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.

Table Of Contents

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 eight 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 Success

Child knowing when to start potty training

Lay The Foundation For Potty Training

You’ll use most of the tips on this list when you actually start potty training. But there are things you can do before you begin to lay the foundation for success.

Talk about using the bathroom and allow them to ask questions and prepare themselves mentally for what’s to come.

Read books about potty training with your little one — A Potty for Me! by Karen Katz or Poop! There It Is! by Xavier Finkley are two good examples — or watch kid-friendly videos as a way to introduce your toddler to the toilet or potty chair and what happens there.

As a general rule, the more information you give them, the less scared or intimidated they may feel when it’s time to use the bathroom like a big boy or girl.

The foundation you lay beforehand can also help them understand that using the potty is a natural and exciting part of growing up.

Be Patient

One of the best things you can do after you decide when to start potty training is to be patient — with yourself and your little one.

Using the potty is a new skill (think of it like walking or riding a bike), so it might take your toddler some time to figure it out and make it a habit. During that time, there will be accidents.

All you can do is remain calm, try to relax, and stay positive. Getting upset will only make the process more difficult for both of you.

During the potty-training process, praise your child when they use the toilet successfully. If they miss an opportunity to use the potty, tell them it’s alright and encourage them to try again next time.

This will help them feel proud when they’re successful and motivate them to do it again.

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. We’ll discuss this in more detail later on in this article.

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.

Try The Bare-Bottom Approach

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

Dress Your Child In The Right Clothing

If the bare-bottom approach isn’t your thing, dress your child in easy-access clothing during the potty-training phase so they don’t have to struggle to get undressed when nature calls.

Mom knowing when to start potty training child

Consider trying pants, skirts, or shorts with an elastic waistband so that your little one can pull them down or off quickly.

A onesie with simple snaps or Velcro closures is also a good option for clothing that can be easily removed when your child really has to go.

Whatever clothing you choose, be sure to have multiple outfits ready to go each day so that, when an accident does occur, you don’t have to go digging through your child’s clothing to find them something to wear.

Motivate Your Little One With Rewards

At first, your toddler may be resistant to switching from the diaper to the potty, but, with the right reward system in place, they may be more motivated to try.

Take some time to experiment with different rewards and figure out what works best for your child.

Consider things like:

  • Stickers
  • Books
  • Edible treat (a few M&Ms, ice cream, juice box, etc.)
  • Small toys
  • Screen time

The reward doesn’t have to be big and expensive. Even small things can do the trick. The important thing is to find something they’ll be excited about and use that excitement to motivate them to use the potty.

However, if you choose to motivate your little one with rewards, don’t rely on those rewards forever. Use them only when your child starts potty training and then phase them out so your child doesn’t come to rely on them too much.

Protect Their Sleeping Area

Even after accidents stop when they’re awake, your little one may still have accidents while they’re in bed. If you prepare for them as you prepare for other potty-training accidents, they won’t become an issue.

Here’s how to protect their sleeping area for best results:

  • Put a waterproof mattress pad on your child’s bed
  • Have some extra sheets and blankets ready to go (our Organic Cotton Sheets come in a two-pack so you'll always have a spare)
  • Keep a second mattress pad on hand

When an accident does happen, switch the mattress pad (if necessary), sheets, blankets, and other bedding so you and your little one can get back to sleep as soon as possible.

Use a Washable Mattress

For maximum protection against nighttime accidents, outfit your child’s bed with a washable mattress.

The Newton Crib Mattress and Kids’ Mattress are the only crib and kids’ mattresses that are completely washable so you don’t have to worry that an accident will ruin your child’s sleeping area.

Plus, our mattresses are made without foam, glue, latex, or springs, so any accidents that do happen won’t affect the insides.

All you have to do is remove the cover (which you can then machine wash on cold), put the mattress core in your shower or tub, and spray it down with water and a mild detergent.

Let the mattress air dry and you’re good to go.

Set An Alarm

As you’ll learn in the next section, success in the potty-training process depends, in large part, on repetition and consistency.

Take your toddler to the bathroom regularly throughout the day even if they don’t have to go (or don’t go when they get there). To help in that regard, set an alarm to go off every 90 minutes as a reminder that it’s time to visit the potty.

When the alarm goes off, sit them on the toilet whether they need to go or not. This will help reinforce the habit of using the potty instead of their diaper.

Do your best to keep the time between bathroom visits short and consistent throughout the day.

Don’t Rush

When your little one first starts potty training, you may be so excited that you try to get through the process as quickly as possible.

Some children may get the hang of potty training in as little as three days. Others may take longer. Don’t be surprised if your little one’s potty training takes a few weeks or more. That’s OK because your child is unique and learns at their own pace.

Even though you’re raring to go, try not to rush your toddler through the process. It could backfire and make everything take longer.

Give your little one plenty of love and encouragement. Do your best to be patient. Be as consistent as possible. And trust that your toddler will learn to use the potty eventually.

Two Sample Potty Training Schedules

Child potty training

Obviously, a big part of the process is training your little one to use the potty when they have to rather than going in their diaper.

But, another part of the process that you may overlook at first is training your little one to use the potty at regular intervals or even specific times during the day.

Think about your own bathroom behavior as an example. You likely go first thing in the morning after you get out of bed and you likely go last thing at night before you get into bed.

It can be healthy and productive to get your child on a similar schedule so they know what to expect. You don’t have to time it down to the minute, but a rough timeline of when to try using the potty can help your little one gain the confidence they need to be successful.

Here are two potty training schedules — one general, one detailed — to get you and your toddler started.

Basic Potty Training Schedule

As we mentioned, you don’t have to keep a strict, down-to-the-minute bathroom schedule, but there are a few times throughout the day when it’s a good idea to encourage your little one to at least try to use the potty.

Those times are:

  • First thing in the morning after they get out of bed
  • After every meal or snack
  • After play time
  • Before bathtime
  • Last thing at night before they get in bed

Keeping to this basic schedule may help your toddler get the hang of potty training faster and reinforce the importance of using the bathroom multiple times throughout the day.

Advanced Potty Training Schedule

Keep in mind that there’s no one-size-fits-all potty training schedule. Your timetable may be different from what we have listed here — and that’s perfectly fine!

Do your best to adhere to a rough plan, but don’t be afraid to tailor things to your little one’s individual needs and personality.

Here’s a rough outline of an advanced potty training schedule:

  • Potty first thing when they wake up in the morning
  • Playtime
  • Breakfast
  • Try going potty after breakfast
  • Playtime (try reading potty-themed books to reinforce the training)
  • Snack and drink
  • Try the potty again
  • Take your toddler for a walk or a bit of outdoor play
  • Try the potty again
  • Have nap time or quiet time
  • Potty first thing when they wake up from their nap or finish quiet time
  • Snack and drink
  • Try the potty again
  • Playtime
  • Dinner
  • Try the potty after dinner
  • Family time
  • Potty one more time before bed

Your little one will need to use the bathroom frequently when they first start potty training and, even then, accidents will happen — especially at first. But stick with it and soon your child will be using the potty regularly!

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!

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