Answers to 11 Common Questions Parents Ask About Potty Training Readiness

Are you unsure about how ready your kid is to use the potty? You're not alone! We've got answers to the most common questions about potty training readiness.

Potty training is one of the most exciting milestones for kids and parents—no more diapers! But it can also be a time of frustration and confusion. Not all kids will take to potty training quickly or even at the same age.

We've compiled some of the most commonly asked questions about potty training readiness to help you figure out if your child is ready to take the big leap or if you should wait a wee bit longer.

When Is the Earliest You Can Start Potty Training Your Kids?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), you can begin conventional potty training as early as 18 to 24 months. Your pediatrician will likely talk to you about potty training during your child's 18-month, 24-month, 30-month, and 36-month well-child checks. Most kids in the U.S. are potty trained between 2 and 3 years.

Potty training a child who is younger than 18 to 24 months is more about the parent learning the child's schedule and recognizing the signs they need to go than the child being taught to use the potty on their own. Proponents of elimination communication use this basic approach.

According to Carrie M. Brown, M.D., a pediatrician with Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock, many children who are conventionally potty trained before the age of 2 will stop being successful and need to be re-trained at some point in the future. That said, lots of kids will be interested in what goes on in the bathroom between 18 to 24 months.

When Do Kids Show Interest in Using the Potty?

Most children should be interested in using the potty by age 3 and often as early as 18–24 months. If you have made it to 3 1/2 or 4 and your child is refusing to use the potty (which is different from a lack of interest), there is a problem, says Dr. Brown.

The first step is to determine if your child has any negative association with the bathroom or toilet (e.g., is your child afraid of the flushing sound?) and to reassure them that they are safe when they use the bathroom facilities.

Some older toddlers understand that when they can use the bathroom independently, they will go to preschool and may fear the separation from a parent and don't want to use the toilet as a result. In this case, explain that it is time to use the potty.

To kick-start the potty training process with your older toddler:

  • Find a few days when you can remain mostly at home.
  • Purchase multiple pairs of underwear, and be prepared for accidents.
  • Start by having your child sit on the toilet first thing in the morning after taking off their overnight diaper.
  • Make it fun—sing songs, read a book, drink juice, and see what happens.
  • If you have success, celebrate with lots of praise and something to keep them motivated such as a sticker, an M&M, or bubbles.
  • If you don't succeed, praise them for sitting and trying, put on underwear, and talk about using the potty when they need to go.
  • Plan bathroom trips every 90–120 minutes during the day.
  • If accidents happen, don't get upset, change to clean underwear, and talk about heading to the bathroom sooner next time.

If you can remain calm and consistent and only use diapers for naps and bedtime, most kids this age will figure it out within a few days.

What Are Some Signs My Child Is Ready To Potty Train?

Potty training requires a child to control their body and brain. Not only do they need to recognize the signals from their body and act on them, but to use the toilet independently, they also need coordination to be able to undress, sit down on the potty, wipe, flush, get dressed, and wash their hands. Depending on when you introduce your child to the potty, they may need your help at certain steps.

Full potty training relies on readiness in multiple areas: physiological (enough bladder and bowel control to be able to make it to the potty), cognitive (the ability to recognize the need to pee and poop, remember to go to the potty, and resist distraction long enough to complete the process), and well as physical (motor skills to get to the potty, manage clothes, and sit still on the potty), emotional (the desire for independence and learning a new skill), and social readiness (awareness of other people's toilet use and a desire to imitate their behavior), according to the AAP.

Sound like a lot? It is! But take heart: The AAP also says that you don't have to hold off on potty training until you’re certain that your child checks all of the boxes, but each step does increase the chances of successful potty training.

Here are some signs your child may be ready to begin potty training:

  • They can recognize the feeling of needing to pee or poop. (For example, you might see them do a little "potty dance" before going, touching their diaper, or even finding a private place to go.)
  • They can communicate verbally or nonverbally that they need to go.
  • They can understand and follow simple 2-step instructions.
  • They are showing interest in wearing underwear or using the potty.
  • They are showing a dislike for wearing diapers or asking to be changed when wet or dirty.

What Can I Do To Prepare My Child for Potty Training?

Preparing your child for potty training before you begin is all about hyping your child up and getting them excited for this big transition. Before the official toilet training begins, it's smart to warm your kid up to the idea by explaining the bathroom routine in positive, child-friendly terms.

During a diaper change, you can say, "When we eat or drink, our body takes what it needs, and then the rest gets turned into pee or poop. It's like our body's garbage." Start letting your child watch you use the potty while you narrate each of the steps in simple terms. You can also pretend that a doll or stuffed animal is using the potty. Seeing a "friend" go through the motions in a relaxed, playful setting can relieve any stress your kid may feel about graduating to the potty.

And have your kid practice sitting on it. Suggest visits to the potty first thing in the morning, before their bath, and before bedtime. Don't expect success yet, but getting your child on a potty routine early may save you from constantly asking them to go when the real training kicks in.

Should My Child Use a Potty Chair Before Transitioning to a Real Toilet?

Yes, in most cases, you should start potty training your child on a small child-sized potty chair before transitioning them to a toilet.

Unless your child is begging to use the big potty (which often happens with younger siblings who see their older siblings using the big potty), it's actually best to start with a potty chair. The toilet can be scary for many children: There's loud flushing and whirling water escaping to the unknown, and your child may feel unsteady sitting up high.

With a little potty, their feet are on the floor, making them feel physically grounded and relaxed and getting their body into the best position for peeing and pooping. Also, getting to the potty quickly without your help will let your child feel more in control—and potentially cut down on accidents.

Down the road, switching to the big toilet (with or without an insert) shouldn't be a big deal since your child probably already uses one outside the house.

What's the Best Way To Reward My Child for Using The Potty?

Rewarding your child can be a great way to keep them motivated to continue using the potty, but whether and how you reward your child depends on their response.

Start with plenty of praise—many kids are motivated by the sheer pleasure they give their parents. Make sure you also support their self-pride to encourage internal motivation. For example, you could say, "You peed in the potty. Do you feel proud? You should!"

But if you feel that your child needs an actual reward to feel successful, that's fine too. Many parents do well with stickers, candy, or small toys or figurines. Remember, however, that your praise becomes less potent as you up the ante with gifts, and often the impact of those gifts eventually wears off, too.

Should I Transition My Toddler to a Bed Before Beginning Potty Training?

No, you don't need to transition your toddler to a bed before beginning potty training. The move to a toddler bed is a change that should be made when the child is large enough that they may be able to climb out of their crib, as a fall to the floor can be dangerous. For some children, this size happens before 18 months, which for most children is too young to initiate potty training.

The transition from crib to big kid bed and the transition from diapers to the potty are both big changes for a toddler. To make both transitions as easy as possible, aim to make them positive experiences and only when your child is ready. If possible, avoid moving to a big bed and potty training space around the same time. Spacing big transitions at least a few weeks or even months apart can not only make it easier to focus on learning one big new skill at a time, but it can help avoid overwhelming your toddler.

How Do I Get My Toddler to Sit on a Big Toilet?

There is no real rush to transition your child from a little potty to the big toilet, though they will need to get used to the idea when they start spending time away from home and away from their small potty. The transition will require a few small steps.

Start by placing their potty in the bathroom next to the toilet, so your child gets used to the idea of "going to the bathroom." Then buy a kid-friendly toilet ring and a stepstool to help your child climb up. Once you're set up, you can start to offer your child the choice of the little potty or the big potty.

Some kids will be highly motivated to try the big toilet, but others might need some encouragement. You can make using the big toilet more appealing by offering an extra prize for going there, for example, or making a game out of it (watching toilet paper swirl out of the toilet can be fascinating to some kids).

If your child's really resistant to the big toilet, let them watch as you move the contents from their little potty into the main toilet—or better yet, let them help! Seeing that their poop and pee from their little potty eventually goes into the big potty will show that going potty has the same end result no matter what. Once they're comfortable on the big toilet, put the mini potty away.

How Often Should I Remind My Child To Go to the Bathroom While Potty training?

Remind your child to use the potty during transitional parts of the day, such as upon waking up and before going to sleep, after meals, and before leaving the house. This helps your child establish some bathroom routines.

Once they've had some success in using the potty, ask your child several times a day, especially before you leave the house. Reminders help children get into a habit of thinking about the potty and preventing accidents and setbacks.

How Long Should It Take To Potty Train My Child?

It depends on your child, but fully potty training a kid—to wearing underwear, rare accidents—can take longer than you might think, even up to a year in some cases.

Most of the time, toilet training isn't fast, and it isn't smooth. That's because several areas of development need to line up first. Your child has to communicate well, be aware of their bodily feelings, and understand how much time they need to get there. It can take even longer for kids to learn to stay dry through the night, and some bed-wetting is common until age 5 or so.

How Should I Teach My Child To Use Public Bathrooms?

Children under 5 should always be accompanied by an adult when using a public bathroom, not only for obvious safety concerns but because this is a great time to help your child learn how to use a public restroom.

After your child masters the art of going potty at home, they need to learn how to handle it in the real world such as in public bathrooms, going when you're not around, etc. Here are some general tips for teaching your child to use a public restroom:

  • Teach your child to recognize restroom signs, and encourage them to use public bathrooms whenever necessary.
  • Prep your child for the unfamiliar sights and sounds of a public bathroom by describing them. The bright lights, loud flushes, and multiple stalls and sinks can make some kids who've only pottied at home uneasy at first.
  • Pack sticky notes in your bag to put over the automatic flush sensors, which can easily startle your toddler if triggered unexpectedly.
  • When going out, try to dress your child in clothes that can easily be pulled up and down like elastic-waist pants or shorts.

It's also a great idea to teach your child how to plan bathroom breaks, like going before a long trip, even if they don't feel a strong need.

The Bottom Line

Potty training is an exciting milestone for kids, but it takes time, patience, and lots of practice to master. By preparing yourself and your child, you can help ensure their bathroom success. If you have concerns about your child's readiness, talk to your pediatrician.

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