8 Signs Your Toddler Is Ready to Potty Train

Many parents of toddlers wonder when to start potty training their child. While most children indicate they are ready to start toilet training between 18 months and 3 years, age isn't the sole determining factor for potty training readiness.

Like drinking from a cup or using a spoon, using the potty is a skill that must be learned. It is best accomplished when your child's emotional and physical development is at a certain point.

Starting potty training before your child is ready can backfire and lead to frustration for everyone involved. This can ultimately result in potty training taking longer to complete. Every child is different, but these are common indications of potty training readiness that you can keep an eye out for so that you'll know when your child is ready.

Your Child Shows Interest

mother and daughter pottytraining
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Firstly, your child needs to show an interest and desire to learn to use the potty.

Some ways they may do this:

  • They are interested in keeping dry or clean
  • They are curious about what you are doing when you go to the bathroom
  • They want to wear "big kid" underwear

You can spur this interest along by reading children's books and watching videos about using the potty, and talking about it as you go about your daily parenting life.

Modeling healthy toileting habits encourages your child to work toward this behavior as well. However, pushing the topic too much could be counterproductive.

The 18-month to 3-year readiness range is big, and where your child will fall depends on a variety of largely uncontrollable factors. Looking closely for signs of interest can help you find the best time to start for your child.

Your Child Stays Dry

When your child stays dry for two hours or more when awake and/or wakes up with dry diapers, it shows that their bladder capacity and control are increasing, which are important for toilet training.

In fact, studies show a strong relationship between a child's physical readiness for potty training and their ability to routinely keep their diaper dry during naps.

Note that the super absorbent diapers many children wear may make it more challenging to tell if they are truly dry, so you may need to check closely.

They Know When They Go

If a child isn't really aware of what they are doing, they are unable to control the process of doing it. This applies to peeing and pooping as much as anything else.

Look for your child's own awareness of going to the bathroom, instead of using your own ability to notice their "tells" like a red face or making a certain expression.

Pretty clear signs that your child recognizes when they need to go or are in the process of going:

  • They head to a private room to pee or poop
  • They hide behind furniture or curtains to go
  • They point to or touch their diaper as they are peeing or pooping

They're Showing Their Independence

Once your toddler starts saying things like “I can do it myself"—particularly when it comes to potty habits, but also in other realms like feeding and dressing—they are probably ready to start toilet training.

Your child's independence can also be displayed as an interest in trying new things.

Social awareness plays a role here as well. For example, being aware of toileting behaviors of others (like an older sibling or friend) can prompt them to want to model those habits.

If your child is going through changes or stressors, like a transition to a new home, a divorce, or having a new baby in the house, you may want to hold off on potty training until your child is feeling more secure

Your Child Can Undress

To potty train, your child must be able to easily pull their pants up and down. They may not have had any reason to do so in the past, but this skill is usually easy to learn.

However, for some toddlers, mastering the motor skills necessary for undressing and dressing may take a bit more time.

Make this step simpler for your child by avoiding dressing them in clothing that may be more difficult to take off and put on during toilet training, such as tights, rompers, undershirts with crotch snaps, and pants with belts, ties, or zippers.

Additionally, letting them choose the clothes they want to wear may make them more motivated to keep these items clean and dry.

They Can Follow Directions

To adults, going to the bathroom is simple. But some kids can be challenged by the many steps involved—noticing the urge to go, finding the bathroom in time, turning on the light, pulling down pants and underwear, sitting on the potty, going, wiping, flushing the toilet, then washing their hands.

Remember that this is not simply about the willingness to follow multi-step directions but rather about the ability to do so, which takes time.

Your Child Can Sit Still

Using the toilet, especially to poop, requires a bit of patience. Your child should be able to sit and engage in an activity for several minutes without becoming distracted or irritable.

To help your child stay on the potty, you can have some books on hand for them to page through.

They Can Communicate

Children also must be able to communicate that they need to go by either telling you with words or signals that they need to get to the bathroom.

Their ability to tell you they need the potty is key to you being able to help them, particularly when you are away from home and a restroom may not be readily accessible.

They Can Walk and Run Well

Since the urge to use the bathroom is often sudden in toddlers and a potty isn't always a few steps away, it's important for your child to be able to make it to the toilet before an accident occurs. If they are still struggling to walk and run, they aren't ready.

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5 Sources
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  4. American Academy of Pediatrics. Psychological and Motor Skills Needed for Toilet Training. Updated November 2, 2009.

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