When to Start Potty Training

You're Ready—But Is Your Child?

Your toddler will be ready to use the toilet when he’s both physically and mentally up to the challenge, usually between 22 and 30 months old.

Many a mom has wished that her child came with an instruction manual, but let’s face it—each kid is delightfully unique in his own special way. This is particularly the case when it comes to toilet training. Your daughter might have been ready at 23 months old, but now your son is still resisting well past this benchmark. Relax. Step back. Take a deep breath and close your ears to the well-intentioned advice and warnings of friends, family and perhaps even your daycare provider. Your toddler will be ready to use the toilet when he says he’s ready and when he’s both physically and mentally up to the challenge regardless of what his exact age might be.

Some General Guidelines

Of course, you want perimeters, some guidelines as to when most kids conquer this milestone. WebMD says most kids are up to transitioning to the toilet sometime between the ages of 22 and 30 months. Yes, that’s more than half a year. It covers a lot ground, especially in the life of a toddler. You probably shouldn’t become concerned until your child is approaching 3 years old. Most kids have mastered the toilet by the age of 36 months.

Telltale Signs—What to Look For

In the meantime, let your eyes and ears be your guide. Your child will almost certainly tell you when he's ready. Does he have bowel movements at roughly the same time each day? That’s something you can begin working with. Does he otherwise tip you off when he’s ready to go, maybe by grunting, grabbing his genitals or squatting down? Or maybe he lets you know after the fact when his diaper is wet or soiled and he’d really like to get out of it. Does he tend to stay dry for intervals of at least two hours? If so, he’s starting to show an ability to hold his urine.

These are all indications that his body, at least, might be ready to adapt to using the toilet. But keep in mind that many kids can physically handle the toilet challenge before they’re also emotionally ready to make the change from diapers to a potty chair.

So How Long Will This Take?

Again, the duration of toilet training from start to finish can depend on each individual child. Count on at least three months and as many as six. The younger your child is when you start training, the longer it will generally take. Anticipate some hiccups and setbacks during the process. Bladder control usually comes first, although getting through a whole night dry can take up to a year. Some kids don’t manage this until they’re 5 or 6 years old.

You might think things are coming along just fine only to have your child decide that this isn’t such a great idea after all. That’s not unusual. Take a step back if it happens, wait a week or two, then begin the process again. You can take the same approach if she’s just not getting the hang of it. It's better to quit for a while and return to the challenge later than allow yourself—or her—to grow frustrated.

Boys Vs. Girls

Gender matters, too. If your daughter aced toilet training before your son even indicates he might be ready, this is normal. Boys tend to achieve this milestone later than girls.

It can be helpful to start your son out by sitting down to urinate—this is much less complicated for him and it requires less dexterity. Just help him to point his penis downward so he achieves what you’re trying to help him achieve. Later, when he’s gotten good at this, you can introduce a step stool in front of the “grown-up” toilet. A fun and tried-and-true trick involves sprinkling Cheerios or other cereal in the toilet bowl so he can aim at the pieces.

A Parental Checklist

OK, you know what signals to watch for to tell if your child is ready to begin training. But you might also want to run down a checklist before you start to make sure all systems are go. Most of these things are just common sense.

Your child should be conversant enough to be able to tell you, “It’s time!” And you should be on your toes to act quickly and get him to his potty chair when he does so, particularly in the beginning.

She has to be able to get out of her clothing on his own without too much fuss although you'll help with this when she's starting out. Think elastic waistbands, two-piece outfits so just the pants can come off, and Velcro (or dresses for girls). If it works out for you calendar-wise, summer is usually better for toilet training than winter because less clothing is involved at this time of year.

Depending on the type of training device you use—a seat you place on your own toilet or her own potty seat—she’ll have to be dexterous enough to access it and use it.

And remember that the terrible twos can be riddled with resistance to things just on principal. If your child is in a stage where “No!” is her favorite word, you might want to wait a few weeks for a more receptive time.

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