Many things about the toddler years are hard on caregivers, from calming epic tantrums to trying to stay patient as they test boundaries to generally fearing for their safety as they explore the world around them. But if there is anything that can intimidate the heck out of someone raising a toddler, it’s the process of potty training.
Veteran parents are always full of suggestions when it comes to successfully getting through this milestone, but what works for one family might not work for another. Caregivers who take to social media to crowdsource advice from friends often end up with conflicting guidance, making them feel more stressed than they were in the first place.
While we at Pregnancy & Newborn have plenty of stories we could share about the pains (and hilarious joys) of potty training, we know that every child is different and we don’t want to add to your confusion and unease. Instead, we are leaving the advising to experts Stephanie Tanner Walsh, MD, CLC, FAAP, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and board member of the chapter’s Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect program, and Becky Kennedy, PhD, (more commonly known as Dr. Becky) clinical psychologist and founder of Good Inside.
What is the Average Age for a Child to be Potty Trained?
In the first few years of a child’s life, caregivers can usually tell if their child is on track developmentally because there is a standardized timeline for meeting milestones. We know, for instance, that by 4 months of age, most babies are beginning to make “ooh” and “ahh” sounds, and that by 9 months old, a baby can typically sit independently. Unfortunately, the timing of potty training isn’t nearly as easy to pinpoint.
“Potty training is about development,” says Dr. Walsh, “Each child develops at a different pace, so you can expect potty training to be the same.”
Dr. Becky says that many children may be ready to start using the potty “in the months around age 2,” and both she and Dr. Walsh emphasize that it’s less about a magic age and more about whether or not your child is showing signs of readiness.
“There are developmental signs that can help parents to know when their child is ready [to potty train],” says Dr. Walsh, such as mind-body readiness. “For example, noticing that they remained dry during naptime (this can start around 18 months of age).” However, she notes that tots also have to be able to decipher when their bladder is full, but this development “doesn’t usually click until around 2 years of age.” Other signs a toddler may be ready to start using the potty include hiding when they want to have a bowel movement or taking their diaper off immediately after a bowel movement.
As for how long the process might take, as with all things in child development, it depends on the individual toddler. “Some children can be potty trained in a few days and others may need months to years,” explains Dr. Walsh, “There will be many ups and downs with potty training, but eventually they will get there!”
What is the Best Method for Potty Training?
A quick Google search of this question will yield an alarming number of results. Some parents swear by hunkering down for three days for what can only be described as a “potty training boot camp.” Other caregivers may say their child was successful with incentives, like sticker charts and rewards systems. The “methods” are countless. But, if you ask Dr. Becky, the best approach is one that empowers the child.
“We [at Good Inside] don’t believe kids need training—in potty or anything else,” she says, “We stand by our Good Inside Potty Learning approach that feels good to you and your child. It’s based on empowering your child, not controlling or coercing them, as it leads not only to short-term potty success but also long-term confidence, body sovereignty, and independence.”
She further explains that she’s “not a big fan of rewards because they focus a child on external signals and pleasing others, which only leads them to be more disconnected from their internal signals—which is what potty success is all about!” Still, Dr. Becky acknowledges that for years, many of us parents have been sold on the idea that incentives and rewards are necessary potty training tools, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Good Inside’s model, based on empowering children, “builds up a child’s body awareness, internal motivation, and personal pride—which make rewards unnecessary.”
Again, every child is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to potty training. That being said, whatever method you feel is clicking with your toddler, keep with it. According to Dr. Walsh, consistency is key here because potty training is tough on a kid, and suddenly switching up the rules on them will likely lead to confusion and possibly prolong the process.
Potty Training Tips
Both Dr. Walsh and Dr. Becky agree that helping a toddler find success using the potty can be a challenge and sometimes incredibly stressful for parents. But it’s important to keep your emotions under control during the process and to manage your expectations.
“The most common struggle (not “mistake”) I see is that parents’ desire for their child’s potty success leads them to operate from a place of control, which only gets in the way of the potty process,” says Dr. Becky.
Dr. Walsh encourages caregivers to go into the process remembering that “accidents happen—even in fully potty-trained kids,” so it’s important that you don’t expect perfection from your child. Additionally, she explains that sometimes a child will start the potty training process and it just won’t click for them, and in these cases, you may have to stop and try again at a later time when they may be a little more developed. Also, keep in mind that “stressful periods can impact potty training, such as the birth of a new sibling, a move, or a family crisis.”
Finally, if your child has a history of constipation or they are experiencing it during potty training as a result of withholding, talk to their pediatrician to ensure they stay healthy and safe (remember, as tired as you are of having to change dirty diapers, they are preferable to an impacted bowel).
Our Favorite Potty Training Products
If you’re at a point where you and your tot are ready to start the potty process, you’re going to want a training toilet, a stool, and a few other handy products. Here are some of our favorites to consider.