A Checklist for Toilet Training Your Child

There are lots of things that might make you wonder if you should start potty training your child. Maybe your childcare provider or daycare has an age limit for diapers. Maybe you're expecting a new baby and want to have the soon-to-be older sibling become a bit more independent. Perhaps you've noticed that your child's friends and family of the same age are already using the bathroom.

It's understandable why those and many other motivating factors might have you planning to start toilet training sooner rather than later. The fact is, though, that every child develops at their own pace and thus requires an individual approach to potty training. Start by watching your child closely for signs of potty training readiness. This potty training checklist will help you determine if your little one seems to be physically, emotionally, and cognitively ready to tackle this milestone.


Can Your Child Follow Instructions?

Little boy in bathroom flushing the toilet, beautiful mother helping him
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Around age 2, cognitive and verbal skills are typically developed enough so that your child can follow simple instructional commands, such as directions to take their pants down and sit on the seat. Some parents start potty training before their child is able to understand these commands and do the steps for the child themselves.

In these instances, you can certainly have your child using the potty and even get rid of diapers, but your child is not yet independently able to use the bathroom.

Your child will need to be mature enough to comprehend and imitate those actions before you can actually train them to use the potty solo.


Is Your Toddler Dry for Extended Periods?

You can take responsibility for getting your child to the potty on time to avoid an accident, but if you're looking for signs that your little one can handle getting to the potty when they need to without your help, wait until they show that they're able to hold urine during naps or for a few hours during the day.

As you start to see your child staying dry, but not quite free of accidents, consider switching them to cotton or disposable training pants like Pull-Ups. This way your child will be able to start going to the bathroom and taking down their pants on their own, taking the next step towards being completely potty trained.


Is Your Child Interested in Using the Potty?

Interest is a big thing. If you try to train a child who does not want to use the potty, you're only going to endure many frustrating battles and setbacks. However, if your child does show interest, that doesn't necessarily mean you should dive into a 3-day potty training program.

When my 2-year-old started following me into the bathroom and insisted on sitting on the seat, I went with it. He wasn't showing many other signs, but I didn't want to discourage his interest, so I began by just letting him sit on the seat while fully clothed. Eventually, his physical skills caught up and we had a fairly smooth training period since he associated the toilet with easy-going times.


Your Child's Physical Ability to Use the Bathroom Alone

Just because your child wants to use the potty doesn't mean that can any use it. Your child needs to recognize the urge to go and, beyond that, needs to be able to complete the steps of going to the bathroom on their own. Can your child pull down their pants and underwear by themselves? Can they get on and off the potty seat independently?

A smaller child may need to use a stand-alone chair that's close enough to the ground to allow them to stand up without help.

If your child is uncomfortable on the potty, whether too small or too big, it may also lead to a refusal to use the potty, especially for bowel movements.


Does Your Child Know What to Expect?

Does your child fully understand what happens behind the bathroom door? During the toddler years, parents should bring a child into the bathroom with them. If you have slightly older children or nieces and nephews who have recently trained, they might be happy to show off what they can do on their own.

Make sure that you model the entire process for your toddler: undressing, how to sit and stand, wiping, redressing and washing up. You can also use potty training books or DVDs to explain the bathroom to your child.


Is Everyone Prepared?

Your child's ready. Are you? As you start to teach your child to use the bathroom independently it helps to have a few key items on hand: a child-sized potty chair or seat attachment, of course, big kid pants (ones that will get your child excited to drop those diapers) and a step or stool that will allow your little one to reach the sink and wash up on their own are all good things to have from day one.

By Maureen Ryan
Maureen Ryan is a freelance writer, editor, and teaching consultant specializing in health, parenting, and education.