Empowering Independent Toddlers

Article at a Glance

  • The right time to potty train is dependent on physical, developmental, and emotional milestones and cues as well as your family’s current situation.
  • It’s important to remember that children are all different and their potty training needs can be different, even from sibling-to-sibling.
  • It’s not necessary for your chlid to show every “green light,” but if you are seeing signals, it may be time to start considering the process.

Potty training can be an exciting time for you and your family, but it can also be a stressful one. Excited as you may be to end your days of cleaning other people’s bums (mostly), potty training shouldn’t be rushed or forced. Here’s what you need to know to make potty training not just as smooth and as painless as possible—but a positive, empowering one for your kiddo.

At What Age Should a Child be Potty Trained?

It’s the question every parent wants to know: how many days are left on the diaper countdown clock? The trouble is, there is no one age that’s right for every child. Instead, the right time to potty train is dependent on physical, developmental, and emotional milestones and cues as well as your family’s current situation.
Physically, your child needs to be able to control their bowels and bladder. As you well know, babies aren’t born able to control when they void their bladders, but your child will gain that ability as they gain more muscle control and begin to tune into their body’s signals. Typically, bowel and bladder control emerge between 18 and 24 months.
On average, potty training begins when your child is between 18 months and three years of age, but there are outliers on either side of that curve and that doesn’t necessarily mean anything is wrong. People (even and especially young children) learn and develop at different rates. The most important thing is to pay attention to your child’s body language, words, and other cues. If you’re listening carefully, they’ll tell you when it’s the right time.
Finally, and this cannot be overstated, there are times in our lives that it’s just a bad idea to start toilet training, no matter how ready a child may seem. If you’re a week away from giving birth to their sibling, executing a cross-country move, or splitting with your partner, potty training should wait.

What are the Signs a Child is Ready for Potty Training?

Here are a few signals to look out for.

  • Can your child walk to the toilet and sit down on their own?
  • Can your child get clothing on and off independently?
    • Help your child practice opening and closing buttons, zippers, snaps, or Velcro, depending on their wardrobe. Sometimes precious seconds make all the difference in successful potty experiences
  • Can your child understand and follow simple instructions?
    • So much of potty training is modeling, direction, and support
    • Frustration and confusion could cause setbacks. Make sure your child is ready.
  • How is your child’s verbal communication?
    • Can they tell you when they need a potty break?
  • Have they mentioned wanting to potty train directly or indirectly?
    • Keep an ear open for phrases like “big kid toilet” or “big kid underwear” and for them trying to model the actions of older siblings

It isn’t necessary for your child to check all of these boxes, but if you’re getting more than a few of these signals from them, it might be time to start pushing the conversation forward and supporting their interest.

What is the Fastest Way to Potty Train a Toddler?

It’s important to remember at every step that your child’s developmental path to the toilet might be different from other kids. It might not happen linearly, and you may experience setbacks. The best thing you can do is be encouraging and supportive throughout, even when things don’t go to plan. That said, here are six things you can do to be more successful:

  1. Schedule Potty Times: Build routines around using the toilet. Take them directly to the potty first thing in the morning or after naps, when they’re most likely to need to go. You can also schedule potty breaks at regular intervals throughout the day. Try to gauge how long your child usually stays dry and schedule breaks around those times. You can also start with shorter intervals of 30 – 45 minutes and extend them over time as periods of dryness increase.
  2. Pay Attention to Body Cues: If your child looks like they need to go, they probably do. Keep an eye out for squirming or grabbing at pants. Not only does this save you from cleaning up a mess, but it also helps your child associate those bodily sensations with using the toilet.
  3. Pick the Right Gear: Using the toilet isn’t all that exciting, but your child doesn’t need to know that. Get them their own tiny toilet or an attachment that goes on your regular toilet. Let them choose the color or theme. Make using the toilet something they look forward to, reducing stress and anxiety around potty time is key.
  4. Stick with Praise: When your child successfully uses the toilet or successfully communicates the need, make sure to smother them in praise. Moreover, keep up the praise even when it’s not a successful outing. They should know that you appreciate and encourage the effort, so they’ll want to try again.
  5. Accidents, Messes, and Setbacks: These will happen. Be ready, stay calm, and don’t lose hope.
  6. Hygiene! Don’t forget that hygiene is an important part of using the toilet. Talk to your child about the right ways to clean their bodies and their hands. The last thing we want is discomfort or illness during this transition.

Finally, don’t forget to engage your child’s healthcare provider for support. If you have questions about timing, strategies and techniques, or concerns about progress, your pediatrician is there to help.

Share this article:

Recommended Reading

Stay connected to your children’s health:

Want pediatric news, kid-friendly recipes and parenting tips?
Sign up for our patient parent newsletter:

Other great ways to connect: