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When To Start Potty Training: The Complete Guide

Child looking at a book to learn when to start potty training

Developmental milestones can be exciting for you and your little one. The first roll onto their back, the first crawl, those first words, and their first steps. But when it comes to skills, such as when to start potty training, it can be challenging to know when your child is ready.

So when do you start potty training? This article will help you know the signs your toddler’s ready and share some tips on how to tackle this important milestone in your child’s development.

When To Start Potty Training: 8 Signs Your Child Is Ready

Kid potty training

It’s natural to think in terms of age when it comes to potty training, but every child develops differently. Some may be ready for potty training at around 18 months, while others may not show signs that they’re ready until much later.

When it comes to your own child, it’s best to let them show you they’re ready by looking for these nine signs.

1) They Can Follow Directions

This is not a question of whether your toddler is willing to listen. Instead, it’s a measure of their ability to understand, remember, and follow through on a series of steps.

For example, to successfully use the potty, your child will need to recognize the urge to go, remember where to go, pull down their pants and undies, sit on the potty, use it, then clean up. That’s a lot for a toddler to process.

Developing this ability takes time. So starting potty training before they can follow a series of steps will just prove frustrating for your child and you.

2) They Can Communicate Easily

Potty training requires good communication. Your child needs to be able to tell you when it’s time to go whether you’re at home or out and about.

3) They Are Showing Interest

Curiosity about the potty is a good sign. If they are interested in what goes on when you use the bathroom, are noticing the difference between big kid or adult underwear and their diapers, or are showing a preference for being dry, this may signal readiness.

You can help spark this curiosity by talking to them about it, reading stories about using the potty, and even finding videos designed to introduce your toddler to the idea.

4) They Are Staying Dry

If your little one is regularly staying dry during a nap or for a couple of hours or more during the day, their bladder control and holding capacity are likely getting to the point where potty training is feasible.

If they have not yet developed the physical capacity or ability to control the all-important shut-off valve, it doesn’t make sense to begin potty training.

5) They Are Flexing Their Independence Muscles

Young child starting potty training

A “do it myself” attitude can be a sign your child is ready for potty training! Look for signs of independence. Are they interested in trying new things? Do they like to dress themselves?

If the answer is yes, then your little one may be ready to explore potty training.

6) They Can Undress Themselves

As we mentioned above, a critical part of using the potty is getting pants and undies pulled down. This is important because there may be little warning before “I need to go potty” becomes “I have to go right now!”

Make sure your toddler has the motor skills to dress and undress themselves or can at least pull their pants up and down. You can also help by dressing them in clothes that are little-hands-friendly (i.e, zippers instead of buttons, loose enough to easily pull down, etc.).

7) They Can Sit Still

Potty training means a lot of potty sitting. Even when things seem urgent, they can take a while to happen. If your toddler has trouble sitting still, it will be challenging to get them to remain patiently on the potty until they can go.

Pro Tip: Using books or other potty-friendly activities can help your child’s willingness to stay in one place until they’ve gone to the bathroom.

 Toddler outside during fall

8) They Can Walk And Run Well

The “going” in “going to the potty” includes getting to the potty in the first place. This means your child should be able to walk quickly when the urge hits them.

Sure, you’ll need to swoop in to help at times. The highchair to the potty typically calls for a quick release and carry. But, most of the time, you’ll want your child to be able to get to the potty by themselves.

How To Prepare For Potty Training

As you keep an eye out for the signs your child may be ready, there are some things you can do to set the stage for when the time comes. Just remember not to force or pressure your child to do something before they’re ready.

Here are a few ideas for how you can get things ready for your toddler’s next big step.

1) It’s All About The Potty

Sounds simple, but start by getting a potty. While you’ll want to find something practical, don’t forget to include your child in the process. You can have them help pick it out or wrap it up as a gift with a little bit of fanfare!

You may also want to explore kiddie toilet seats and portable plastic potties. Some children prefer going exactly as the grownups do. Others are intimidated by the big toilet seat.

Choose whichever works best for your family, child, and lifestyle.

2) Pick Your Language And Use It

Before you begin potty training, settle on what words you’ll use for bathroom functions.

Some parents prefer formal terms to avoid embarrassment later on when kids discover they’re using “baby” terms. But the important thing is to be consistent and clear.

When you talk about bathroom functions, keep your words positive. Describing what goes in the potty as “gross,” “stinky,” or “yucky” can cause some children to be less comfortable with the potty training process.

The more natural you are weaving regular bathroom terms into the potty training conversation, the more comfortable your child will be with using the toilet.

3) Show Them The Ropes

Once you have a potty or children’s toilet seat, explain how to use it. You can even make a game of it by modeling toilet behavior, explaining how to keep it clean, and getting your child excited.

Children learn quickly by observing, and if bit by the “I wanna be grown up” bug, they’ll want to imitate what you do.

Keep in mind that some toddlers relish slamming seats, flushing toilets, and experimenting with what will go down the pipe. Others may be frightened of the flushing sound. Go easy to help your child get used to the idea.

 Young boy running around outside

4) Praise Growing Up

Speak positively about getting bigger and doing things that big kids do. This could be feeding themselves, drinking from a “grown-up cup,” putting toys away, or sharing their food with you.

It may even be the time to consider changing their bed from a crib to a “big kid’s bed.”

5) Dress For Success

Even if they’re not quite ready to start potty training, you can get them used to dressing in clothes that they’ll eventually be able to handle independently.

For example, have them wear pants that are simple to pull down with snaps or drawstrings so they can practice pulling them up and down.

Be patient if it takes time to master the dressing/undressing skill. It will come. And, before you know it, you’ll be ready to launch into potty training.

Now that we’ve looked at the signs your child may be ready and how to prepare, we’ll leave you with a few final potty training tips.

Tips For Potty Training Training Success

 Child knowing when to start potty training

Make time for it. Allow enough time to focus on your child and the potty.

Set a routine. Make potty time normal. After a nap, after eating a meal, or before going to bed may be natural times.

Make it fun. Chances are your toddler will spend a lot of time on the potty at first. This is a perfect time to look at or read books, sing songs, or tell stories.

Be on the lookout. Keep a close eye on your child’s unique signals: crossed legs, fidgeting, making funny straining faces, and the like.

Praise effort. Remember it’s potty training. So reinforce effort by commending even when nothing happens or when they tell you it’s too late.

Get everyone on the same page. Make sure that everyone who cares for your child knows the language you use for body parts and toileting and the routine you’re trying to keep.

The bare bottom approach. Consider the diaperless approach. With nothing to go in, your child may adjust to the potty faster.

Potty Training Day And Night

Following this guide for when to start potty training is a great place to start with your little one. While it may take time and patience, soon they’ll be able to tell you when they have to go and handle all of the steps on their own.

Also, potty training will be a daytime event at first. But, eventually, you’ll help your toddler master the long night.

Be prepared for a few nighttime mishaps by investing in a good breathable mattress pad (or two!) that is easily washable, like the Newton Twin Waterproof Mattress Pad. 100% breathable and machine washable, this mattress pad will keep your mattress cleaner longer.

As your child develops their potty training skills, stay excited and patient with them. Your example will set them up for success from the start!