The transition from diapers to a full-time potty goer is a big milestone in your little one’s life. And, let’s be honest, it’s a big deal in your life as well! Just imagine, no more paying for costly diapers and wipes or having unsightly surprises.
Many children start showing signs of potty readiness between 22 to 30 months (about 2 and a half years) of age, while others may not be ready to start potty training until 3 years old. Some are a whiz at going on the potty, while others need some time to adjust to this new way of doing their business.
Although it’s tempting to rush them into toilet training, it can backfire and lead to frustration for everyone involved—including your child.
“Every child has a different age of readiness for potty training,” said Helen Forte, DO, a pediatrician with Banner Children's. “Pushing potty training before they are ready can lead to a lot of frustration for parent and child but can also lead to potty-training resistance, refusal to go and even anxiety about the process.”
Your child may try to hold their urine (pee) or stool (poop), which can increase the risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs) and constipation. It’s important to wait until they’re willing and able to go on their own.
Like with every milestone, your child will conquer on their own time – when they’re ready. To help you in your little one’s new potty quest, we’ve compiled a list of potty training tips to set everyone up for potty training success.
1. Watch for signs. Look for the signs that your child is ready to start peeing and pooping on the potty.
“Children will often hide or squat when they are about to have a bowel movement,” Dr. Forte said. “They may try to remove their diaper or want to be changed promptly after pooping.”
Another sign to indicate your child’s ready is curiosity. They may want to know what you’re doing when you go to the bathroom and want to copy. Modeling healthy toilet habits can help your child work toward trying it out on their own.
2. Buy supplies. When your child shows signs they’re ready for potty training, take a shopping trip together to gather supplies like a portable potty or potty chair, a training seat that sits on top of toilet seats.
“Allowing your child to help make the decision on a potty-training chair, picking one out, can be helpful in getting them to use one,” Dr. Forte said.
Other supplies that can be helpful include:
- Big kid underwear: Your little one can pick out special underwear, maybe even some with their favorite superhero or heroine.
- Board books or picture books: Pick out potty-training books about going on the potty. You can read with them about going potty while they’re actually on the potty.
- Paper towels and sanitary wipes: In the beginning, you may have your fair share of accidents and cleanups to attend to when they’re learning.
- Loose, easy-to-remove clothing: Dressing them in clothes that are easy to take on and off can set them up for greater success.
- Nighttime pull-ups: Nighttime training takes longer to achieve (about ages 5 to 7), so use disposable training pants and mattress covers when they sleep.
- Small rewards: Find little rewards, like a sticker chart, so they can feel great every time they earn a new sticker for going potty.
3. Train your child by example. Along with reading books about going potty, discuss and model proper bathroom steps. It may help to take them with you or a sibling the next time someone needs to use the toilet. Celebrate when done to show them how easy it is to pee and poop.
For girls, show them how to spread their legs and wipe front to back to prevent germs.
For boys, start by teaching them to sit down and go until they get the hang of it. Boys will try to stand and urinate when they see other boys standing. Once they’re ready to pee standing up, you can toss O-shaped cereal into the toilet for them to aim for when they have to go.
Your child may also learn by pretending to teach a doll or toy to go potty. They can play show and tell to act out how their toy uses the potty.
4. Keep a potty schedule. “Children do well with routine and consistency,” Dr. Forte said. “Developing a bathroom routine can be very helpful in making the process of toilet training go smoothly.”
Have the potty in the same place (doesn’t need to be the bathroom) with a sequence of events each time they go, such as wiping, handwashing, etc.
If your child doesn’t go pee or poo after three to five minutes on the potty, let them get off. They should be free to get off the potty when they want. If they want to sit on the potty, stay with them and talk or read a book.
5. Prepare for peeing in the wild. It’s best to start toilet training at home when you don’t have major changes coming up in your family. These changes can be holidays, a new baby, starting day care, moving or a new caregiver.
After the first few days of getting the hang of toilet training at home, you’ll probably have to leave the house at some point.
Wherever you’re going, check to see where the nearest toilet is located. It’s not a bad idea to bring their portable potty with you—if this is what they are most comfortable with in the beginning. It’s also helpful to have a spare change of clothes and underwear, wipes and a waterproof bag for dirty/wet clothes.
6. Use praise not punishment. Praise your child when they try to go potty. Do a potty dance and cheer them on. You can also use rewards charts to work toward a goal. If your child misses the toilet or has an accident, don’t get frustrated or upset.
“It’s important to stay positive during the process of potty training,” Dr. Forte said. “Give encouragement and praise when your child is successful. Remember, each child is different and will respond to different forms of praise and encouragement.”
7. Ease fears. Children can have fears around use of a toilet. If your child has a fear of the toilet, then don’t push it. They are likely not ready.
Ensure your child has normal soft bowel movements prior to potty training as constipation can be painful and therefore lead to fear of using the toilet. Increase fiber and water in their diet and decrease dairy products to help keep their poop soft.
“Allow your child to first sit on the potty with a diaper on,” Dr. Forte said. “Setting a schedule and using phrases like ‘It’s time to use the potty’ can help avoid patterns of holding which can lead to accidents and constipation.”
8. Don’t force it. If you see any resistance, discontinue for a few weeks or months. Continue to discuss toilet training and invite your child to imitate behavior by inviting them to the bathroom with you. Remember this is an area they can control. You can’t force them to go until they are ready to go.
9. Be prepared for potty regressions. Just when you thought they had the hang of the whole potty thing, they start having accidents again. This can be frustrating but it’s not unusual for children to regress in their learning. Don’t get discouraged if this happens.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, big events and life changes are common causes of potty-training regressions in young children. A regression can sometimes signal an infection or other disorder that requires medical treatment.
Check with your child’s health care provider to rule out a medical cause before responding to regressive behavior. If there is no physical cause that requires treatment, support them with positive reinforcement and pep talks to help them get back on track.
10. If at first, they don’t succeed, take a pause and try again. If your little one isn’t making progress in the potty-training process, discontinue training for a few weeks or months. Don’t worry. They won’t go off to college still wearing diapers. Every child is different and will potty train on their own time. With a little patience, soon enough your child will stay dry and you’ll be ditching the diapers.
“I encourage you to speak with your child’s provider if you have any questions or concerns surrounding toilet training,” Dr. Forte said. To speak with a Banner Health specialist, visit bannerhealth.com.