Potty training is one of the big developmental milestones, up there with the first step, the first word, and your baby learning to self-feed. Part of the reason parents get so excited about this one is a little selfish.
By the time your baby is approaching 2 years of age, you can expect to have changed somewhere in the ballpark of 4,000 diapers. That’s why the potty, and the end of diapers, at least during the daytime, has an understandable appeal (1).
But when should you start potty training?
How to Potty Train Your Baby
- Watch your baby for cues. They’ll give silent signals when they are ready.
- Show enthusiasm. If you grumble about it, your child will too. Act excited, even when you aren’t.
- Head to the bathroom at the first sign of any action. You might not notice when your baby is urinating. But when they’re pooping, you see signs of concentration, a possible red face, and maybe even some grunting.
- Ditch the diapers and try letting your baby hang out with the security of the diaper. They’ll notice much more when they’re peeing and pooping and they don’t make it to the bathroom.
When Should You Start Potty Training?
Most healthy children are potty trained between the ages of 2 and 4 years. There is a great deal of variation between children. As long as your child has established proper toilet habits before they are ready for kindergarten, there is no need to worry (2).
The most important things to remember when you first think about potty training your baby are:
- Every child is different, and even though your first child was ready and willing to use the potty at the age of 2, your second child may not be there until later (3).
- It doesn’t matter how much you want to start potty training your baby — if they are not ready, it will be an exercise in futility.
- As a general rule, girls are ready for the training earlier than boys. This doesn’t mean that your 2-year-old son can’t be clean and dry during the day. It’s just less likely, and therefore nothing to worry about.
When Not To Start Potty Training
Just as important as knowing when to start potty training your baby is knowing when not to start it. Don’t even think about beginning your potty training journey if:
- Your child is ill.
- There are changes in your life, either happening now or planned for the near future. Potty training your baby in the weeks before a new baby arrives is a common mistake.
- You are feeling pressured to potty train your child. This often leads to stress and anxiety which are easily transferred to your child. It will make potty training less pleasant for you both.
How Do You Know When Your Child Is Ready To Potty Train?
To know when your child is ready for potty training, you have to recognize the signs (4). These include:
- Having a dry diaper after waking up from a nap.
- You are changing fewer wet diapers.
- Your little one likes to tell the world when they pee or poop.
- They understand and can follow simple instructions.
- Your child is able to pull underwear up and down by themselves.
- They show an interest in what’s going on in the bathroom.
- You notice your child is going into a corner or other-out-of-the-way spot and squatting down to poop in their diaper.
- They tell you they want to wear underwear.
How Long Does Potty Training Take?
There is no definitive answer to “How long does potty training take?” But as a general guideline, the more ready and willing your child is when you start, the quicker the whole process will be.
How much time you have to devote to the process can also have an impact. Children who are ready and excited to potty train can do it quickly if the parents have time to stay at home and focus on the process.
But if you begin before your child is ready, or switch frequently between diapers and underwear, potty training can drag on for months with little success.
It is reasonable to expect your child to be potty trained — clean and dry throughout the day, every day — fairly quickly. It could happen in two or three months. It may seem like it’s happening faster than that and then your child may have an slip-up.
What You Need To Get Started
One of the best ways to support successful potty training is to involve your child when choosing the potty, underwear, and potty training books. This can help them feel empowered and excited about the process (5).
There are a surprising number of potty designs available. They all generally work well no matter the gender. But there are so many choices it can feel overwhelming, especially if you are looking at them with your child (6).
My advice would be to look through a site and bookmark the pages of three or four different potties that you feel are suitable. Then let your little one choose between them. This gives you control over the design, style, and price point, while giving your baby a degree of autonomy in the potty training process.
For its simplicity, I recommend the BabyBjörn smart potty, which is suitable for all babies, whether they are boys and girls.
It’s available in a number of bright colors and has an inner bowl which is easy to remove and empty. That’s nice because it is surprisingly tricky to tip a regular-shaped potty in such a way that it empties into the toilet and not onto the bathroom floor.
For sheer fun, there is the Summer My Size Potty that looks just like a child-size toilet.
It has an integral toilet wipe holder, a removable inner bowl for easy emptying and a flush handle that makes a realistic flushing noise when pressed.
The downside of this potty is that it’s almost too fun. If like us, you have a child who becomes obsessed with pressing the handle to hear the flush, you’ll find yourself running in and out of the bathroom with your little one twelve times an hour for phantom pees.
A Toilet Seat
Some parents prefer to use a toilet seat rather than a potty and the range is just as diverse and potentially overwhelming. You can buy seats that are cushioned and others with integral steps and stair rails. You can even get musical seats that play when the pressure of a little bottom is applied.
I am not a fan of this option as I have always found these seats a pain to put in place and remove. The versions with stairs and rails seem to take up half of the washroom.
However, for some families, the straight to toilet seat method works for them. If this is your preferred method, then the Munchkin sturdy potty seat is popular.
It has handles onto which a baby can hold.
Travel Potty Or Seat
Not everybody needs a travel potty or seat, but if you do, it’s important to consider where you might be using it.
The further you travel from home, the more likely you are to run into an issue with a travel toilet seat. This is especially true if you are traveling off the beaten track in a country that uses squat toilets. In this case, you may want to consider a travel potty, especially if you think your baby may have issues balancing over such a toilet.
We’ve found the Oxo Tot 2-in-1 to be an excellent option while on the go — if you’ll excuse the pun.
It can be used, with a bag as a stand-alone potty, or placed over a squat toilet as a low and sturdy seat. You can also lock the legs backward and use it as a small seat on a regular-sized toilet.
It covers pretty much every eventuality.
When it comes to buying underwear while you are potty training, buy more than you think you will need. In the early stages, you might have several small accidents in a day and you don’t need to be running out of pants halfway through an afternoon because you only bought a pack of five.
Potty Training Books
These are great fun and an essential item in your potty training tool kit for many reasons. Before you begin potty training, you can read all about it with your little one, so they are well informed and prepared for what’s going to happen. This may even encourage them to want to potty train sooner rather than later.
Potty training books are also a fabulous option for reading while on the potty.
How To Potty Train Your Baby Step By Step
1. Prepare Yourself For Success
Get everything you need ahead of time. Include your child in the selection of items, read potty training books, and get them generally excited about the process.
2. Choose The Right Time
When your child is showing signs of potty training readiness, choose a day to begin. It is best if you choose a time when an adult can be home with the child for several days in a row.
3. Perform Some Dress Rehearsals
Before the big day you start training, encourage your child to sit on the toilet, or potty, with their clothes on. Let them get comfortable with the position and the feel of the seat. This is also a good time to choose which words you are going to use for the toilet training process.
Try to avoid adjectives such as stinky or gross. If your child is in any kind of daycare, ensure your chosen words will be easy for someone outside of the family to understand.
4. Let Your Child Take The Lead
On the first morning, encourage your child to choose which underwear to put on and let them practice pulling them up and down. Set a schedule so you take regular trips to the potty together and don’t rely on asking your child if they need to go. If your little one is engrossed in an activity they are likely to tell you no, even as they have an accident.
Instead, keep to a regular schedule and look for signs your child needs to go, such as wiggling or crossing their legs.
5. Keep Up The Good Work
Take step four and repeat. If it becomes clear that your child is not ready, is distressed, or is having multiple accidents every day, let them know it’s okay. Move back to diapers for a few weeks and try again.
Tried And True Tips For Potty Training
Having gone through the potty training process in our home, I have a few special tips. Some might work for you, others not so much. What’s most important is that potty training does not become a negative process for you or your child.
Consider Avoiding Pull-ups
This is a controversial one. For some people, disposable underpants were the only way to go. But we found that given a pair of underwear in which it was okay to pee, our kids would pee in them.
You don’t have to ply your kids with sugary treats in an attempt to bribe them to use the potty. But everyone loves a reward for success, and it’s motivating.
We wrapped a few small items in paper and put them in a box. At the end of the first successful day, our little one would get to choose a gift. The same on the third day, then the fifth, and so on for a couple of weeks.
Keep Them Well Hydrated
Successful potty training requires your child to need to go to the washroom. By ensuring your child is well hydrated you can also ensure plenty of trips to the potty.
Let Boys Sit
Learning to use the toilet and learning to pee standing up with a good aim all at once can be overwhelming. If this is the case for your son, encourage them to pee sitting down for now.
Know When To Take A Break
If things are not going well, if you or your child are upset or stressed, give up for the time being. There’s no shame in waiting another couple of months and trying again.
Elimination Communication Potty Training
Elimination communication, also known as infant potty training, is a method by which a baby is not put into diapers to begin with. Instead, the parents learn to recognize the signs their baby is about to go.
Once they recognize these cues, a parent responds to an “I’m about to go” sign by holding their baby above the potty and making a sound such as a whistle. The baby eventually associates this sound with going to the bathroom. They will then go on demand in response to their parents making the appropriate noise.
While this technique is usually met with raised eyebrows in the U.S., there are many areas of the world where this is standard practice.
Elimination communication training works best for parents who have the time to dedicate to the process. It’s best if they are not going to get too stressed out by more dirty and wet clothes.
On the plus side, successful elimination communication training can see your child using the potty with little help before their first birthday. Many EC children are clean and dry by the time they are 18 months old.
Potty Training Problems
You may find that your previously clean and dry child regresses and begins to have regular accidents, nighttime bed wettings, or stops using the potty or toilet at all. If this happens, it is usually a sign of either an upheaval or change in your child’s life or an illness (7).
If your child begins to regress, first look at what is happening around them. If everything seems to be as it normally is, take a trip to your medical professional for a check-up. Sudden accidents can be the result of something such as a urine infection.
The Last Word
It can be tempting to rush into potty training in order to put an end to diaper changing. But jumping in before your child is ready is not a good idea.
Instead, look for signs that your baby is aware of when they need to go to the bathroom. These can include understanding and following simple instructions, and being capable of pulling their underwear up and down. They have to show an interest in dumping the diapers.