Your child must be both physically and emotionally ready for
toilet training. Most children are ready when they are
between 22 and 30 months of age, although every child is different. Toilet
training usually becomes a long and frustrating process if you try to start it
before your child is ready.
Before children can use the toilet,
they must be able to control their bowel and bladder muscles. Some signs of
this control are having bowel movements around the same time each day, not
having bowel movements at night, and having a dry diaper after a nap or for at
least 2 hours at a time. Children must also be able to climb, talk, remove
clothing, and have mastered other basic motor skills before they can use the
toilet by themselves.
Most children are physically ready to
toilet train before they are emotionally ready. Your child must want to use the
toilet and be willing to cooperate with you. He or she may even talk about
being a "big boy" or "big girl" and wearing underpants rather than diapers.
Training generally does not go well if your child is in the stage where "no" is
his or her automatic response to every request.
A child is
considered toilet-trained when he or she knows that it is time to go to the
bathroom and is able to climb onto and use the toilet with little help. In a
study of children who started training between 22 and 30 months of age, boys
were fully trained at an average age of 38 months, while girls were trained
slightly earlier, around 36 months.1
Your child will likely need help with wiping after a bowel movement until age 4
or 5. He or she may also need extra help in unfamiliar bathrooms, such as
public restrooms, until about age 5 or 6.
If your child resists
using the toilet, he or she probably isn't ready. Sometimes toilet training
disruptions or delays are caused by stress or major changes in routine. Also, a
child who is doing well with toilet training may suddenly have difficulty for
no obvious reason. This is a normal part of toilet training. It is best to
start or resume toilet training when your child is receptive to it and in a
Your child's toilet training experience
should be positive. If it becomes a struggle or a battle of wills, it is best
to ease up or stop for a while. Although you may be ready for toilet training,
your child may not be.
Frequently Asked Questions
Learning about toilet training:
It can be hard to know when to start toilet training. In general, a child must be both physically and
emotionally ready before
toilet training can be successful.
Children go through a toilet readiness
phase that won't be the same for every child. Watch for physical and emotional
signs that your child is ready to toilet train. Things going on in your family
affect your child during this phase. It is not advised to toilet train during a
time of family change, such as when there’s a move, a new baby, or
When your child is ready to toilet train, the learning
phase can begin. During this time, provide opportunities to toilet train and
encourage your child.
A child is physically capable
of being toilet-trained when he or she develops muscle control over the bowel
and bladder. This rarely happens before 18 months of age.
basic signs that your child has bowel and bladder control include the
Your child must also be able to climb and remove
clothing. And he or she must be able to talk enough to communicate with you
about the need to use the toilet.
Your child may be physically
ready to toilet train after 18 months of age. But emotional readiness may take
more time. Your child must want to use the toilet. And he or she must be
willing to cooperate with you during the toilet-training process. For example,
training typically does not go well if your child is in the stage where "no" is
his or her automatic response to every request.
Your child shows
emotional readiness for toilet training in several ways. He or she may:
Be careful of getting too excited about your child's
readiness after he or she shows one or two of these signs. A child may be
excited about using the potty, only to lose interest very quickly.
It is normal for your
child to be doing well with toilet training and to suddenly begin having
problems. For example, he or she may try to "hold it" for long periods or want
to wear diapers again. This does not mean your efforts have failed. But it does
mean that you need to ease up on the training for a little while.
Stress in the home can interfere with a child's toilet training. For
example, toilet-training setbacks can be related to the arrival of a new baby,
a move, a change in preschool or child care, family conflict, or illness or
death of a close family member.
A child's toilet habits may also
be affected if he or she gets an illness, especially one that has a long recovery time.
Sometimes your child will not
cooperate for no good reason that you can determine.
pressure from friends or family to toilet train your child too early. Parents
often feel that their child should be trained by a specific age or to meet a
deadline, such as for a requirement to enroll in a particular day care. You and
your child are less likely to become frustrated and have a good experience with
toilet training if it is not forced. Staying positive and relaxed is an
important part of training your child.
typically do not help. Children need frequent praise throughout the entire
process of toilet training.
You will know your child is
toilet-trained when he or she regularly anticipates the need to go to the
bathroom and with little help is able to climb onto and use the
type of toilet (potty) you provide. This process takes time, from weeks to
months. Each child is different. But most children are successfully trained
around age 3 or shortly thereafter (girls are typically trained a few months
earlier than boys). Your child may still need help now and then, such as with
wiping, until age 4 or 5. He or she may also need help and reassurance when
using a toilet in an unfamiliar bathroom, such as in a public restroom, until
about age 5 or 6.
Most toilet-trained children sometimes wet or
soil their pants during the day, usually because they get distracted. For
example, your child may ignore the need to go to the bathroom because he or she
does not want to interrupt playtime. These accidents may occur until your child
is 5 years old. Stress can also cause a child to revert to wetting his or her
Most children sometimes wet the bed at night until about 12
months after they use the toilet during the day. Many 3-year-olds wet the bed
at night at least once a month. Nighttime bed-wetting may even occur
sporadically into school age.
You may be
when to begin toilet training. This is not surprising, considering that most
people are bombarded with advice and expectations from relatives, friends, and
day care providers. You may also have personal reasons for wanting your child
toilet-trained, such as being pregnant and wanting to
avoid having two children in diapers at the same time. Balancing all of these
factors can be a challenge.
Your child's physical and emotional
readiness for toilet training is the most important aspect of the timing.
Although you can begin toilet training your child at an earlier-than-average
age, it usually takes longer. Also, both you and your child will likely become
frustrated if you try toilet training before he or she is physically and
Your child is not ready
to start toilet training if he or she shows any resistance. Typically, a child
children may have some accidents up until school age. A child who has an
accident during the day is often in the middle of playing and simply holds it
too long. Nighttime accidents may occur frequently within the first 12 months
after children learn how to use the toilet during the day. Many 3-year-olds
wet the bed at night at least once a month.
The focus on toilet training
sometimes inspires children to play with their stools. This is normal behavior.
Remind your child that stool is not a toy and that it belongs in the toilet.
Reinforce this idea by helping your child to flush it down the toilet. Help
your child satisfy a natural need to feel textures by offering playtime with
molding material, such as clay or Play-Doh, or finger paints.
Sometimes toilet training
sparks curiosity about where urine and stool come from, prompting some children
to feel and touch their genital area. This is a normal part of how children
learn about their bodies. Don't shame or punish your child for this behavior.
You can explain the function of the genitals and suggest that they are personal
body parts to be looked at and explored in private.
Your child should have regular
checkups, sometimes called
well-child appointments, with a
family medicine doctor, or other health professional.
These visits allow the health professional to evaluate your child's development
and ensure that he or she is healthy.
At the 2-year visit, the
health professional will ask you about your child's progress in
toilet training. This is a good opportunity to discuss
any concerns you have about your child's readiness.
Call your doctor if you have
concerns about your child's readiness for or progress with
Most children use the
toilet during the day consistently and successfully around age 3. Call your
doctor if your child:
There are many different strategies
and approaches to
toilet training. The methods that work best use
positive reinforcement and begin intensive training only when a child is
physically and emotionally ready. Introduce the basic concepts of toilet use
gradually and repetitively to your child. As your child gains the necessary
skills, he or she will show a sincere interest in using the toilet.
Before you decide to start toilet
training, make sure the household environment is stable and that all family
members are prepared to help in the process. Trying to start potty training
soon after having another child, while remodeling your home, while having a
succession of household guests, right before going on vacation, or during a
time of relationship problems will likely not be as successful as during a calm
period when the family can focus on helping your young child reach this
significant developmental milestone.
Talk with your child about
having a bowel movement and about urinating. Your child may be more comfortable
saying "poop" and "pee." It is fine to use these words, but use the proper
terms as well so the child learns what they mean.
Start to talk
with your child about how to use the toilet. Explain how the toilet works and
how your child will be able to use it when he or she is ready. Be enthusiastic
and always speak positively about your child's using the potty. Talk about how
he or she will no longer need to wear diapers, will get to wear underpants that
are more comfortable, and can go just like a big boy or girl.
can also use books and DVDs to help prepare your child. Ask your doctor or a
librarian for more information.
Take your child with you to
select a potty that is sturdy and comfortable. Be
patient and give your child time to get used to and comfortable with it. Some
ways to do this are by:
Your child may want to join you when you use the toilet.
If you feel comfortable with an audience, allow him or her to join you. Talk
with your child about what you are doing.
Toilet training is
usually more successful if you are relaxed and patient with your child.
Eventually, your child will show an interest
in using the toilet. When this happens, follow your child's lead and start the
process. General suggestions that can make this process go more smoothly are
Praise and encourage your
child for success. You can say, "You are sitting on your potty just like mommy
(or daddy, or big sister)" or "You are trying really hard to poop (or pee) in
your potty." Reward your child for trying to use the toilet. You can use verbal
praise and fun activities, such as stickers or special playtime with
Accidents happen. Do not scold or punish your child for
accidentally wetting or soiling his or her pants. Be matter-of-fact and
reassure your child that it's okay and that he or she will get better with
practice. Also, remind your child to use the toilet when he or she wakes up in
If you and your child are not making progress with
toilet training, it's okay. It's probably not the right time. Put the
potty chair away until your child shows that he or she wants to try
The most important things to remember for toilet training
are to wait until your child and family are ready and to make it a positive
experience. Be patient, and look forward to the days ahead of freedom from
This American Academy of Pediatrics website has information for parents about childhood issues, from before the child is born to young adulthood. You'll find information on child growth and development, immunizations, safety, health issues, behavior, and much more.
The website FamilyDoctor.org is sponsored by the American Academy of Family Physicians. It offers information on adult and child health conditions and healthy living. There are topics on medicines, doctor visits, physical and mental health issues, parenting, and more.
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This website is sponsored by the Nemours Foundation. It
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CitationsBlum NJ, et al. (2003). Relationship between age at initiation of toilet training and duration of training: A prospective study. Pediatrics, 111(4): 810–814.Other Works ConsultedGoldson E, Reynolds A (2011). The first 2 years section of Child development and behavior. In WW Hay Jr et al., eds., Current Diagnosis and Treatment: Pediatrics, 20th ed., pp. 64–81. New York: McGraw-Hill.Hagan JF, et al., eds. (2008). Toilet training readiness section of Early childhood: 18-month visit. In Bright Futures: Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants, Children, and Adolescents, 3rd ed., p. 415. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.Hagan JF, et al., eds. (2008). Toilet training section of Early childhood: 2-year visit. In Bright Futures: Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants, Children, and Adolescents, 3rd ed., p. 426. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.Weissman L, Bridgemohan C (2009). Bowel function, toileting, and encopresis. In WB Carey et al., eds., Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics, 4th ed., pp. 610–618. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
March 24, 2011
John Pope, MD - Pediatrics & Thomas Emmett Francoeur, MD, MDCM, CSPQ, FRCPC - Pediatrics
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