How to Start Potty Training a Girl

little girl on a white potty

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Every parent experiences some apprehensiveness when it comes to potty training. Knowing what to do and when can feel stressful—especially if this is your first time potty training a child. Fortunately, there are things you can do to set you and your little girl up for success like watching for readiness cues, being in tune with her needs, and being prepared for challenges and setbacks.

"Regardless of toilet training a boy or girl, potty training is a unique experience for each child and their family," says Katherine Corvi, PsyD, a pediatric psychologist who works in the toileting clinic at Cleveland Clinic Children's. "Each child learns and uses the potty in their own time and in their own way."

If you are looking for ideas on how best to approach potty training a girl, read on. Below we discuss the signs of potty training readiness, the differences between girls and boys, how long potty training takes, as well as offer potty training tips for success.

How to Recognize Potty Training Readiness

Before you begin potty training, you should look for signs of readiness. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), these developmental signs include the ability to move toward and sit on the toilet, remain dry for hours, pull clothes up and down, and communicate the need to use the toilet, says Dr. Corvi. Behavioral signs include showing interest in toilet training and demonstrating independence by being able to say “no.”

"The AAP recommends that the process of toilet training begin only when the child is developmentally ready or shows signs of readiness," says Dr. Corvi. "This depends on a number of factors that can vary from child to child. [For instance,] children with chronic medical conditions may take additional time to complete the toileting training process."

Keep in mind, that you also need to be emotionally and mentally ready for the challenge of potty training your daughter. Potty training requires time and emotional energy on a daily basis for several months, Dr. Corvi says. Pick a time when you do not have a lot of other distractions and you can consistently focus on potty training.

It’s also important to be patient and not to push your child before she is ready. Remember, every child is different. Some will be eager to use the potty and others will not want to be bothered. Even if your child is not ready to use the potty when her peers do, it does not mean she is lagging behind. This timeframe is just what may be right for your child.

Best Age for Potty Training

The most optimal window for starting potty training for either a girl or boy is generally between 24 to 30 months, says Kim Lippy, potty training consultant and founder of The Pottys. Just keep in mind that kids show signs of readiness at different ages.

"Sometimes this is as early as 18 months, other times this is much later," Lippy says. "However, complete control over the pelvic floor and sphincter muscles only occur from 24 months and this is fundamental to maintaining healthy and functional bowel and bladder control. Kids need to be able to properly relax their pelvic floor and have control of their sphincter muscles in order to reach the toilet in time and empty out their bowel and bladder fully."

Research indicates that children who start potty training before 24 months may have an increased risk of dysfunctional voiding like leaking of urine or feces, constipation, daytime accidents, urinary tract infections, and bedwetting later on. Conversely, a child who is not potty trained until they are 36 months old, has an increased risk of dysfunctional voiding like constipation and daytime wetting. Finding that window of opportunity is the key to potty training success.

How Long Potty Training Takes

It is not uncommon for parents to wonder just how long it will take to potty train their child. But keep in mind that potty training varies from child to child. While some girls will master the skill in a few short days, some will take months (or even a year) to grasp all that is needed during the potty training process.

"It's also very common for children to go through periods of more frequent mistakes due to either forgetting, being distracted by play, emotional change, or a new transition," says Lippy. "Anything from a small cold to an injury, change of home, changing schools, a new sibling, or even a new transition like moving to a big bed can [cause] a temporary setback in potty training."

Lippy adds that girls tend to develop toileting skills before boys, though it's not always the case. They also complete the process, on average, between two and three months earlier than boys.

"I find that children are often pee trained [but that] it can take longer to be poop trained," adds Carol Segal, a potty training consultant and founder of the Bambini Method in Chicago, Illinois. "This is where the biggest struggle can be most of the time." 

Differences in Potty Training a Girl

According to Lippy, the differences between boys and girls relate more to positioning and wiping than with methods or approaches. For instance, girls will always be seated when they are using the potty while boys can sit or stand.

"To help your daughter's pelvic floor relax, encourage them to sit all the way back with their knees apart," says Lippy. "Ideally, we are looking for a position similar to the squat position, with knees slightly above the belly button, feet flat on the floor for stability, and with the ability to lean slightly forward."

Staying clean and dry is particularly important for girls, Lippy adds. This is because if their bottom is not cleared properly after a bowel movement, they increase the risk of bacteria causing urinary tract infections (UTIs). You also should teach your daughter how to wipe from front to back.

"Parents of girls need to be more aware of UTIs," she adds. "Girls are much more likely to get UTI’s because of their anatomy. In girls, bacteria has a shorter distance to travel from the anus to the bladder because a girl’s urethra is shorter. This is often caused by bacteria from poop getting into the urinary tract but can also be due to other issues like their urinary tracts are obstructed by a congenital blockage or in some girls bacteria is able to stick to the bladder wall more easily."

Approaches to Potty Training

While there are many different approaches to potty training a girl, Lippy shared some of the most commonly used methods for potty training. Here is an overview of two of the most common approaches to potty training.

Child-Oriented Approach

First introduced by pediatrician T.Berry Brazelton in 1962, this method focuses more on waiting for the child to show the signs of readiness and then letting the child direct the process usually over a period of a few weeks or months, says Lippy.

"Praise and positive reinforcement are encouraged throughout the process," she says. "Daytime control occurs first and naps and nights later. It is a slow but positive potty training approach."

With this method, a child is introduced to the potty, then encouraged to sit on it with clothing on while a parent is using the toilet, Lippy explains. After one to two weeks, a child's diaper is removed to sit on the potty—even if they don't actually use it.

Another aspect of this approach is teaching the child where stool belongs. When they soil their diaper, they go with the parent or caregiver to empty it into the toilet, she says.

"Once they understand the process, they are encouraged to sit on the potty a few times a day," Lippy adds. "As they become more confident, they are offered a window of diaper-free time and they are gently encouraged to go potty, until they eventually go to the toilet independently."

Three-Day Method

This method focuses on teaching a child to pee in the potty through repetition in a short period of time, says Lippy. Parents or caregivers use praise, verbal disapproval, and discipline (like cleaning up accidents) along with repeated corrective action.

Additionally, the child usually is encouraged to drink lots of fluids before and during training. They also must show the signs of readiness, which is around 20 months.

"[With this method], parents choose one large room to train in with 4 to 6 hours of focusing on training their child," Lippy says. "Pretend play with a toy is used to teach the child about toileting. The toy's diaper is removed and they sit in the potty. Then the toy pees and is praised and rewarded for doing so. Their pee is then emptied out into a toilet and hands washed."

A child then learns what a "dryness check" is, by checking whether the doll's diaper is dry or wet. If their pants are wet, then the child learns to "over-correct" by immediately repeating the potty routine. This is repeated until a child understands the process, Lippy says.

"Once a child understands this, they follow the same steps as the doll," she says. "Every 3 to 5 minutes they perform pants checks and are rewarded if they are dry."

When a child uses the potty successfully, positive reinforcement is used through praise and reward. When a child makes a mistake, they are verbally reprimanded and then go through "over-correction" which repeats the correct toileting process immediately, Lippy says.

Tips for Successful Potty Training

As you embark on potty training your daughter, it is important to remember that toilet training is most successful when you offer lots of positive reinforcement, are prepared for accidents and extra laundry, and show extra patience and consideration, says Dr. Corvi.

"[Also] be prepared for setbacks," she says. "It is normal for a child to have accidents, especially in the early stages of toilet training process. Changes in diet, routine, and stress [like] vacations, holidays, transitions school also can lead to accidents."

Here are some tips for successful potty training. Following these guidelines will help ensure that you and your daughter not only experience success, but do so in a stress-free way.

Normalize the Bathroom

Many potty training experts recommend getting your child used to the bathroom environment. They even encourage parents to change diapers in the bathroom rather than a changing table long before the potty training process begins.

"I like to start changing a baby's diaper in the bathroom once they can sit up," says Segal. "I want them to get used to the bathroom including sitting them on the potty chair or toilet. Your child will show you when they are ready to transition to underwear—once they are staying dry for longer periods of time and connecting the dots of using the toilet instead of the diaper."

Have Fun

Don’t be afraid to be playful and bring the fun to potty training, Lippy says. A playful approach will help you connect with your child at their level.

"Playfulness and silliness helps your child to become actively engaged in their bodies and minds and builds understanding," she says. "It also helps to get ahead of common fears and anxieties by normalizing new concepts that often seem unfamiliar and intimidating to kids."

Build Trust

Once your child is wearing underwear, Segal indicates that you want to avoid going back to diapers if you can. Instead, focus on showing your child that you trust them to master the process—even when accidents happen.

"If you swap back and forth, then you are telling your child that you do not trust that she can be successful," she says. "Plus, it will be very confusing. Communication and the use of appropriate language will support the success of one's toilet learning process."

Segal indicates that she also likes to remove diapers for nighttime training at the same time if possible. But she advises taking your child’s personality and your parenting style into consideration first.

Strive for Consistency

One of the biggest challenges families run into when potty training is the lack of consistency between the home environment and the school or daycare environment, says Segal. It is important that everyone be on the same page and use the same approach when a child is being potty trained. When they are not, the lack of consistency can slow down the process as well as confuse the child.

Know When to Ask for Help

It is important to remember that mastering toilet training does not happen overnight. It will require time and patience as your daughter learns more about her body and what is expected of her. 

"This is a learned behavior and it can happen very quickly for some children and take longer for others," says Segal. "I have worked with families who simply do not know how to start to those who are calling after struggling for over a year because their child is still having accidents or they have anxiety around using the toilet."

If you are struggling to get started or if you have been trying to potty train for a while with little success, it is important to reach out for help. Ask your daughter's pediatrician for advice, especially if your child is struggling with constipation or stool refusal.

You also may want to consider talking with a potty training consultant. There is no shame in getting extra help. Doing so may actually alleviate some stress and anxiety for both you and your daughter.

"Potty training experts have vast experience in working with resistant children or for one reason or another are difficult to train," says Lippy. "If a parent simply doesn’t have the time or resources to start potty training or is struggling to overcome hurdles, then it’s worth investing in help from a potty training expert."

A potty training consultant can help you understand your particular circumstance. They also can create a customized plan for you and your child and will troubleshoot through any issues you may be experiencing. 

Additional Tips for Success

Dr. Corvi offers additional tips for a successful potty training experience. These include:

  • Keeping a positive attitude.
  • Praising your child's efforts as well as successes.
  • Avoiding pressure to advance or focusing on accidents.
  • Refraining from getting angry over accidents.
  • Recognizing that your reactions will impact the potty training process.
  • Making the process relaxed and comfortable. 

A Word From Verywell

Potty training can seem like a daunting task—especially if this is your first time. But the good news is that once you decide how you want to approach potty training, the process usually goes pretty quickly. Of course, there will be setbacks and challenges along the way, but with consistency and lots of patience, you and your child will be successful.

If, for some reason, you experience more significant challenges like stool refusal or constipation, be sure to talk to your child's pediatrician. They will not only address the issue, but also can offer potty training tips. You also may want to consider contacting a potty training expert for assistance in the day-to-day efforts of potty training your little girl.

2 Sources
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  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Psychological readiness and motor skills needed for toilet training.

  2. Krane S, Gorbachinsky I, Richards K, Hodges S. The association of age of toilet training and dysfunctional voidingRRU. Published online October 2014:127. doi:10.2147/RRU.S66839