple instructions
understand and use words about using the potty
make the connection between the urge to pee or poop and using the potty
keep a diaper dry for 2 hours or more
get to the potty, sit on it for enough time, and then get off the potty
pull down diapers, disposable training pants, or underpants
show an interest in using the potty or wearing underpants
Most children begin to show these signs when they're between 18 and 24 months old,
though some may not be ready until later than that. And boys often start later and
take longer to learn to use the potty than girls.
There are some times when you may want to put off starting toilet training, such
when your child is sick (especially if diarrhea
is a factor)
How Long Does Toilet Training Take?
Teaching a toddler to use the potty isn't an overnight task. It often takes between
3 and 6 months, but can take more or less time for some children. If you start too
soon, the process tends to take longer. And it
can take months to even years to master staying dry at night.
The two basic potty options are:
a standalone, toddler-size potty chair with a bowl that can be emptied into the
a toddler-size seat that can be placed on top of a toilet seat that will let your
child feel more secure and not fear falling in. If you choose this, get a stepping
stool so your child can reach the seat comfortably and feel supported while having
a bowel movement.
It's usually best for boys to first learn to use the toilet sitting down before
learning to pee standing up. For boys who feel awkward — or scared — about
standing on a stool to pee in the toilet, a potty chair may be a better option.
You may want to get a training potty or seat for every bathroom in your house.
You may even want to keep a potty in the trunk of your car for emergencies. When traveling
long distances, be sure to take a potty seat with you and stop every 1 to 2 hours.
Otherwise, it can take too long to find a restroom.
About Training Pants
Disposable training pants are a helpful step between diapers and underwear. Because
kids' nighttime bladder and bowel control often lags behind their daytime control,
some parents like using training pants at night. Others prefer that their child use
training pants when they're out and about. Once the training pants remain dry for
a few days, kids can make the switch to wearing underwear.
But some people think that disposable training pants might make kids think it's
OK to use them like diapers, thus slowing the toilet-teaching process.
Ask your doctor if your child would benefit from using disposable training pants
as a transitional step.
Tips for Toilet Training
Even before your child is ready to try the potty, you can prepare your little one
by teaching about the process:
Use words to express the act of using the toilet ("pee," "poop," and "potty").
Ask your child to let you know when a diaper is wet or soiled.
Identify behaviors ("Are you going poop?") so that your child can learn to recognize
the urge to pee and poop.
Get a potty chair your child can practice sitting on. At first, your child can
sit on it wearing clothes or a diaper. When ready, your child can go bare-bottomed.
If you've decided that your child is ready to start learning how to use the potty,
these tips may help:
Set aside some time to devote to the potty-training process.
Don't make your child sit on the toilet against his or her will.
Show your child how you sit on the toilet and explain what you're doing
(because your child learns by watching you). You also can have your child sit on the
potty seat and watch while you (or a sibling) use the toilet.
Establish a routine. For example, you may want to begin by having your child sit
on the potty after waking with a dry diaper, or 45 minutes to an hour after drinking
lots of liquids. Only put your child on the potty for a few minutes a couple of times
a day, and let your child get up if he or she wants to.
Have your child sit on the potty within 15 to 30 minutes after meals to take advantage
of the body's natural tendency to have a bowel movement after eating (this is called
the gastro-colic reflex). Also, many kids have a time of day they tend to have a bowel
Ask your child to sit on the potty if you see clear clues of needing to go to
the bathroom, such as crossing legs, grunting, or squatting.
Empty a bowel movement (poop) from your child's diaper into the toilet, and tell
your child that poop goes in the potty.
Avoid clothes that are hard to take off, such as overalls and shirts that snap
in the crotch. Kids who are potty training need to be able to undress themselves.
Offer your child small rewards, such as stickers or time reading, every time your
child goes in the potty. Keep a chart to track of successes. Once your little one
appears to be mastering the use of the toilet, let him or her pick out a few new pairs
of big-kid underwear to wear.
Make sure all caregivers — including babysitters, grandparents, and childcare
workers — follow the same routine and use the same names for body parts and
bathroom acts. Let them know how you're handling toilet training and ask that they
use the same approaches so your child won't be confused.
Praise all attempts to use the toilet, even if nothing happens. And remember that
accidents will happen. It's important not to punish potty-training children or show
disappointment when they wet or soil themselves or the bed. Instead, tell your child
that it was an accident and offer your support. Reassure your child that he or she
is well on the way to using the potty like a big kid.
Common Toilet Training Problems
Many kids who've been using the potty have some trouble during times of stress.
For example, a 2- or 3-year-old dealing with a new sibling may start having accidents.
But if your child was potty-trained and is regularly having problems, talk with
Talk to your doctor if you have any questions about toilet training or your child
is 4 years or older and is not yet potty trained.