Toilet Training (Potty Training)

Potty training is a major milestone for parents and toddlers, and one of the biggest misconceptions is that a child should be ready for this at a certain age. In reality, children develop at different …

Illustration of a toilet training
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Potty training is a major milestone for parents and toddlers, and one of the biggest misconceptions is that a child should be ready for this at a certain age. In reality, children develop at different rates. In this article, we’ll look at the signs that your child may be ready for potty training, and more importantly, how to go about it. 

Potty Training Your Child

The age when a child is ready to learn to use the toilet depends on various developmental skills and differs for every child. Experts agree that before starting toilet training, a child should be able to do the following:

  • Your child is able to stay dry after several hours or wake up dry after a nap
  • Your child is able to walk to and sit on the potty by themselves
  • Your child is able to pull their pants down and up again
  • Your child is able to understand simple instructions
  • Your child is able to communicate that he or she needs to go
  • Your child is showing interest in the toilet and in big boy or girl pants

If all or most of these can be ticked off then, this is a good indication that your child is ready to begin potty training. Physicians should initiate discussions about toilet training with parents when a child is 12 to 18 months of age. Many children show signs of being ready for potty training between ages 18 and 24 months. However, others might not be ready until they’re 3 years old. There’s no rush. Studies indicate that bladder control is usually obtained between 24 months and 48 months of age depending on when you start training and how long it takes. For children with special health care needs, toilet training may take longer. 

Starting the process

Toilet training is a potential source of anxiety for parents and children. So it’s important to ask if you, as a caregiver, are ready to start the potty training process. Parents should have a realistic idea of the chances of success, and they must be patient and supportive. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, Caregivers should plan toilet training when at least one caregiver is able to devote the time and emotional energy necessary, on a daily basis, for a minimum of three months.

The Length

The average length of time required to achieve toilet training is six months for daytime urinary control and six to seven months for stool control. Earlier initiation (before 27 months of age) is correlated with a longer duration of toilet training. Females complete the toilet-training process earlier than do males. First children take longer to toilet train than the following siblings.

When beginning potty training, it’s important that your child is comfortable and that he or she understands that there is no success or failure – just an ongoing process. The following will help both parents and children make potty training as stress-free as possible:

The vocabulary

Decide on the words that you will be used to describe anatomy and toilet waste and make sure that you use these consistently. Always avoid ‘bad’ words such as ‘dirty’ or ‘stinky’ as this can lead to a negative connotation to toilet training in your child’s mind.

Potty placement

Where possible, keep the potty in the same place to help your child get used to it. You might also demonstrate its use by putting the contents of your child’s diaper into the potty so they get the idea.

Start a schedule

It’s a good idea to start reinforcing the use of the potty by making sure that your child uses it at certain times. For example, first thing in the morning and at bedtime.

Spot the signs

As a parent, you’ll probably already be able to identify the physical signs that your child needs the toilet, such as squirming or holding their genital area. When potty training, keep an eye out for these signs and quickly move your child to the bathroom.

Teach hygiene

Teaching your child to do their business in the toilet is only half the battle. You also need to make sure that you teach good hygiene, such as wiping front to back for girls and handwashing afterward. This can be done fairly easily by making a game of it, or even making up a song to help your child to remember.

Once your child starts to get the hang of using the potty, training pants are a really good investment, particularly at night. During training, you can expect some accidents. It’s incredibly important to keep your tone positive and to avoid scolding.
While it can take a bit of getting used to, being potty trained is your child’s first step toward being a big girl or boy. Always keep in mind that this is all new to your child, so don’t worry if your child doesn’t take to potty training right away. 

Special Circumstances

Day Care – According to the United States Census Bureau, 60% of American children younger than 5 years receive daycare outside the home. Potty training in the daycare setting has pros and cons. Daycare provides an environment where interaction with peers who are successfully toilet trained can boost a child’s interest and willingness to imitate. A con to potty training while in daycare include the lack of attention if the daycare is understaffed. If the daycare uses different methods to teach toilet training, the child may become confused.

If you are currently potty training while your child is in daycare or plan to in the future, it’s vital to communicate with the daycare providers to develop a consistent sequential plan for both environments. You should receive regular information concerning your child’s developmental progress through the toilet-training process.

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  7. United States Census Bureau. Who’s minding our preschoolers? Department of Commerce, Washington, DC, 1994.

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