Parents are often asking me to help them figure out the right time to start toilet training. Well, if parents haven’t learned to use the toilet yet, I don’t think they’re ever going to learn. If they’re asking about their toddlers, let me wipe up any concerns about this important step in a child’s development.
There is no right age to toilet train a child.
Your child will likely develop the skills needed to use the toilet between 18 months and 2.5 years. We encourage families not to start before age 2. Also, the process does not happen in a day. It can take days, weeks or even months to master.
So what skills does a child need to use the potty?
- Your child needs to be able to show interest in following you into the bathroom.
- They need to indicate when they are “going” and identify each function.
- They need to be uncomfortable with something in their diaper and insist on wanting to be changed.
The more ready your child is with these motor, cognitive and social skills, the more quickly the process will go.
If those skills are in place, consider starting toilet training. You could wait longer if a major life change is happening, such as a move or the birth of a sibling.
The process begins with having your child pick out a potty-chair or redecorate one if it’s a hand-me-down. Let your child sit on it fully clothed at least once a day, leaving it whenever they want to. Never force them to spend time on it. Just help them to create a routine.
You might read books about the potty while your child sits on the throne. Once they are comfortable with clothes on, then take the clothes off. Do all diaper changes near the potty, emptying diapers into the potty as well.
Use loose clothing that your child can easily remove if they want to try without your help. Praise your child for telling you that they need to use the potty without a reminder, even if nothing happens. By the way, peer pressure, meaning seeing other children your child’s age use the potty, often speeds up the process.
What if your child is over the age of 3, otherwise well, and has not yet begun to train?
Talk with your child’s health care professional, who can make other suggestions. Remember that accidents are common and should be expected. Stay calm and remember that all otherwise healthy children will learn to do this. It is never worth yelling or punishing your child when learning how to use the potty.
When it comes to toilet training, I hope tips like these will make everything come out fine in the end.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and MyNBC 5, or visit the “First with Kids” video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.