8 Signs Your Toddler Is Ready to Potty Train

Many parents of toddlers wonder when to start potty training their child. Like learning to sit up, crawl, and walk, potty training is a skill that your child must learn. While most children are ready to start toilet training between 18 months and 3 years, there are several other skills and abilities a child must master before successful training can begin. Potty training is best accomplished when your child's emotional and physical development is at a certain point.

A child’s emotional readiness—a desire for independence, control, approval, and self-mastery, as well as their social awareness—is key for toilet training. However, it's also vital that your child's nerves have myelinated (a covering that improves the efficiency of transmitting messages) in order for them to feel and control the signals to use the bathroom.

Starting potty training before your child is ready can backfire and lead to frustration for both parent and child—and result in potty training taking longer to complete than if you wait until your child is developmentally ready. 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. 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. However, pushing the topic too much could be counterproductive.

As noted above, most children will begin to display interest in potty training between 18 months and 3 years, which is a big range. Additionally, studies show that girls typically do show signs of readiness for potty training slightly earlier than boys, with a median age of 28 months for girls and 33 months for boys. Looking closely for signs of interest can help you find the best time to start.

If your child is interested in keeping dry or clean, is curious about what you are doing when you go to the bathroom, and wants to wear "big kid" underwear, your child is probably ready to get begin potty training.

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 readiness for potty training and their ability to routinely keep their diaper dry during naps. This step typically occurs at around 26 months for girls and 28 months for boys.

Note that the super absorbent diapers many children wear may make it more challenging to tell if they are truly dry.

They Know When They Go

If your child is hiding behind furniture or curtains or goes to another room to pee or poop in their diaper, that's a pretty clear sign that your child recognizes when they are in the process of going. Remember that you're looking for your child's own awareness of going to the bathroom, rather than your own ability to notice your child's "tells" like a red face or making a certain expression.

If you try to potty train before this time, you'll likely run into trouble. Since your child isn't really aware of what they're doing, they are unable to control the process.

They're Showing Their Independence

Once your toddler starts saying things like “I can do it myself,” particularly around 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 and social awareness, such as being aware of toileting behaviors in others (like an older relative or friend) and wanting to model those habits.

If your child is going through changes or stressors, like the transition to a new home, divorce, or having a new baby in the house, you may want to hold off 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 to master.

Being able to follow simple instructions is a very important skill for toilet-readiness.

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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