Finding the Right Time to Potty Train Your Child

toddler sitting on a potty chair

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Although many parents feel like three years is a magic age by which a child must be potty trained, that is not always the case. For example, a poll on showed that almost 25% of kids weren't potty trained until they were three-and-a-half or four years old.

In addition, research has revealed that girls tend to show an interest in potty training and show signs of readiness about two to three months earlier, on average, than boys.

How to Know If Your Child Is Ready for Potty Training

Even in an older child, it is important to look for signs of readiness before you begin potty training, including:

  • Staying dry for at least two hours at a time
  • Having regular bowel movements
  • Being able to follow simple instructions
  • Being uncomfortable with dirty diapers and wanting them to be changed
  • Asking to use the potty chair
  • Asking to wear regular underwear
  • Showing that he or she is ready to urinate or have a bowel movement by his or her facial expressions, posture, or speech

Is your child showing signs that he is ready to start potty training?

How to Encourage Your Child to Start Potty Training

There are a few ways that you can help your son warm up to the idea. 

  • Buy him a potty chair and have him decorate it with stickers and sit on it in his clothes while watching TV to help him get used to it. 
  • If your child has begun to tell you about having a dirty diaper, you should praise him for telling you and encourage him to tell you in advance next time. 
  • Whenever your child shows signs of needing to urinate or have a bowel movement, ask him if he wants to use the potty or take him to the potty chair and explain to him what you want him to do.
  • Keep him seated on the potty chair for only a few minutes at a time, don't insist, and be prepared to delay training if he shows resistance. Until he is going in the potty, you can try to empty his dirty diapers into his potty chair to help demonstrate what you want him to do.
  • Model the behavior. Allow your child to see family members using the toilet, and make observational remarks. This involves narrating what is happening and asking questions while potty training, such as "Did you just sit on the potty?" or "Did you just poop in the potty?"

Potty training isn't always easy, but some parents make it a little more difficult than it needs to be by making some all too common mistakes.

How to Avoid Potty Training Mistakes

Of course, the most common mistake is starting the whole potty training process before their child is ready.

Other common potty training mistakes include:

  • Starting potty training during a stressful time in your child's life, such as a move or around the arrival of a new baby in the house
  • Quickly moving your child to regular underwear as soon as you begin potty training, even before your child shows signs of staying dry for long periods of time or regularly using the potty
  • Continuing to push potty training when your child obviously isn't interested
  • Punishing your child for having accidents while you are potty training
  • Expecting potty training to be a quick process and being able to finish in a few days or a weekend
  • Expecting your child to complete all aspects of potty training at the same time, such as potty training in public, having bowel movements on the potty, or using the potty each and every time he has to go
  • Relying on the same potty training method for each of your kids, which, unfortunately, may not work if your kids have very different temperaments
  • Not realizing that your child may continue to wet the bed at night, even after he has finished potty training since bedwetting is not usually related to potty training

The root of most of these mistakes are parents who have unrealistic expectations about potty training, which usually include that they should start at a certain age or that they should be finished by a certain age. Although some people now talk about potty training their infants, most parents will find that their kids aren't ready to begin potty training until they are about 18 to 24 months or older and that the whole potty training process can take a good 6 months or more to complete.

Not surprisingly, the older your child is when he begins potty training, the quicker the training typically is. So while a 2-year-old might take 6 or 9 months to finish potty training, a 3-year-old might just take 3 or 4 weeks.

And keep in mind that 3 is not a magic age when all kids are potty trained. About 25% of kids finish potty training after they are 3 years old.

Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.