Unlike many developmental milestones, which often happen in a predictable order in typically developing children, potty training can be variable. Different children begin potty training at different ages and move at their own speed from diapers to full control of the bladder and bowel. Some children seem to potty train overnight, while others can take months.
New research is showing that children who start toilet training at younger ages (20 months or under) typically take longer to potty train than children who start after 24 months of age. As a result, many parents are pushing toilet training back toward the third birthday.
While it’s very difficult if not impossible to force a child to be potty trained before they’re ready, you can take steps to minimize how much time is spent learning—and doing loads of extra laundry:
- Don’t start until you see clear signs of readiness. One way or another, when your child is ready to toilet train, your child will showcase their ways of telling you. The signals will become clearer over time.
- Minimize the time spent in pull-up pants. Pull-up pants are wonderful to minimize accidents and protect the floors and furniture, but they can also lengthen the time spent toilet training. Pull-up pants act like diapers, whisking moisture aware from your child’s skin and keeping them drier and more comfortable. While there will be more messes by going straight from diapers into “big boy” and “big girl” underwear, it will probably speed up the process. If you do this, however, it’s best to give your child every chance for success—start small, wearing underwear for short periods at times of day when your child is more likely to stay dry and when accidents can be handled easily and without stress.
- Model how it should be done by showing your child how to pull down pants, sit on the toilet, and flush the toilet. Children love to imitate their parents, so letting your child see how it should be done can help when it’s time. A potty chair or small potty seat that fits on a regular toilet is often helpful as a young child may be intimidated by the large toilet.
- Make trips to the potty a routine part of your day. Be sure to ask your child frequently throughout the day if they need to go, including when they wake up, at meal times, during play, and before naps.
Remember, too, that comparing your child’s potty training to other children is not a good idea. Every child moves at his or her own speed, depending on factors ranging from their emotional maturity to their diet and how much liquid they drink. The key for parents is to be patient with your child’s progress, continue to encourage them, send positive signals and praise their successes.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, February 2019
- Different children begin potty training at different ages and move at their own speed.
- Children can be completely trained during the day but still not have nighttime dryness.
- Children are not ready to attempt potty training before their first birthday.
- Minimize the time spent in pull-up pants as they can lengthen the time spent toilet training.