Your child must be both physically and emotionally ready for toilet training. Most children are ready to start when they are between 22 and 30 months of age, but every child is different. Toilet training usually becomes a long and frustrating process if you try to start it before your child is ready.
Before children can use the toilet, they must be able to control their bowel and bladder muscles. Some signs of this control are having bowel movements around the same time each day, not having bowel movements at night, and having a dry diaper after a nap or for at least 2 hours at a time. Children must also be able to climb, talk, remove clothing, and have mastered other basic motor skills before they can use the toilet by themselves.
Most children are physically ready to toilet train before they are emotionally ready. Your child must want to use the toilet and be willing to cooperate with you. He or she may even talk about being a "big boy" or "big girl" and wearing underpants rather than diapers. Training generally does not go well if your child is in the stage where "no" is his or her automatic response to every request.
A child is considered toilet-trained when he or she knows that it is time to go to the bathroom and is able to climb onto and use the toilet with little help. The average time it takes is 3 months. Girls usually are toilet-trained a little earlier than boys are.footnote 1
Your child will likely need help with wiping after a bowel movement until age 4 or 5. He or she may also need extra help in unfamiliar bathrooms, such as public restrooms, until about age 5 or 6.
If your child resists using the toilet, he or she probably isn't ready. Sometimes toilet training disruptions or delays are caused by stress or major changes in routine. Also, a child who is doing well with toilet training may suddenly have difficulty for no obvious reason. This is a normal part of toilet training. It is best to start or resume toilet training when your child is receptive to it and in a stable environment.
Your child's toilet training experience should be positive. If it becomes a struggle or a battle of wills, it is best to ease up or stop for a while. Although you may be ready for toilet training, your child may not be.
It can be hard to know when to start toilet training. In general, a child must be both physically and emotionally ready before toilet training can be successful.
Children go through a toilet readiness phase that won't be the same for every child. Watch for physical and emotional signs that your child is ready to toilet train. Things going on in your family affect your child during this phase. It is not advised to toilet train during a time of family change, such as when there's a move, a new baby, or divorce.
When your child is ready to toilet train, the learning phase can begin. During this time, provide opportunities to toilet train and encourage your child.
A child is physically capable of being toilet-trained when he or she develops muscle control over the bowel and bladder. This rarely happens before 18 months of age.
Some basic signs that your child has bowel and bladder control include the following:
Your child must also be able to climb and remove clothing. And he or she must be able to talk enough to communicate with you about the need to use the toilet.
Your child may be physically ready to toilet train after 18 months of age. But emotional readiness may take more time. Your child must want to use the toilet. And he or she must be willing to cooperate with you during the toilet-training process. For example, training typically does not go well if your child is in the stage where "no" is his or her automatic response to every request.
Your child shows emotional readiness for toilet training in several ways. He or she may:
Be careful of getting too excited about your child's readiness after he or she shows one or two of these signs. A child may be excited about using the potty, only to lose interest very quickly.
It is normal for your child to be doing well with toilet training and to suddenly begin having problems. For example, he or she may try to "hold it" for long periods or want to wear diapers again. This does not mean your efforts have failed. But it does mean that you need to ease up on the training for a little while.
Stress in the home can interfere with a child's toilet training. For example, toilet-training setbacks can be related to the arrival of a new baby, a move, a change in preschool or child care, family conflict, or illness or death of a close family member.
A child's toilet habits may also be affected if he or she gets an illness, especially one that has a long recovery time.
Sometimes your child will not cooperate—for no reason that you can figure out.
Resist pressure from friends or family to toilet train your child too early. Parents often feel that their child should be trained by a specific age or to meet a deadline, such as for a requirement to enroll in a particular day care. You and your child are less likely to become frustrated and more likely to have a good experience with toilet training if it is not forced. Staying positive and relaxed is an important part of training your child.
Negative reactions typically do not help. Children need frequent praise throughout the entire process of toilet training.
You will know your child is toilet-trained when he or she regularly anticipates the need to go to the bathroom and with little help is able to climb onto and use the type of toilet (potty) that you provide. This process takes time, from weeks to months. Each child is different. But most children are successfully trained around age 3 or shortly thereafter (girls are typically trained a few months earlier than boys). Your child may still need help now and then, such as with wiping, until age 4 or 5. He or she may also need help and reassurance when using a toilet in an unfamiliar bathroom, such as in a public restroom, until about age 5 or 6.
Most toilet-trained children sometimes wet or soil their pants during the day, usually because they get distracted. For example, your child may ignore the need to go to the bathroom because he or she does not want to interrupt playtime. These accidents may occur until your child is 5 years old. Stress can also cause a child to revert to wetting his or her pants.
Most children sometimes wet the bed at night until about 12 months after they use the toilet during the day. Many 3-year-olds wet the bed at night at least once a month. Nighttime bed-wetting may even occur sporadically into school age.
You may be confused about when to begin toilet training. This is not surprising, considering that most people are bombarded with advice and expectations from relatives, friends, and day care providers. You may also have personal reasons for wanting your child toilet-trained, such as being pregnant and wanting to avoid having two children in diapers at the same time. Balancing all of these factors can be a challenge.
Your child's physical and emotional readiness for toilet training is the most important aspect of the timing. Although you can begin toilet training your child at an earlier-than-average age, it usually takes longer. Also, both you and your child will likely become frustrated if you try toilet training before he or she is physically and emotionally ready.
Your child is not ready to start toilet training if he or she shows any resistance. Typically, a child objects by:
Toilet-trained children may have some accidents up until school age. A child who has an accident during the day is often in the middle of playing and simply holds it too long. Nighttime accidents may occur frequently within the first 12 months after children learn how to use the toilet during the day. Many 3-year-olds wet the bed at night at least once a month.
The focus on toilet training sometimes inspires children to play with their stools. This is normal behavior. Remind your child that stool is not a toy and that it belongs in the toilet. Reinforce this idea by helping your child to flush it down the toilet. Help your child satisfy a natural need to feel textures by offering playtime with molding material, such as clay or Play-Doh, or finger paints.
Sometimes toilet training sparks curiosity about where urine and stool come from, prompting some children to feel and touch their genital area. This is a normal part of how children learn about their bodies. Don't shame or punish your child for this behavior. You can explain the function of the genitals and suggest that they are personal body parts to be looked at and explored in private.
Your child should have regular checkups, sometimes called well-child appointments, with a pediatrician, family medicine doctor, or other health professional. These visits allow the health professional to evaluate your child's development and ensure that he or she is healthy.
At the 2-year visit, the health professional will ask you about your child's progress in toilet training. This is a good opportunity to discuss any concerns you have about your child's readiness.
Call your doctor if you have concerns about your child's readiness for or progress with toilet training.
Most children use the toilet during the day consistently and successfully around age 3. Call your doctor if your child:
There are many different strategies and approaches to toilet training. The methods that work best use positive reinforcement and begin intensive training only when a child is physically and emotionally ready. Introduce the basic concepts of toilet use gradually and repetitively to your child. As your child gains the necessary skills, he or she will show a sincere interest in using the toilet.
Before you decide to start toilet training, make sure the household environment is stable and that all family members are prepared to help in the process. Trying to start potty training soon after having another child, while remodeling your home, while having a succession of household guests, right before going on vacation, or during a time of relationship problems will likely not be as successful as during a calm period when the family can focus on helping your young child reach this important developmental milestone.
Talk with your child about having a bowel movement and about urinating. Your child may be more comfortable saying "poop" and "pee." It is fine to use these words, but use the proper terms as well so that your child learns what they mean.
Start to talk with your child about how to use the toilet. Explain how the toilet works and how your child will be able to use it when he or she is ready. Be enthusiastic and always speak positively about your child's using the potty. Talk about how he or she will no longer need to wear diapers, will get to wear underpants that are more comfortable, and can go just like a big boy or girl.
You can also use books and DVDs to help prepare your child. Ask your doctor or a librarian for more information.
Take your child with you to select a potty that is sturdy and comfortable. Be patient and give your child time to get used to and comfortable with it. Some ways to do this are by:
Your child may want to join you when you use the toilet. If you feel comfortable with an audience, allow him or her to join you. Talk with your child about what you are doing.
Toilet training is usually more successful if you are relaxed and patient with your child.
Eventually, your child will show an interest in using the toilet. When this happens, follow your child's lead and start the process. General suggestions that can make this process go more smoothly are to:
Praise and encourage your child for success. You can say, "You are sitting on your potty just like mommy (or daddy, or big sister)" or "You are trying really hard to poop (or pee) in your potty." Reward your child for trying to use the toilet. You can use verbal praise and fun activities, such as stickers or special playtime with you.
Accidents happen. Do not scold or punish your child for accidentally wetting or soiling his or her pants. Be matter-of-fact and reassure your child that it's okay and that he or she will get better with practice. Also, remind your child to use the toilet when he or she wakes up in the morning.
If you and your child are not making progress with toilet training, it's okay. It's probably not the right time. Put the potty chair away until your child shows that he or she wants to try again.
The most important things to remember for toilet training are to wait until your child and family are ready and to make it a positive experience. Be patient, and look forward to the days ahead of freedom from diapers.
- Parker S, Sices L (2011). Toilet training. In M Augustyn et al., eds., Zuckerman Parker Handbook of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics for Primary Care, 3rd ed., pp. 393–395. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Other Works Consulted
- American Academy of Pediatrics (2008). Early childhood: 18-month visit. In JF Hagan et al., eds., Bright Futures: Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants, Children, and Adolescents, 3rd ed., pp. 407–417. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
- American Academy of Pediatrics (2008). Early childhood: 2-year visit. In JF Hagan et al., eds., Bright Futures: Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants, Children, and Adolescents, 3rd ed., pp. 419–428. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Goldson E, et al. (2014). Child development and behavior. In WW Hay Jr et al., eds., Current Diagnosis and Treatment: Pediatrics, 22nd ed., pp. 75–116. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Weissman L, Bridgemohan C (2009). Bowel function, toileting, and encopresis. In WB Carey et al., eds., Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics, 4th ed., pp. 610–618. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
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