Ready to start potty training? Learn the basics here, including signs your child is ready, supplies you’ll need, and helpful tips and techniques. Here’s your step-by-step guide to teaching your child these very important life skills:
1. Be sure your child is ready to potty train
When children are about a year old, they can begin to recognize that they need to go. Some kids are ready to start potty training as early as 18 months old, while others aren’t interested until after age 3. Many parents begin potty training when their children are about 2 1/2.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),Opens a new window most kids aren’t successful at toilet training until 2 to 3 years old. Even if you’re itching to say goodbye to diapers, try not to pressure your child – if they’re not ready, it will only be counterproductive.
If a child is pushed to potty train too soon, “it can cause stress and setbacks, which can cause training to take longer,” the CDC says.
Because there’s such a wide age range for when kids develop an interest in potty training, watch for signs your toddler is ready to potty train: Can they follow simple instructions? Can they walk to the potty and sit down? Can they take off pants and put them back on?
According to the American Academy of PediatricsOpens a new window, other signs of readiness include:
- Being able to stay dry at least two hours at a time during the day
- Showing signs when they’re about to pee or poop
- Disliking being in wet diapers and wanting to be changed
- Asking to use a potty or wear “big-kid” underwear
Also, consider the other challenges your toddler is dealing with now. If they’re experiencing any turmoil or major change in their life, like a new school, caregiver, or sibling, the potty-training process is likely to hit some snags. Consider holding off until things settle down.
The same goes for you: If you’re in the middle of remodeling your house, have just taken a challenging new job, or are experiencing morning sickness with your next pregnancy, it’s probably not a good time to start potty training your child. Wait a couple of weeks – or months – for other pressures to ease.
Advertisement | page continues below
2. Make a potty training plan
Before you even buy your toddler a potty seat, have a plan for potty training. Decide when and how you want to start, how to handle accidents, when to back off, and so on. Plan to start potty training when you and your child’s other caregivers are able to devote time and patience to the process.
At the same time, prepare to be flexible. There’s no way to know how your child will respond to potty training attempts or what techniques will work best. Keep in mind that as with most developmental milestones, success doesn’t necessarily happen in a linear fashion. Your toddler may make initial progress only to regress at one or more points along the way.
The CDC recommends you discuss your plan with your child’s pediatrician and daycare provider. They’ll probably have plenty of experience and advice to share. Once you’ve decided on a strategy, be sure you and everyone else who takes care of your child sticks to it – barring unexpected setbacks and other potty training challenges, of course.
3. Buy potty training supplies
First and foremost, invest in a child-size potty chair or a potty seat that attaches to your regular toilet. It’s often easiest to start with a potty chair. Some children are anxious about using the grown-up toilet – some fear falling into it, while others dislike the loud noise of the flush.
Figure out what equipment is best for your child before you go shopping, then ask them to help you pick out a potty chair. When you get home, write your child’s name on it and encourage them to play with it.
If you’re potty training a boy, look for a potty chair with a removable urine guard or without a guard entirely. You may have to wipe up a little more stray pee, but the guards tend to scrape a little boy’s penis when he sits on the potty, which can discourage him from training.
If you’re using a potty seat on the big toilet, make sure it’s comfy and secure, and buy a stool to go with it. Your child will need the stool to get up and down from the toilet quickly and easily, as well as to brace their feet while sitting.
4. Create a potty routine
Set your child on the potty seat, fully clothed, once a day – after breakfast, before their bath, or whenever else they’re likely to have a bowel movement. This helps them get used to the potty and accept it as part of their routine. If there’s not a bathroom nearby, bring your child’s portable potty outside, to the playroom, or wherever they usually are.
Once your little one is fine with this routine, have them sit on the potty bare-bottomed. Again, let them get used to how this feels. At this point, let them know that pulling down your pants before using the potty is a grown-up thing to do, and that this is what Mommy and Daddy (and any older siblings) do every day.
If your toddler refuses to sit on the potty, don’t push it. Never force them to sit there, especially if they seem scared. It’s better to put the potty aside for a few weeks before trying again. Then if your child is willing to sit there, you know they’re comfortable enough to proceed.
Consistency is key to successful potty training, says pediatrician and BabyCenter Medical Advisor Chandani Patel DeZure, M.DOpens a new window. This includes having the potty in the same place every day.
“Have kids use the potty at regular, frequent intervals. Do wiping and hand-washing in the same way every time,” Dr. DeZure says. “Another important piece is to have similar routines between caregivers and environments.”
Though routine can be cumbersome for parents, kids thrive on it – which means potty training will go more smoothly. “One of the easiest ways to start incorporating potty training is to have them sit on the potty after each meal and before bed,” says pediatrician Jessica Madden, M.DOpens a new window.
5. Demonstrate and explain
Children learn by imitation, and watching you use the bathroom is a natural way to understand what using the toilet is all about. If you have a son, it’s simpler to teach him to pee sitting down at first. When he’s mastered that, he can watch his dad, older brother, or friend pee standing up – he’s bound to get the hang of it quickly with just a little encouragement.
When you demonstrate for your child, it’s helpful to talk about how you know it’s time to go to the bathroom. Then explain what’s going on as you’re using the toilet and let your child look in the toilet afterward. Also, show them how you wipe with toilet paper, pull up your underwear, flush the toilet, and wash your hands.
Even though you’ll be helping your child with these activities for some time (especially wiping after a bowel movement) seeing you do it and hearing you talk through it will help them get used to the whole process. If you’re potty training a girl, help her wipe from front to back, especially after a bowel movement, to minimize the risk of urinary tract infections.
If your child has older siblings or friends who are potty trained, consider having them demonstrate too. It can be helpful for your child to see others close to their age exhibiting the skills they’re trying to learn.
Show your child the connection between pooping and the toilet. The next time they poop in their diaper, take them to the potty and empty the diaper into the bowl. If they want to, let them flush so they can watch the poop disappear.
You may also want to pick up a few picture books on potty training. Everyone Poops, by Taro Gomi, is a perennial favorite as well as Where’s the Poop? and Once Upon a Potty.
Keeping a book like this in the bathroom, or a poster or flipbook that illustrates the steps to using the potty, can help your child take in all this new information and get familiar with the process.
6. Foster the potty habit
Encourage your child to sit on the potty whenever they feel the urge to go – a feeling that Dr. DeZure explains doesn’t really start until 18 months old. If they need help getting there and taking off their diaper, make sure they know it’s okay to ask you any time.
If you can, let them run around bare-bottomed sometimes with the potty nearby. (This is the foundation of the 3-day potty training method, which you may want to use.) The more time your child spends out of diapers, the faster they’re likely to learn. Tell your child they can use the potty whenever they want to, and occasionally remind them that it’s there if they need it.
Sometimes kids won’t sit on the potty long enough to relax and let anything come out. Calmly encourage your child to stay put for at least a minute or two. You may have better luck if you keep them company and talk to them or read them a book.
Pediatrician Daniel GanjianOpens a new window, M.D., suggests setting the stage for success: “Take your child to the bathroom 20 minutes after a drink. Blow cold air, making a shhhhh sound that sounds like urine, and have some water running in the sink.”
7. Celebrate potty training success
When your child uses the potty successfully, shower them with praise to give them positive reinforcement. They’ll start to grasp that getting something in the potty is an accomplishment.
Whenever your child tries to use the potty (even when they don’t quite succeed), tell them they’re doing well and that you’re proud of them. Compliment them now and then on their dry underpants or diapers.
But be careful not to go overboard: Too much praise might make them nervous and afraid to fail, which can lead to more accidents and setbacks.
Dr. Madden recommends the tried-and-true system of keeping some sort of reward chart or sticker chart to celebrate your child’s progress. “It’s the best way to recognize their efforts and give them praise,” Dr. Madden says.
8. Handle potty training setbacks gracefully
Potty training is often messy and frustrating. Keep in mind that temporary setbacks are completely normal, and virtually every child will have many accidents before being able to stay dry all day long.
An accident doesn’t mean you’ve failed. In fact, Dr. Madden says she lost track of how many accidents her kids had while potty training.
When accidents happen, don’t get angry or punish your child. After all, they’re still learning, and it’s only recently that their muscle development has allowed them to hold their bladder and rectum closed at all! Mastering the process will take time.
Reduce the chance of accidents by dressing your child in clothes that are easy to remove quickly. When they have an accident anyway, be positive, loving, and calm.
“Accidents are actually great because they teach your child how the body works. Plus, when they get wet, they’ll feel uncomfortable and want to urinate in the potty next time,” Dr. Ganjian says.
If your child is having major potty training setbacks, remember you can always pause and try again later.
“Sometimes you might have to take a break from potty training altogether and try again at a different age or developmental stage,” Dr. DeZure says. “While the outside world or school sometimes forces the issue, potty training is easiest and fastest when a parent waits until their child is ready, no matter how long that takes.”
9. Introduce nighttime potty training
Don’t give away that stash of diapers just yet. Even when your child is consistently clean and dry all day, it may take several more months, or even years, for them to stay dry all night.
At this age, their body is still too immature to wake them up in the middle of the night reliably to go to the bathroom. It’s normal for kids to continue wetting the bed well into grade school.
“Night training depends on the child. Some children are able to learn it at the same time as daytime potty training, while other children take longer,” says Dr. DeZure. “Children who sleep very deeply may take longer with night training.”
Before embarking on nighttime potty training, keep your child in a diaper or pull-up at bed time, but encourage them to use the potty if they have to pee or poop during the night. Tell them that if they wake up in the middle of the night needing to go, they can call you for help. Or, try putting a potty near their bed so they can use it right there.
Some parents wake their child up at regular intervals overnight to use the potty, and extend those intervals slowly to help with night training.
If your child is staying dry consistently at night, though, they may not need much help. Put a waterproof mattress cover down to protect their mattress. Put your child in underwear (or nothing) and have them go to the bathroom before you tuck them in. Then see how it goes. If your child is unable to stay dry overnight, put them back in nighttime diapers and try again in a few months.
10. Jump for joy – you’re done!
When your child is potty trained, celebrate! Encourage them to take pride in their achievement by letting them give away leftover diapers to a family with younger kids.
And don’t forget to pat yourself on the back. Now you won’t have to think about diapers ever again – for this child, anyway!
When should you start potty training?
Instead of focusing on age, watch for signs of potty training readiness: staying dry at least two hours in a row during the day, showing signs they’re about to pee or poop, following simple instructions, and disliking being in wet diapers. Other signs: Your child can walk to the potty or toilet and pull their clothes down, asks to use the potty, and wants to wear big-kid underwear.
How long does it take to potty train?
Potty training can take just a few weeks or several months, especially if you factor in time for night potty training and any setbacks along the way. Try not to be overly concerned with sticking to a specific timeline. Instead, keep an eye on your child’s progress and celebrate any wins.
What is the fastest way to potty train?
Using the 3 day potty training method may accelerate the process. Some toddlers can get the hang of potty training in one intensive long weekend – but this doesn’t work for everyone.
What day of potty training is the hardest?
This varies by family – it can be any day you feel burnt out or frustrated, or have been cleaning up accidents many days in a row. Each parent has to decide at that point whether they want to push through and stick to the routine, or put the process on pause and try again in a few weeks or months. Both are valid choices.