Potty Training

Medically Reviewed by Amita Shroff, MD on November 29, 2022
5 min read

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’ll be as glorious as it has been in your dreams. Between now and then, there's a big project: potty training, or to use the grown-up term, toilet training. You may be ready to make the transition, but is your little one?

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

Whether or not your child is ready depends on where they are physically and emotionally. Many kids show interest around 2, while others couldn't care less until they're 2 1/2 or 3. But 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? 

  • Can they follow basic instructions? 

  • Do they tell me when it's time to go? 

  • Can my child pull down diapers, training pants, or underwear without my help? 

  • Can they control bladder and bowel muscles and keep a diaper dry for at least 2 hours?

  • Does it bother them to have a dirty diaper?

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. It may be best to wait if: 

  • You’re about to have another child 

  • You’re traveling 

  • You’re about to move

  • Your child is switching from a crib to a bed

  • Your child is sick, especially if diarrhea is involved

  • Your family is going through turmoil, like serious illness or death 

Holding off until you’re resettled into a routine will help set you both up for success. 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.

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

  • If you plan to start your child on a potty seat, put it in the bathroom so they get used to it. Make it a fun place your child wants to sit, with or without the diaper on. Let them sit on the potty seat while you read or offer a toy.

  • Tune in to cues. Be aware of how your child behaves when they have to pee or poop. Look for a red face and listen for grunting sounds. Then get them to the potty quick!

  • Take notice of the time when they pee and poop 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. 

  • Dress them in clothing they can easily manage by themselves.

  • Teach them to wipe correctly, from front to back, and to wash their hands when they’re finished. Boys have an easier time learning to pee sitting down first.

Use plenty of praise, praise, and more praise. Do words motivate your child? 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.

  • 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.

  • Don’t turn potty training into a power struggle. The more you push, the more they may resist. If your child feels stressed and anxious, they may have setbacks. 

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

When your child is finally able to use the toilet on their own, it’s a milestone to celebrate. But staying dry when they sleep is a whole different ball game. It may take months or years for their bodies to mature to the point that they always wake up when they need to go.

So don’t sweat it. Put a protective cover on their mattress and keep using diapers or training pants at naptime and overnight while your child grows. But talk to your doctor if they’re ready to start school and are still wetting at night.