Toilet Training Your Child

As most parents know, toilet training can be downright stressful. It takes time, understanding, and patience.

There is no right age at which toilet training should begin. The correct time depends on your child. It varies greatly.

Children have no control over bladder or bowel movements during the first 12 months of life, and little control for 6 months or so after that, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Between 18 and 24 months, children often start to show signs of being ready. But some may not be ready until 30 months or older, says the AAP. Don't panic if your child is a late bloomer.

Most children can control their urine and bowel movements by age 3 to 4. It does take longer for children to stay dry at night, but most girls and more than 75% of boys will be able to stay dry at night after age 5, according to the AAP.

For toilet training to be successful, your child must be ready, willing, and able. If your child resists strongly, he or she is probably not emotionally ready.

Is Your Child Ready for Toilet Training?

Signs of emotional readiness for toilet training include:

  • Your child stays dry at least 2 hours at a time during the day
  • Your child is dry after naps.
  • Your child's bowel movements are regular and predictable.
  • Your child's facial expressions, posture, or words suggest he or she is about to urinate or have a bowel movement.
  • Your child can follow simple instructions.
  • Your child can walk to and from the bathroom and help undress.
  • Your child seems uncomfortable with soiled diapers.
  • Your child asks to use the toilet or potty chair.
  • Your child asks to wear grown-up underwear.

Getting Started with Toilet Training

Once your child seems emotionally ready, toilet training can officially begin. You should:

  • Place a potty chair in your child's room or in the nearest bathroom.
  • For the first few weeks, let him sit on the potty, fully clothed, while you tell him about the toilet.
  • Let him try this with his diaper off.
  • Change his diaper while he's seated on the potty. Drop the contents of the dirty diaper into the potty.
  • Let him play near the chair without a diaper. Remind him to use the potty when he needs to.
  • Gradually switch to training pants during the day.
  • Praise successes.
  • Don't mention mistakes.

Even if your child is not quite ready for this process, you can familiarize him or her with toilet training by:

  • Keeping a potty chair handy and explaining how it works.
  • Letting him or watch other family members of the same sex use the toilet.

Bed-wetting problems may linger after your toddler is trained during the day. Don't panic. Instead:

  • Encourage your toddler to use the potty immediately before going to bed and as soon as he wakes up.
  • Use training pants rather than diapers at nap time and bedtime.
  • Use a plastic sheet on the bed to minimize cleanup.
  • Reassure your toddler that accidents are common.
  • Tell him that if he wakes up in the middle of the night and needs to use the toilet, he can either go by himself or come get you.

If nap- or nighttime wetting is still a major problem one year after daytime training is complete, talk to your pediatrician.

Show Sources

Reviewed by John Goldenring, MD.

Published January 2007.

SOURCES: American Academy of Pediatrics web site: "Toilet Training: Toilet Training Readiness," and "Age 2 to 3 Years: Toilet Training."

© 2007 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info