What’s the perfect age for potty training?

Potty training time isn’t an age, but rather a state of mind. Between milestones and month-by-month age measurements, it’s easy to get caught up in the numbers game of parenting, but the truth is that when it comes to potty training, which needs both physical skills and emotional maturity, it’s more about an individual child’s readiness than any specific age. Most toddlers develop the bladder control needed to start potty training around 18 months, and sometime between 18 months and three years old, most toddlers develop the drive and motivation to learn, too. By the time they’re three years old, according to an often-quoted American Academy of Pediatrics study from 1997, 88% of toddlers are potty trained.

Anecdotal evidence suggest that toilet training older children goes faster and more easily, since they’re more interested and motivated to master the skills they need for potty training. Part of this observed tendency might be the desire to be “grown up” that kicks in at a certain point during the toddler years, and letting toddlers know that adults use the toilet can help play to that desire. Like people of all ages, toddlers often learn faster when they want to learn something.

Signs of potty training readiness

Not every toddler who’s ready to start potty training looks the same, and not every family has the option of waiting for the exact right time to start – some preschools and daycares require that the toddlers who enroll there already be potty trained. There are some ingredients that generally need to be in place before potty training can be successful. These ingredients can be divided into three categories. Physical skills are easier to check off of a list, as are communication skills, but the signs of emotional readiness are often just as important.

  • Physical skills: Toddlers who are physically ready to start potty training are walking steadily enough to make their way to the bathroom, can pull down their pants and then pull them back up again, and can sit down on the potty and then stand up again on their own. Toddlers whose bladder control might be strong enough to start potty training also start to last longer between diaper changes, until they might be dry for two hours or longer before needing a change. Finally, toddlers who are ready for potty training need to be aware of when they’re peeing or pooping.
  • Communication skills: Potty training is a learning curve, and takes time to master, which makes communication skills so important. Toddlers who can understand and follow basic instructions and requests, and who can communicate to their parents, either in words or with body language, they they’re ready for a diaper change may be ready to take the next step.
  • Emotional readiness: Just like wanting to reach a toy just out of reach might have been why your little one first tried to learn to crawl, wanting to learn to use the potty might be how they get themself out of diapers. An interest in the potty, the toilet, the way grown-ups use the toilet, or “big kid” underwear all might be signs of readiness. A dislike of wearing a wet or dirty diaper, too, might be a sign that they are ready to move on to the next step.

When not to start potty training

Sometimes, the choice is taken out of parents’ hands, but whenever it’s possible, it can be helpful to try to avoid starting potty training at the same time that your toddler is facing other big changes, like switching to their own bedroom, or switching to a big kid bed, starting a new daycare or preschool, or just after the arrival of a new baby sibling. If you know there are a lot of big changes coming up in their life soon, trying to stagger them can be helpful.

The bottom line

Every child develops at their own pace, so even if most children have the physical skills to begin potty training around 18 months, it’s likely that they’ll take a bit longer to develop in other areas. Your little one’s pediatrician or other healthcare provider will be able to provide his or her opinion on when is the right time to start potty training, and will be able to give you a better idea about when Baby might be ready.

  • N. Kaerts, G. Van Hal, A. Vermandel, J.J. Wyndaele. “Readiness signs used to determine the proper moments to start toilet training: a review of the literature.” Neurology and Urodynamics. 31(4): 437-40. Web. April 2012.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Potty Training: How To Get The Job Done.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, November 14 2015. Web.
  • Ann C. Stadtler, Peter A. Gorski, T. Berry Brazelton. “Toilet Training Methods, Clinical Interventions, and Recommendations.” Pediatrics. 103(3). Web. June 1999.
  • “Potty Training: Learning to use the Toilet.” Zero to Three. ZERO TO THREE: National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families, 2017. Web.
  • “The Right Age to Toilet Train.” HealthyChildren. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 21 2015. Web.
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