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. Most children are ready to start when they are between 22 and 30 months of age, but every child is different.
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 your child 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:
- Bowel movements occur on a regular, somewhat predictable schedule.
- Bowel movements do not occur during the night.
- Diapers frequently are dry after waking from a nap or for at least 2 hours at a time.
- Facial expressions, grunting, or squatting show an awareness that your child is passing urine or stool.
Your child must also be able to remove clothing and climb onto and use the toilet with some help. And your child must be able 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 your child must be willing to cooperate with you during the toilet-training process. For example, training often doesn't go well if your child is in the stage where "no" is their automatic response to every request.
Your child shows emotional readiness for toilet training in several ways. Your child may:
- Tell you when their diaper is dirty and ask to have it changed.
- Be eager to please and able to follow simple directions.
- Tell you that they want to use the toilet or wear underwear instead of diapers.
- Like to be neat and tidy. Many children go through a period where they like being clean and organized.
- Act interested when other family members use the bathroom.
Be careful of getting too excited about your child's readiness after they show one or two of these signs. A child may be excited about using the potty, only to lose interest very quickly.
Delays in toilet training
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.
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 they regularly anticipate the need to go to the bathroom and with little help are 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. Your child 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 they do 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 their 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.