What Is Potty Training?

What Is Potty Training?

Potty training, or toilet training, is a major milestone for toddlers as they learn to listen to their body and use the bathroom to empty their bladder and bowels. It also means no more diaper changes for you. Before you dive into potty training, make sure your toddler is actually ready. It will save both you and your child a lot of frustrations.

Types of Potty Training Methods

People choose to go about potty training in many different ways. Here is a look at some popular methods:

Brazelton Child-Oriented Potty Training

Supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, child-oriented potty training is a positive, non-threatening approach that involves beginning potty training when your child shows signs of readiness (typically after 18 months old). The idea is for the child to instigate the trips to the bathroom and for the parents to talk about and encourage potty use by using praise, not shame or force. Often, toddlers will continue to wear diapers or pull-ups during the process.

Infant Potty Training

Also known as elimination communication, infant potty training typically begins around 1 to 4 months old and involves rushing the infant to the bathroom when you see certain clues from the baby (such as vocalizations) or patterns based on timing of meals and sleep. Disposable diapers are typically avoided, thought many parents use cloth diapers at night so their baby can feel when they are wet. This method is often messy and may not be the best option for infants who go to daycare or have nannies.

Parent-Led Potty Training

As the name implies, parents take the lead and create a potty break schedule when their toddler shows signs of readiness, taking them to the bathroom every two to three hours during the day. An alternative schedule may involve taking them before and after every meal, between activities, before nap time and bedtime, and upon waking. While parent-led potty training is a good method for toddlers with multiple caregivers, some say it prevents the child from recognizing their own body signs as quickly.

3-Day Potty Training

Popular among parents for its quick results, the 3-day potty training method involves hunkering down at home for—you guessed it—three days and letting your child go diaper-free while you vigilantly take them to the potty. The process can be stressful and accidents will happen, but many children quickly learn to recognize the signs that they need to go and are able to successfully get themselves to the potty on time.

When to Start Potty Training

Many parents choose to potty train a child at a specific age, such as 18 months or 2 years old, but that strategy can backfire if a child is not ready. How old is old enough to potty train? Like most things with kids, it depends.

Parents may have heard stories about a potty-trained 2-month-old, but many children aren’t ready until after their second birthday. Some toddlers may not be ready for the potty until they are approaching age 3—and that's okay.

If they are not interested yet, don't force it. Chances are their interest will be piqued sooner rather than later.

Signs Your Child Is Ready

One way to tell if your child is ready is if they've reached certain developmental milestones. For example, potty training is often more successful if your toddler can walk and run, communicate, follow directions (for example, find the bathroom, turn on the light, pull down pants and underwear, and wash their hands), and has strong enough muscles to get on and off of the potty.

Your child must also be mentally ready, which is why it's important to avoid potty training during potentially stressful times, including the transition from a crib to a bed, holidays, vacations, having a new baby in the house, divorce, or moving to a new home.

Other signs that indicate your child is ready for potty training include:

  • Shows interest in what you're doing when you go to the bathroom
  • Has an interest in keeping clean or dry
  • Recognizes when they are in the process of going (hides behind furniture or curtains, or goes to another room to pee or poop)
  • Expresses a desire to use the potty
  • Shows independence, saying things like "I can do it myself"
  • Has a desire to wear "big kid" underwear
  • Has the ability to “hold it,” or has fewer wet diapers, which likely means their bladder muscles have developed sufficiently.

How Caregivers Can Help

Caregivers who see your child every day are often the first to notice signs that your toddler is ready to potty train. To successfully potty train in partnership with your daycare or an experienced nanny or sitter, communication is crucial.

For working parents, it's important to talk to caregivers about your potty training expectations and plans. An experienced nanny or sitter might be able to provide guidance and even lead the way on potty training. Whatever the case may be, it's important that everyone commits to the same potty training process.

Differences Between Potty Training Boys and Girls

It's not uncommon to hear that potty training girls is easier than boys—and it often happens earlier. That said, every child is different. Your son could be ready at 18 months while your daughter is just beginning to show interest at age 3.

While there are many similarities between potty training for girls and boys—for example, they both respond to potty-training books and videos and both learn sitting down—there are some differences, and parents should be mindful of them.

Girls
  • Tend to show interest in toilet training as early as 18 months

  • Typically more patient during potty training

  • Tend to stick with one reward entirely through toilet training

  • Have fewer accidents after learning the initial steps of potty training

Boys
  • Tend to take their time, often not ready until age 2

  • Typically anxious to hop off toilet and end the lesson

  • Tend to get bored with their rewards

  • Have more accidents after they seemed to have finished potty training

Potty Time Supplies

If your child is ready to potty train, take some time to make sure you're armed with the right potty training gear before you proceed, including:

  • A potty seat or a seat reducer (or both)
  • "Big kid" underwear
  • Pants, or other clothing that can be easily pulled on and off
  • Charts or potty training rewards (candy, stickers, books, toys) to help keep the little one motivated throughout the process

Make your child feel like a big kid by bringing them with you to the store to choose a potty, and let them pick out some underwear featuring their favorite characters or color.

Letting your child be involved in the process of choosing these items can heighten their excitement about using the potty.

Tips for Potty Training

Here are a few more tips for getting your child ready to potty train:

  • Teach your child "potty" talk. Use words to express the act of going to the bathroom like “pee,” “poop,” and “potty.”
  • Encourage your child to speak up. Ask your child, "Are you going poop in your diaper?" and urge them to tell you when their diaper is wet or soiled.
  • Have your child mirror you. Invest in a potty chair, and have your child sit on it while you are using the toilet.
  • Watch for telltale signs. Crossing legs, grunting, and squatting are all signs that your child needs to go the bathroom, so if you notice them, urge your child to sit on the potty.
  • Be consistent. If a child is being trained during the week with a nanny or at daycare, don't relax the regimen at night or on the weekends. A disruption to the schedule is likely to confuse your toddler and extend the amount of time it takes to train them.
  • Set up a schedule. Once your child begins potty training, encourage them to go at set times throughout the day, including when they wake up, after eating, or before nap and bedtime.
  • Avoid setting deadlines. Remind yourself that kids potty train at different rates and ages.
  • Stay patient. Don't get upset or scold your child when accidents happen, as doing so can set your child back by making potty training a negative experience.

Challenges

Potty training is a process, so it's important to accept that there will be challenges and hiccups along the way, including:

  • Fear of falling into the toilet, or being afraid of the "flushing" sound
  • Having accidents when they are sick, or during a stressful time (new bed, vacation)
  • Anxiety about telling other adults they need to go to the bathroom
  • Refusal to go to the bathroom in a public toilet
  • Only wanting to use the potty for peeing, not bowel movements (which can be due to constipation, or lead to it)
  • Not being able to hold it overnight—some experts recommended waiting six months after your child is potty trained to ditch nighttime diapers

The good news is that these are all just minor regressions. Remain calm, and eventually, your child will get back on track toward potty-training success.

A Word From Verywell

There is no right or wrong when it comes to potty training—and what works for one child might not work for another. Find a method that fits your family's needs and resonates with your little one, and do your best to stay patient. Your child will get the hang of potty training, especially if you offer praise and encouragement as they work toward this major milestone.

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Article Sources
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  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Practice guide: Toilet training.

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. The right age to toilet train. Updated November 2009.

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Psychological readiness and motor skills needed for toilet training. Updated November 2009.

  4. Schum TR, Kolb TM, McAuliffe TL, Simms MD, Underhill RL, Lewis M. Sequential acquisition of toilet-training skills: A descriptive study of gender and age differences in normal childrenPediatrics. 2002;109(3):e48-e48. doi:10.1542/peds.109.3.e48