Like many parents, you may be wondering when to start potty training your child. Learning to use the potty independently is a milestone just like any other. But it can feel more intimidating for us parents, than, say, learning to sit on their own, or learning to walk. So many questions run through our mind — When do we start potty training? How do I prepare them for success? What do I actually need to do to teach them?
And, while all of those are valid questions, there are two things you need to be sure of to move forward with the potty learning process. Your child will be ready for potty training when:
- They are showing some signs of readiness
- They are at least 24 months old
Yes, whether you're potty training a boy or a girl, your child should be meeting both of the criteria above before moving forward. Starting too early, or solely focusing on your child’s age, may present some frustrations and challenges on this potty training journey. To actively prevent some of the most common potty training issues — like fear of the potty, naptime or nighttime wetting, or withholding poop — that parents run into, you must take into consideration your child’s biology, personality, and development. Yes, Every. Child. Is. Different.
Potty training requires both biological and developmental readiness. Biologically speaking, until the age of 24 months, children have inconsistent control over their pelvic floor muscles — the gates that open and close to help hold waste in or let it out. Studies out of Johns Hopkins show that children do not have consistent sphincter control over their bladder and rectum until some time between 24 and 30 months, at which time they have also developed a fairly strong and accurate sense of their urges.
By around 24 months, your toddler will also be developing in ways that will be important to setting you and your child up for potty training success. Watch out for some of these developmental changes:
- Showing more independence: Around this time, your toddler will be craving a greater sense of autonomy, which will give them the desire to learn how to use the potty without help.
- Starting to imitate actions: Imitation is one of the biggest ways children learn. By watching you, your toddler will begin to internalize all the steps that go into using a toilet.
- Brain-body connection: By this age, children often have developed what is called "neuro modulation." This means they have the necessary brain-body connections to be able to distinguish different bodily sensations from one another and know what to do about them. For example: I am feeling hungry, so I need to eat. I am tired, so I need to sleep. I am feeling the urge to pee, so I need to use the potty.
- Stringing more words together: Their new language skills – along with improved understanding of their body and world around them – will help them understand not only where in their body they are feeling the urge to go, but also how to communicate those feelings to you.
- Improved coordination: You will probably notice some vastly improved coordination when walking, using stairs, and climbing up and down from furniture or playground equipment. This will be helpful during potty training since it requires getting themselves to the potty, being able to pull down their own pants and underwear, sitting down, and standing back up.
- Ability to follow multi-step directions: If your toddler is able to follow 2-3 step directions, this is also a sign that they are emotionally and socially prepared for potty training.
Beyond biological and emotional readiness, you should also wait for other tell-tale signs that your child is ready. Your child may be ready for potty training when they show signs such as: showing a lot of interest in the potty, are telling you (either with words or gestures) that they have a wet or dirty diaper, they are having more and more dry diapers for more than 2 hours at a time, and can demonstrate bladder control for brief moments or even minutes at a time.
While other popular methods boast quick and early learning, as appealing as that might sound they can often create ongoing challenges such as nap time or nighttime wetting, or withholding poop, ultimately making the entire potty training process take much longer.
According to Tinyhood’s potty training expert Quiara Smith, (Pediatric Occupational Therapist and Pelvic Floor expert), ”the real key to potty training success is making sure you understand biologically and developmentally what is going on in those little bodies and minds to ensure they are truly ready.”
Think your child is ready to potty train? For an easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide to teaching your child to use the potty in a matter of days, check out our online class Potty Training: The Stress-free Guide to Success. It's taught by an actual expert, covers how to prepare your child (and you and your home!), how to tackle challenges, nights and regressions, and everything in between.