A toddler being potty trained.
Talking to your child about the process of going to the bathroom can teach them how to use the toilet.

How to Potty Train Toddlers

Potty training can be a fraught time for parents and toddlers alike. For first-time parents, transitioning a child from diapers to the toilet can seem like an impossible leap. Even seasoned parents can become frustrated because every child makes the change differently. Here are a few tips to make potty training a little bit less challenging. Let’s take a look at how to potty train your toddler.

Wait Until Your Child is Ready

Parents often feel a push to start training before their child is physiologically ready. This push can come from family and friends or their child care source. However, children often need to be physiologically ready to toilet train.

Although there's no precise age to begin potty training, most children are ready to start at two to three years of age. It's during this time that their bladder and brain have developed enough to successfully potty train. It's best to wait until they are ready. Asking a child to hold their bodily functions when their bodies are not prepared to do so may lead to disappointment and anxiety. Potty training will happen eventually and naturally. For most children, training will end at around the age of four.

Signs Your Child is Ready

Children will show several signs that they are ready to potty train. They may become interested in the process of elimination and follow parents and siblings to the bathroom. Often, they will begin to indicate that they are "going." When they become even more ready, they will start to tell their parents that they "have to go." Exhibiting these signs may indicate that they are prepared to start.

Signs of independence are also good signs of readiness. For instance, being able to say "no" in their daily interactions and showing signs of assertiveness shows a developmental readiness. Being able to pull down and pull up pants is not only practical but a sign that they have the coordination to perform the task of toileting successfully.

Start by Teaching Verbiage

Teaching a child toileting verbiage first can be a great asset when potty training. Have them learn the words for “peeing” or “pooping” and “potty." These words help navigate through the process. Let them know that these words are necessary to use when having to go "potty" and that using them is okay.

Engage children in conversations about using the potty. Try not to make negative comments about toileting, saying "smelly" or "yucky," or making faces. Although the purpose may be to make the situation fun, a child might feel self-conscious instead.

Parents can begin toilet training by asking a child to let them know when the child has to "go potty." Look for signs that the child may feel like having a bowel movement or the need to urinate. They may pull at their pants, become very still, or become restless. Be aware of signs like grunting or grimacing and ask the child if they need to "go potty.”

Understand that Each Child is Different

Consider each child’s personality and temperament. Not all children will react the same way to potty training. Some children are naturally outspoken and will let their needs be known right away. Potty training puts a child in the spotlight, which may be uncomfortable for other children. A more reserved child may need more time and encouragement.

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Use a Potty Chair

Children often fear toilets at first. Most bathrooms are made for adults, not for children. Sitting on a toilet can be a frightening experience for a child. To them, the seat may feel like they may fall in. A potty chair will transition a child in a less jarring manner.

Familiarizing the child with the potty can help a child overcome some of their fears. Have the child watch and imitate parents and siblings by sitting on the potty while someone else is on the toilet. It can also be made clear that a potty is made just for children and they will one day use the actual toilet.

There are two main types of potty chairs. One is a seat that goes directly to the toilet. This potty seat may require a small step stool for the child to reach independently. Another style is a stand-alone, sit-down type of potty chair that simulates a toilet. This type has a bowl that can be removed and emptied into the actual toilet.

Show the child what happens after elimination and allow them to flush. Explain about the flushing noises and about what happens after something goes down the toilet. Provide reassurance to the child that the toilet will not hurt them.

The Process

  • In the beginning, remove the child's pants for them and remove them altogether. This way, the child will have the space to spread their legs to potty.
  • Have the child sit on the potty so that their bottom is in the correct place for elimination.
  • Ask the child to place their elbows on their knees while leaning forward. Sit on the toilet and demonstrate for the child if it is necessary. This position creates a relaxation of the pelvic area, helping them in the process.
  • Have the child sit for at least three to five minutes, as sometimes the bladder takes this long to empty all its contents.
  • At the very beginning, boys can learn to urinate sitting down. It’s much easier for them to learn this way. However, after some time, they can start urinating standing up. Place “targets” for them in the potty, like cereal or toilet paper.
  • For nighttime potty training, parents should talk to the child about holding urine in until they can get to the potty. A sit-down potty can be placed in the bedroom with a night light.

When to Consult a Physician

Children who are still finding potty training challenging at age four should be seen by a pediatrician to evaluate for other developmental delays. It may be that the child only needs more time and will eventually learn. Nighttime bedwetting that continues until the age of seven should also be referred to a pediatrician.

A Natural Process

Potty training is never a seamless process. Accidents will happen, even in the case of the most developmentally advanced children. When they do occur, it is essential not to show anger, displeasure, or irritation. The child will only feel bad and become more anxious, possibly delaying the process.

Know that for most children, transitioning to a toilet is a natural process and will eventually occur. It just takes a lot of time, patience and love.