8 signs your little one is ready to start potty training
Plus, expert tips to help you flush your fears down the toilet.
Potty training is one of the most anticipated phases in parenting. On the one hand, you can’t wait to ditch the diapers. But on the other hand, it requires you to block off time in your schedule to stay put, roll up the rugs, and brace yourself for the tantrums, power struggles, and accidents that are about to go down (deep breaths).
Timing is really everything when it comes to potty training. Start too soon and studies show there’s a higher chance of regression and not to mention frustration all around. Start too late and your child might develop an unhealthy attachment to his diaper. While most children are ready between 18 to 30 months old, there are lots of other factors to consider before deciding when to start since children develop at their own pace.
To help you prep for this major milestone, we asked Allison Jandu, potty training consultant and author of “Let’s Go to The Potty!” to share the signs of potty training readiness—both emotional and physical—and provide tips to get your toddler on the potty big-kid style in no time.
signs your child is ready to potty train
“We look for a certain level of development to be present from an emotional, a physical, and a social standpoint,” Jandu explains. If you start before your child is exhibiting these signs it can make the process take longer than necessary (think: long, long journey full of accidents and meltdowns for both of you). Being overly cautious (or, ahem, comfortable with diapers) and starting at a later age has its own challenges. As children get older they become more set in their routine. “Pairing that with newfound independence (hello, threenagers!) and a stronger desire for autonomy, you may find your child testing limits and being more resistant to saying goodbye to diapers,” says the expert. Avoid the struggle either way by finding just the right time for your little one. Here are the signs to look for.
- walks, sits, and stands sturdily
For safety reasons, it’s important your child is stable when using the potty so motor skills like sitting, standing, and walking should all be well established.
- communicates his or her needs
Kids don't need to speak full sentences or even speak at all, but they should be able to communicate that they need to go either through sign language, gestures, or pointing before starting to potty train. “It’s not really fair to start potty training if kids don’t have the words or the means to express their need to us,” says Jandu. “It can leave kids feeling a little helpless and deter their progress.”
- follows simple directions
Going to the bathroom is an involved process. To be successful at it your child should be able to understand a simple one-to-two-step direction. “This is a good indicator that they have the capacity to handle potty training, as well,” says Jandu.
- mimics grownups’ behavior
Pretending to cook a meal or drink coffee is a good sign your child is ready to take on the potty, because, what’s another thing adults do? Use the potty. “That modeling behavior is a super powerful tool,” says Jandu. In other words, let your little one in the bathroom when you go to normalize the process. And while doing so talk to them about the order of operations like washing hands at the end.
- stays dry for long periods of time
When your child stays dry for longer than an hour or more throughout the day—and bonus if your kid is waking up dry from naps or overnight—it shows that their bodies are becoming physiologically ready for the process. “Their bladder capacity is starting to expand a little bit and they’re starting to have more muscle control,” says Jandu. Now on the inverse, if your child is peeing every 15 minutes, you're not going to have much success.
- asks for a diaper change
You know who doesn’t like to sit in a dirty diaper? A kid who’s ready for the potty. So once your little one complains that they need to have their diaper changed, it’s time to break out the potty. Use their discomfort to your advantage, says Jandu, and explain to them, “You don’t have to deal with that anymore.”
- resists diaper changes
On the flip side, some children are just over diapers. If your toddler struggles, cries, and kicks when being changed it’s a sign that they want to be more independent. Make that transition to diapers and everyone's life gets a little easier.
- hides to poop
It’s the cutest when you find your child crouching behind the couch to go, but it’s also a powerful signal that they have the awareness of needing to go, which is key in acing potty training. “Hiding shows that kids feel that need in their body and can take that action before it kinda just comes out,” says Jandu. Now that they can listen to their body, the next step is teaching kids to swap their hiding spot for the potty instead. Hiding is also a good sign that your child likes privacy while doing his business, meaning less time in the toilet for you. Amen.
prep for potty training together
time it right
“Make sure you’re starting to potty train around a time that there aren’t major changes taking place,” says Jandu. This means avoiding potty training when you’re bringing home a new baby or moving into a new house or your child’s starting school for the first time. “Kids can’t process too many big changes at once,” she says. This can lead to more pushback and resistance, and in some cases regressive behavior either with the potty or in other areas. “Remember, young children don't always have the vocabulary to be able to express, ‘I'm feeling stressed,’ so they tend to use behavior to express themselves,” she says. For a smooth process, let them get settled with each transition before introducing something else that’s new.
get the right gear
There are many great floor potties and toilet seat inserts out there but some make the task easier. When shopping for the right one, consider the posture and positioning of your child when they sit. “The ‘prime poop position’ calls for feet to be flat on the floor/surface, knees elevated above hip level, and for your child to lean slightly forward,” says Jandu. Another lifesaver is having the right gear to support your little rock star’s bathroom breaks on-the-go. Pack a travel potty or seat cover and park dates, play dates, and grocery store runs will go so much smoother.
bring on the potty talk
Don’t just take away diapers out of the blue. Before you start the potty training process, talk to your child about what’s going to happen. Spend a few days leading up to the event getting them used to the idea that diapers are going away and they’ll be more open to the process.
read allll the potty books
Help take away the mystery and any anxiety around using the potty by talking about it during your daily routines. Causally rotate in a potty themed book or two daily during story time (see below for our picks). “This will automatically start a positive connection and awareness in relation to potty training for your child, without making it too obvious,” says Jandu. Another great tool: Play a fun potty-themed show and make screen-time work for you.“Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood Prince Wednesday Goes to The Potty/ Daniel Goes to the Potty” and “Peppa Pig Potty Training” are kid favorites.
Test drive the toilet seat
Invite your little one to sit on the potty and get comfortable with it without putting any pressure on them to actually use the bathroom. “Doing that leading up to saying good-bye to diapers tends to make the transition easier because they’ll already have that exposure and experience,” says Jandu. Her advice: Make low pressure potty time part of the daily routine so your little one sees that it’s no big deal.
play the pretend potty game
You know who influences your child? Mr. Bear. And if that guy is sitting on the potty, it’s a good chance your child will warm up to it, too. So make the process fun. Use your child’s dolls, stuffies, and toys in pretend play to help teach the steps—along with bathroom etiquette—while allowing your child to feel in control.