Potty Training: When to Start, What Helps

When you have a baby, you're knee-deep in diapers. They're tucked into your bag. Stacked near the crib. Stored in boxes under beds. You might even have a few stashed in the glove compartment of your car, just in case.

Diapers are part of your life, day in, day out, for so long that it's hard to imagine not needing them anymore. It seems like the day when your child will walk into the bathroom, pee or poop, wipe, wash hands, and walk back out without you even knowing it is a long way off.

And yet, that day is coming. And it will be as glorious as it has been in your dreams. Between now and then, there's a big project: potty training. You may be ready to make the transition, but is your little one?

When to Start

Just like talking, walking, and sleeping through the night, every child's timing is different. There is no perfect age to start potty training. How will you know if your child is ready? He will show interest in various ways, including asking questions about the toilet, potty seats, and underwear.

Whether or not your child is ready is based on where he is physically and emotionally. Many kids show interest around 2 years old, while others couldn't care less until they're 2 1/2 or 3. Though there are always exceptions, girls usually show interest earlier than boys and are quicker to get the hang of it.

There's no need to whip out a potty seat the second your child's questions start. Ask yourself a few questions first:

Can my child sit on a potty seat and get back up without my help? Follow basic instructions? Tell me when it's time to go? Can my child pull down diapers, training pants, or underwear without my help? Control bladder and bowel muscles and keep a diaper dry for at least 2 hours?

If you've answered yes to those questions, your child is ready. But are you? Though having a potty-trained child is easier in the long run, it takes time, focus, and plenty of patience. Other things, like having another child, traveling, or moving might knock you both off balance until you're resettled into a routine.

If you've answered no to those questions, it's best to wait. If you start potty training before your child is ready, the process may take longer than needed. And no doubt, you’ve already noticed how stubborn toddlers can be.


What Helps

Be a positive potty model. When you go to the bathroom, use it as an opportunity to talk your child through the process. Use words he or she can say, like pee, poop, and potty.

If you plan to start your child on a potty seat, put it in the bathroom so it becomes familiar. Make it a fun place your child wants to sit, with or without the diaper on. Have your child sit on the potty seat while you read or offer a toy.

Also, tune in to cues. Be aware of how your child behaves when he has to pee or poop. Look for a red face and listen for grunting sounds. Take notice of the time when he pees and poops during the day. Then establish a routine in which your child sits on the potty during those times, especially after meals or after drinking a lot of fluid. This helps set your child up for success.

And use plenty of praise, praise, and more praise. Is your child motivated by verbal encouragement? Stickers on a chart? Small toys or extra bedtime stories? Check in with what feels right for you and use it to reward positive potty choices. Your good attitude will come in handy, especially when “accidents” happen.

What Not to Do

Sitting on the potty should be a want-to, not a have-to. If your child isn't into it, don't force it.

Just when you think your child has nailed it, accidents happen. It's OK to be frustrated, but don’t punish or shame your child -- it won't get you closer to your goal. Take a deep breath and focus on what you and your child can do better next time.

Also, don’t compare your son or daughter with other children. Some parents like to brag about how easy potty training went in their family. So if your neighbor says her kids potty trained themselves, smile and remember that the only right way is the one that works for you.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 25, 2019



Mayo Clinic: "Potty training: How to get the job done."

Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital: "Toilet Teaching Your Child."

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia: "Toilet-Training."

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