Potty Training 411

Potty training is a big step for kids—and for parents. The secret to success? Timing and patience.

Is it time?

Potty training success hinges on physical, developmental and behavioral milestones, not age. Many children show signs of being ready for potty training between ages 18 and 24 months. However, others might not be ready until they’re 3 years old. There’s no rush. If you start too early, it might take longer to train your child. And boys often start later and take longer to learn to use the potty than girls.

Is your child ready? Ask yourself:

    • Can your child walk to and sit on a toilet?
    • Can your child pull down his or her pants and pull them up again?
    • Can your child stay dry for up to two hours?
    • Can your child understand and follow basic directions?
    • Can your child communicate when he or she needs to go?
    • Does your child seem interested in using the toilet or wearing “big-kid” underwear?


    • If you answered mostly yes, your child might be ready. If you answered mostly no, you might want to wait — especially if your child is about to face a major change, such as a move or the arrival of a new sibling, when traveling, changing from the crib to the bed, moving to a new house or when your child is sick.


Your readiness is important, too. Let your child’s motivation, instead of your eagerness, lead the process. Try not to equate potty training success or difficulty with your child’s intelligence or stubbornness. Also, keep in mind that accidents are inevitable and punishment has no role in the process. Plan toilet training for when you or a caregiver can devote the time and energy to be consistent on a daily basis for a few months.



Different strategies work with different children, but these tips generally get the job done.

    • Pick the right potty. Look for a model that’s durable and won’t tip over when your child jumps up to check her progress. Or opt for a potty seat that simply attaches to the toilet. Look for a stable fit — a shaky seat can spook a child back into diapers for weeks — and a built-in foot rest, which offers something to push against during bowel movements.


    • Establish standard bathroom talk. Use words to express the act of using the toilet (“pee,” “poop,” and “potty”).


    • 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. Also, many kids have a time of day they tend to have a bowel movement.


    • 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. Identify behaviors (“Are you going poop?”) so that your child can learn to recognize the urge to pee and poop. Even if you’re too late and he’s already done the deed, have him sit on the potty anyway to reinforce the connection.


    • Change your tot’s diapers in the room where the potty is stashed — this subtly reinforces the connection between the two


    • Empty dirty diapers 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. Practice the all-important pull-down maneuver. Ask your toddler to pull down her pants before diaper changes and then pull them back up after.


    • Let them bare their bottom. To boost your child’s awareness of body’s signals, allow them to scamper about (in a private yard or room with a washable floor) with their lower half unclad. It’s hard to ignore urine when there’s no diaper to hold it in. Keep the potty close by so your child can act on her body’s signals quickly.


    • 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.


    • Don’t deny drinks. Many parents reason that by rationing fluids, they’ll cut their toddler’s chances of having an accident. But this approach is unfair and unhealthy — not to mention ineffective. In fact, the better tactic is to step up your child’s fluid intake to give her more opportunities to succeed.


    • Set children up with good hygiene habits that will last a lifetime. Washing hands should be a routine from Day 1, along with flushing and wiping, regardless of whether your child actually went in the potty.


    • 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.


    • 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.


Potty + Sleep Training

Nap time and nighttime training typically takes longer to achieve. Most children can stay dry at night between ages 5 and 7. In the meantime, use disposable training pants and mattress covers when your child sleeps.


Accidents Will Happen

They just will. Handle them with care and remember what this is all about—patience.

  • Stay calm. Don’t scold, discipline or shame your child. You might say, “You forgot this time. Next time you’ll get to the bathroom sooner.”


  • Be prepared. Keep a change of underwear and clothing handy, especially at school or in child care.

While the prospect of ditching the diapers is exciting, getting there can try your parenting patience. But don’t lose hope. Potty training your toddler might seem endless, but sooner or later your little one will get the hang of it and outgrow diapers. Good luck!