Potty Training Dos & Don’ts
Bye-bye diaper bag!
Your child likely hit major milestones in their first 18 months in what may have seemed like a blink of an eye. While their development may have slowed down a tad, they’ll still hit significant milestones between the ages of 2 and 11. One huge step is potty training. There are lots of ways to help your kid along in the process, and have fun with it too, like reading potty training books together. However, we know, there can be a lot of bumps in the road on the way to potty training land that can be upsetting for you both—and often even more stressful on you. That’s why we’ve put together this simple potty training guide.
Ahead, learn all about the most current potty training advice. We’re going over when you should start potty training—including when you should hold off—how long you should potty train a toddler, and handy potty training tips.
When Should You Start Potty Training?
Exciting as it may be to finally give your diaper bag the good ol’ heave-ho, try not to rush into potty training based solely on your kid’s age. Every child develops differently. Although kids tend to start the process between ages 18 months and 3 ½, don’t consider those numbers etched in stone. More important than their months and years is waiting until they’re emotionally, cognitively, and physiologically ready.
If your kid starts asking you for a diaper change, holding it in for longer periods of time (like napping for a couple of hours and waking up with a clean diaper—hooray!!!), or even doing their business consistently in a particular part of your home, these may be signs that they’re at a good level emotionally and cognitively to start potty training. All of the above point to their ability to recognize that they’ve gone or need to go.
Other things to look for that may imply they’re ready to hop on the kiddy potty are if they’re able to follow simple directions, show an increased interest in the potty and wearing “big kid” undies, and their communication skills have matured (so they can tell you when they need to go). If they’re able to imitate you or other members of the family, they may be able to learn how to use the potty too.
Physiologically, they’ll need coordination and muscle control. This is because they’ll need to be able to pull their pants up and down, climb on the potty, sit down, and hop off.
Remember, child development is a fluid process, so you don’t have to wait until your kid hits all of the above milestones. But, if you think they have a good handle on most of them, it may be time to start. If you don’t, then give it some time. In short: Let your child “tell” you when they’re ready to begin the potty training process.
What Happens If You Start Potty Training Too Early?
Things in life rarely turn out well when they’re rushed. But, aside from making potty training more challenging for you both, starting it too early can actually have detrimental physical and emotional effects.
We understand the intense peer pressure that comes along with trying to potty train your kid by a certain point. Other children they play with may already be out of diapers, or maybe you’re trying to get them on the potty before they start preschool or daycare—or those places require it. It can be frustrating, we know—no judgement here. Just try to keep in mind that the key to successful potty training is time and patience.
In addition to the pressure you feel while trying to potty train your child, it can cause undue stress on them as well—which can lead to bladder, urinary, and intestinal issues. Your kid may become wary of your reaction to them having an accident, but still not be motivated to go to the bathroom. This can cause them to hold it in for too long on a frequent basis, increasing their risk of urinary tract infections (which tend to be more common in girls), an enlarged bladder, or constipation. All these conditions can then disrupt potty training even further.
Mommy Pro Tip: If your child’s constipation has caused gas and bloating, try Children’s Mylicon Multi-Symptom Tummy Relief. It helps quickly relieve gas and bloating, as well as heartburn, indigestion, and discomfort from overeating.
Starting potty training too early or waiting too long to go to the loo can also make daytime wetting worse, leading to an estimated 15% of 5-year olds struggling with it. Rushing to potty train your kid can also strain your relationship with them, which can increase their anxiety. So, inhale deeply, and relax until they’re ready. Of course, if you become at all concerned about how your child’s potty training is progressing—or not—speak with your pediatrician.
What Are Common Mistakes When Potty Training?
Parenting is likely one of the hardest jobs you’ll ever have in your life. (That said, there are times it is so worth it.) If this is your first time around—or even if it’s your 10th—you’re bound to slip up here and there. Especially if you’re a new parent, you’ve been on a steep learning curve at breakneck speed. And, even if you’re a seasoned one, don’t be hard on yourself. Mistakes happen. Keep reading to learn about some of the most common ones.
Potty training during a life event: You may want to put potty training on pause if there will be a major change in your lives, like preparing your kid for a new baby on the way, starting daycare, or moving homes. Learning to use the potty is already new territory in your little one’s life. Having to adjust to too much all at once can be overwhelming and detract from your potty training efforts.
Not following your child’s lead: As we mentioned, it’s important to keep your own feelings in check when it comes to potty training and, instead, be sure that your kid is emotionally, cognitively, and physically ready. We know, easier said than done, but all you can do is give it your best.
Scolding or punishing them: Trust us, we know the frustration of thinking your kid is purposely not going potty just to spite you. But resist this spiral. Same goes for if they have an accident. Try not to get mad at them (or let them see any signs that you’re upset). Instead, enlist their help in cleaning themself up, throwing soiled clothes in the hamper, and putting on a fresh set.
Creating negative associations: Whether your child’s potty training seems to be going well or not, try not to equate their progress with their intelligence or demeanor—no matter how they behave. Remember, getting the hang of using the potty can be just as frustrating for them as you. Avoid saying or inferring that they’re stubborn, naughty, or lacking smarts. They’ll get the hang of it when they’re ready to.
Using negative words: Along the same lines, try not to use negative words such as yucky, stinky, or dirty to describe their bodily fluids or movements. Instead, use more benign words such as pee pee and poop, or number 1 and number 2. Feel free to get creative!
Forcing it: It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if your toddler only sits there long enough, they will go. This will not only fail to work, but the distractions that can come with a bored child on a potty can hamper your future efforts. So, let them sit for a few minutes, and if nothing comes, have them get up and try again a bit later.
Letting setbacks get to you: If you’re frustrated by a setback like an accident or tantrum (or both), know that you’re not alone. Around 80% of parents will come up against potty training issues. Try not to get discouraged. Potty training takes persistence and patience. Setbacks happen. However, if you’re not seeing any progress, put potty training on hold for a few months, then give it another go.
Not sticking to your guns: Potty training, like so many other aspects of parenting, is an issue seemingly everyone has an opinion on. Every parent and child has specific methods that work for them. Keep in mind that no two kids’ situations are the same. Consistency is key.
What Do You Need To Begin Potty Training?
OK, so you suspect your child is emotionally, cognitively, and physically ready to be potty-trained. Congrats—the time to try potty training has come! That’s great news. But you may be wondering where to begin. There’s a ton of potty gear you can buy to make the process easier, as well as fun. Check out some of them below.
Kiddy potty: You can choose from free-standing potty chairs (which are great for bringing with you when you’re on-the-go), potty seats that fit on your toilet lid, or seats that fit inside the lid to make the hole tiny enough to securely hold your little one’s bottom. Engage your child in picking out the design and/or colors, and decorate it with your kid, so it’s something they’re proud of.
Step stool: A step stool is also a good assist to help them get up on the potty with little or no help. This will also help them reach the sink easier to wash those tiny hands and brush their teeth.
Training pants: Though these function similar to diapers, they give your kid a little more autonomy in that they can pull them up and down by themselves.
Wipes: The concept of using toilet paper—and how much—will be brand new to your child. Ease them into it (and save excess paper waste) in the meantime with regular moistened wipes or fun-colored ones made specially for kids. While you’re at it, grab a small diaper pail or trash can to dispose of them, since they tend not to be flushable.
Potty training entertainment: There are all sorts of potty training books, songs, games, and videos out there that can help engage your child and make potty time fun while boosting their sense of accomplishment.
How Should You Potty Train a Toddler?
First off, remember that there is no single way to potty train your kid. And keep in mind that mistakes are normal. As you progress, remember these essential potty training tips.
Plan ahead: It can take a while to potty train your child. So, be sure to plan your mission during a period when you or another caregiver can fully devote time and energy consistently on a daily basis for a few months stretch.
Normalize using the potty: We admit, this one can feel a little awkward at first, but let your kid watch you use the potty. Children are curious beings, and showing that it’s something that everyone does can help make it less intimidating.
Allow potty play: Help your kid get used to the potty by letting them sit on it fully clothed to get used to its feel. Then, read potty training books together or engage in some potty training songs, games, and videos.
Set a schedule: Children thrive on consistency. In the first few days, start by taking them to the potty every 30 to 60 minutes to give them more exposure to it. Then, if that goes smoothly, create a consistent day to day potty training schedule. This could include taking them potty every few hours such as when they wake up, after they eat, pre- and post-nap, and before bedtime. You can even buy nifty potty watches that you set to sound an alarm or song every few hours to remind them to go.
Heap on the praise: Even when things don’t go perfect, shower your kid with praise every time they tell you they have to go and/or use the potty. You can also reward them with small treats or sticker charts. Just make sure they know they’ve done something good and you’re proud of them.
Be ready to sprint: At the first sign that your child has to relieve themself, act fast! They may seem squirmy, hold their privates, or even squat down. Help them recognize these involuntary behaviors, stop whatever they’re doing, and make a run for the potty.
Mommy Pro Tip: Keep your kid in clothing that’s loose so you can get it off in a flash.
Get the wipe right: If you have a girl, make sure she knows to wipe from front to back to help avoid urinary tract and bladder infections.
Be prepared for common issues: Try as you may, potty training isn’t a snap. Some kids get emotional when flushing their poop—it may make them sad or frighten them. Also, sometimes children develop a preference for going potty with a certain person, while others may only go at daycare when they see other kids doing it. Try not to let little things such as these bother you. Instead, shower them with praise for every little potty success.
Make flushing a game: If your child gets emotional when it comes to flushing time, make a game of it. One way is to draw pictures together of the poop going down the toilet and joining all the other poops. Then, when they flush, wave and say, “Bye-bye, enjoy the party!” as it goes down. It may sound silly, but a lot of kids have a ton of fun with this.
Teach them hand-washing: It’s always been important to wash your hands, especially after using the potty. But since the COVID-19 pandemic, hand-washing has become non-negotiable. Move your step stool from the potty to the sink after they’ve done their business. Then, have them wet their hands, get soap, and suds up while singing the “Happy Birthday” song three times (a.k.a. 20 seconds).
Big kid undies: Finally, the kind of undies that big(ger) kids wear—that is, not diapers—can be an immense source of pride for your potty training tyke. They can also be a huge motivating factor. As you’ve likely seen online and in stores, you can get undies that have all sorts of fun designs and characters, probably including some of their faves. Engage your child in picking out the ones they want. Just be sure to get plenty of pairs. (Hey, practice makes perfect—but getting there is definitely not a zero to 60 achievement.)
How Long Should You Potty Train a Toddler?
Again, every child is different, so don’t read these numbers as law. But, on average, it can take kids around six months to learn the process of using the potty, and around a year and a half to master it. Firstborn children tend to learn slower than younger siblings, who pick it up easier from their example. And girls typically graduate from potty training a few months sooner than boys.
What Causes a Delay in Potty Training?
There are many things that can prolong potty training. Chief among them, an aforementioned life event such as a new babysitter or even going on vacation. It can also take a while for potty training to be 100%—accidents during the day are normal until around 5 years old, and wetting the bed can last even longer. A lack of consistency and putting too much pressure on your kid can also hold things up. However, if your child is still having a hard time using the potty by the time they’re 4 or 5, it may be a good idea to speak to your pediatrician.
What Age Should a Child Be Dry at Night?
As we discussed, bed-wetting is common and usually goes away on its own. And bed-wetting alarms, which go off at the first detection of moisture in your kid’s PJs, can help. However, if your child wets the bed at least twice a month and is 6 or more years old, or begins wetting the bed after seeming to have potty training down for a while (a.k.a. potty training regression), speak to your pediatrician.
Next: Is your child getting enough sleep—and the right quality of Zzz? Find out in our sleep guide for kids ages 1 to 11.