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When Should You Start Potty Training Your Child?

Moms Share Tips about How to Make the Transition from Diapers
-- By Christine Johnson, BabyFit Contributor, and Stepfanie Romine, Staff Writer

Your toddler is quickly outgrowing many things--car seat, clothes, and even some toys and games. But even though your little one seems to be moving on daily from different activities, the one event you may be anticipating--potty training--can't arrive quickly enough. While you have undoubtedly found a thousand clever uses for baby wipes, you are probably ready to ditch those and the diapers for good! Here are some ways to help make the transition to the potty easier on both you and your child.

Potty training should be age appropriate. Although it is tempting to nudge your toddler out of the nest, potty training can be especially difficult if your child is too young. First, make sure he or she understands the concept and can express herself. According to experts, most children begin to learn to use the toilet around 36 months. Familiarize your child with the toilet and tissue, and teach some appropriate words to signal the need to use the bathroom. Read some children's books about using the potty or make up a silly song. The more exposure you give the idea, the more comfortable with it your child will become.

Watch for signs that your toddler is ready to use the potty. Toddlers may already be showing signs that they're ready to try using the potty. (Every child is different and will be ready at different ages. Try to avoid peer pressure to train your child.) These signs can include pulling down their pants or diaper, taking a pause during playtime or squatting to relieve themselves, and showing interest in what you're doing on the toilet. If your little one pays you a visit in the bathroom, say you're "going potty" and invite him or her to tear off some toilet tissue for you and help you flush when you're finished. This is also a great opportunity to teach him about hygiene by washing both of your hands afterwards.

Getting started. Buying a potty is an obvious first step, but safety should always be at the top of your list. Consider your toddler's body size when making your purchase. Some children's starter toilets are free standing, while others are portable rings designed to fit over the top of a toilet seat. If space is an issue in your home, you may want to consider a portable ring. Be sure to also buy a stepstool to help your toddler climb up to the toilet and for hand washing. With either, always stay with your child when he's using the potty to prevent any injuries due to falling. Some children have a preference (are more comfortable) with a free standing toilet (little potty) or some will feel like a "big kid" using a ring on the regular toilet. Each child is different and parents may need to try different approaches. (As long as the child seems otherwise ready)

Be prepared and don't give up. During those early days of potty training, it's tempting to put your child in diapers when you venture away from home. Stay consistent and go for the big-kid underpants or training underpants, if you're using them. Keep supplies on hand when you're away from home: a change of clothes, wipes, extra underwear. Preparation can really help minimize stressful potty situations. Choose clothing that you and your child can undo in a hurry. For girls, dresses and skirts are a good choice. For boys, opt for elastic-waisted pants.

Be positive! Potty training can be frustrating, but making the experience positive is important for making progress and preventing stress.

No more "accidents." "Accident" can have a negative connotation. Consider renaming an accident a "miss." "Oops, you missed" sounds a lot gentler than "you had an accident."

Be positive! Potty training can be frustrating, but making the experience positive is important for making progress and preventing stress.

Stay calm and your child will, too. Remind your child that "misses" (or accidents) happen, and that that's OK. If your child sees you getting upset each time he or she doesn't make it to the bathroom in time, that adds stress. Try not to yell or get upset when your child misses the toilet. Just say "you'll do better next time."

Make it fun. Though your child may like the idea of using the bathroom "like a big kid," actually following through might be intimidating. Try personalizing the potty by decorating it with stickers. Use characters from a favorite movie, or favorite animal or color. Also, keep a small box of books and little toys next to the potty. Adding a bit of fun to the routine may help ease him into it. Don't forget about hygiene, too--there are all sorts of fun soaps and flushable wipes to choose from. Children are often excited to learn how to wash hands as part of the deal.

So what's the first step? That's up to you and your child. BabyFit Moms say that it varies between every kid. Here are some tips that worked for moms:
  • Wait until kids are about 2 1/2 years old because they're old enough to be excited about "big kid" underpants and want them to be clean.
  • Refrain from giving them too much to drink before bedtime to help stay dry at night.
  • Skip the pull-up training pants altogether to avoid prolonging the transition.
  • Let your toddler run around naked for a few days--they'll learn quickly that they don't like being wet and will potty train themselves.
  • Wait until your child is ready to save the headaches. One important indication--when he begins to wake up from naps or a full night's sleep with a dry to nearly-dry diaper, they're ready.
  • Let your child run around naked with a potty in the same room. Ask your child about every 10 minutes to sit on the potty and try and go, if she goes, she gets a sticker. If not, she can play for another 10 minutes.
  • Provide a few special books or activites that the child can only play with while on the potty.
  • Consider dedicating two to five solid days to potty training. Stay home, establish a potty routine, use a timer and cheer on your toddler. This method may be helpful to families where the daily schedules differ from one day to the next.
For more helpful tips, check out this Message Board thread on BabyFit.

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Member Comments About this Article
"You should start off with the training as soon as your child learns to sit up on her own without any support. Ask someone to help you when you are about to teach your little one. For more go through this thread at" -- DIVYASHASH
"WOW, this article is ummm slanted! For example, 36 months.... is a comman age for children in disposable diapers. However children cloth diapered potty train earlier. I used to teach in a ritzy private preschool, and they required all their two year olds to be potty trained, and trust me they had a long list of kids waiting to get in.
Plus there is no mention, of infant potty training, Elimination Communication. EC is the norm, is many cultures around the world. Granted it is not for everyone..." -- JCSBAYBEE
"They have to own the process, know when they have the "feelings" or "urge" to need to go potty and then also take the action to stop play or activity to go. If those basic things are not there that could be part of the issue. Here is a readiness quiz that might also help.
m" -- TONKA_14
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