You can call it potty training, toilet learning or “big kid restroom time.” But no matter the words, helping little ones graduate from diapers to toilets can be an emotional minefield for families. There are a lot of factors to consider (and worry about) – from getting started to how to approach the whole process. And there are no limits to opinions on the matter. Some people will insist it should be finished by age two, others will argue that age three is the magic number.
But the reality is this: Learning to use the potty is a process that should begin when your child is ready.
So, how do you know when that is?
Experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend looking for these readiness signs in your child:
- Imitates your behavior.
- Can put things where they belong.
- Demonstrates independence by saying “no.”
- Expresses interest in toilet training.
- Walks and is ready to sit down.
- Can communicate her need to go potty.
- Is able to put her clothes on and take them off.For children, beginning to use the potty and eventually using it all on their own is a part of their developmental process. Want to know more about developmental milestones? Check out our guide!
Working with Your Provider
When your child is potty training and going to child care, take the time to talk about what it is like at home and in care. When all the adults are on the same page, you minimize frustrations and confusion. Your child care providers should be culturally sensitive and respectful of possible differences in your beliefs and approaches to every topic – including learning to use the toilet.
Teachers and staff normally provide a routine for children who are potty training. If you and your child’s caregivers use the same routine, methods and words (e.g., potty vs. toilet, bathroom vs. restroom, pee vs. urine, etc.), it helps get rid of confusion for your child and brings a common sense of purpose to the overall effort. Communication is key – for all parties.
Taking a “no pressure” leads to the best results. Helping your child notice when it’s time to potty, and helping them learn the signs can make a big difference. This allows your child to become comfortable with and responsible for her own potty needs. Here are the kinds of phrases you can use to guide that awareness:
- I noticed that you’re doing a little dance. Is your body telling you it’s time to go to the restroom?
- We’re about to leave the house. I always like to take a potty break before I go. Let’s make sure you get to go before you put your coat on.
- It looks like you have the toilet wiggles. Is it time for a trip to the restroom?
If your child feels scared of the loud noise of the toilet, the toilet seat itself or falling in, taking a moment to reassure them and responding with care to their concerns goes a long way. Reading books and watching friends or family members use the potty can help normalize the experience and curb any fears.
And remember…accidents are inevitable and should not result in punishment. Remaining calm and accepting that not every day will be a dry pants day helps your child stay on track. Every child is different and learns at her own pace. If your child isn’t ready, it’s best to put diapers back on for a few weeks and try again later.
A Few More Things to Remember
It’s important to keep these key points in mind:
- There isn’t much evidence that supports any specific methods of potty training – so, every child may benefit from a different strategy.
- Learning to use the toilet is a process that should begin when both you and your child are willing and able to participate.
- A positive, consistent approach to potty training creates a good experience for everyone involved – and helps your child feel supported.
- Don’t forget to celebrate the small victories in the process – a happy high five after washing hands or a hug to tell your little learner that you are excited about their dry undies builds a sense of excitement around their wins.
Are you and your little one ready to begin? Good luck!
Last reviewed: February 2018
Photo credit: Flickr user VintageChica
Kirsten Eamon-Shine directs Early Learning Indiana’s communications efforts, including the Brighter Futures Indiana website. She loves telling stories that help adults nurture the curiosity and potential of children. She spent over a decade in the youth development field at IUPUI, the Marion County Commission on Youth and Peace Learning Center, and has diverse experience as a digital communications manager and strategist with community-focused organizations and businesses. Kirsten holds a Bachelor of Arts in History and Political Science from Indiana University. She spends her free time reading children’s and grown-ups’ books, enjoying Indianapolis’ cultural and food scenes, and listening to music with her husband and son Emerson, who is somehow old enough to be in kindergarten.