As a potty training expert, one of the biggest questions I get is, “How do I know when my child is ready to start potty training?”.
Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as just ditching the diapers when they turn a certain age.
But there are key signs of potty training readiness your child may display so you can be confident that they are physically, cognitively, and emotionally ready for this new milestone.
So let’s explore all the signs of potty training readiness, and how you can tell when to start your babe’s potty training journey.
In this article: 📝
- What are signs that a child is physically and emotionally ready for toilet training?
- What are 4 signs a child is ready for toilet training?
- What age is ready for potty training?
- What are the red flags for potty training?
- Why you should not potty train too early
What are signs that a child is physically and emotionally ready for toilet training?
Starting when your child is displaying some or all of these signs can make the entire process go much more smoothly.
There are some signs that are more obvious than others, and some that you may not have even thought to connect with potty training before.
Ranging from developmental to physical, and social to emotional, there are a wide variety of factors that help determine a child’s readiness to start potty training.
This free quiz, Is My Child Ready for Potty Training?, is a great place to start!
Research tells us that the best time to start potty training is generally somewhere around a child’s second birthday, which is when most children are developmentally ready and physiologically capable of understanding and executing the skills needed to use the potty instead of a diaper.
Obviously, there are a lot of different variables that come into play which could push that ideal age window one way or another.
Therefore, instead of putting so much focus on age alone, which can often put even more pressure on ourselves to get potty training accomplished within a certain window, I highly encourage families to think about developmental readiness.
According to Mia E. Lang, of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Alberta, “…potty training is a very complex skill integrating physiological and behavioral processes”.
So, depending on a child’s development, potty training is going to happen at different ages for different children and that is OKAY!
Don’t listen to those other sources that may make you feel like you’ve somehow failed if you “waited too long” or “missed the opportunity” if your 2.5-year-old is not ready for potty training.
The simple truth is, it’s never too late to start!
What are 4 signs a child is ready for toilet training?
Typically, children will show several or all of these potty training signs.
It’s important to recognize the difference between readiness and willingness!
Just because your child may not be willing to pee and poop on the potty, doesn’t mean that they aren’t ready to undergo this big milestone.
First, let’s talk about the 4 developmental signs of potty training (that aren’t necessarily related to the potty specifically):
- The ability to understand, communicate, and follow basic directions (can be verbal or non-verbal)
- Mimicking the actions and behaviors of others
- A desire to please others, especially their parents
- A good grasp on gross motor skills: sitting, standing, and walking
There are also more “potty-specific” readiness signs:
- The ability to stay dry for longer periods throughout the day (typically an hour or more)
- Hiding to poop
- Asking for a diaper change after peeing or pooping
- An interest in the bathroom, peeing, and/or pooping
Your child doesn’t necessarily need to have all of these boxes ticked in order to be ready to begin the toilet training process.
We really want to see that your child meets the basic developmental marks that medical professionals deem “typical” of their age group.
Fine motor skills such as dressing, undressing, wiping, and washing hands independently can come later.
Children will often need assistance with at least some of the steps of potty use well after they are successfully using the potty.
What age is ready for potty training?
Though age isn’t the most important factor, there tends to be an opportune window that is often best for most children when starting this process.
However, a lot of different factors can shift this in one direction or another:
- Your child’s developmental, biological, or emotional readiness
- Any upcoming events that could cause your child emotional stress (moving, starting school, divorce, a new sibling, etc.)
- Your own readiness (are you in the mental headspace to commit to this transition and remain consistent?)
- Any developmental or physical delays or disabilities
Speaking of readiness, I need to clear the air on a piece of advice that I hear all too often: “Just wait until your child shows interest in potty training, then it’ll be easy!”.
This age-old tip is actually a myth.
Although there are plenty of children who do show an interest and end up potty training quite easily, not every child falls into this miraculous category.
There are some children who simply never show the typical signs of readiness.
So why do I agree with the AAP and recommend potty training at around 24 months?
Children within this age group typically:
- Have mature muscle development
- Have basic communication skills
- Have obtained adequate gross motor skills
- Have a willingness to please
- Are more intrinsically (internally) motivated
- Can more easily adapt to change
Similar to sleep, a child won’t come up to you and tell you they are ready to sleep through the night.
The same applies to potty training!
Some kiddos will show obvious interest, but most will need that initial guidance and leadership from their parents.
What are the red flags for potty training?
In order for a child to be ready to pee and poop on the potty independently they need to learn the skill of connecting their body cues to their brain signals.
It stems from a sort of sixth sense we possess known as interoception.
Interoception is the ability to feel, identify, and transmit what our body is telling us.
This includes things like hunger, thirst, pain, and yes, bathroom urges.
Sometimes this concept is automatically obtained, but most of the time our kids need our help to learn this important skill as it relates to potty training in a fun and positive way!
That being said, it will be difficult to teach a child to pee and poop on the potty independently without certain readiness factors at play.
Because every child is on their own trajectory, it’s important to pinpoint any red flags that may indicate that your child isn’t ready to begin the potty training process yet.
Here are several red flags that would indicate your child is not ready for potty training:
- Your child has a physical or mental disability that may delay their potty training readiness
- Your child has severe constipation issues
- Your child has an apparent genuine fear of the potty, or a fear of releasing pee and poop without a diaper
- Your child has zero or very minimal progress in the first 5 days of potty training
If your little one does not fall into one of these categories but you aren’t seeing progress with potty training, it could stem from more of a behavioral issue, such as resistance to change or power struggles that are standing in the way of them being successful.
Occasionally, a temporary break or a shift in your approach to potty training may be needed, and that is perfectly normal!
If you think about it, there are many new skills that fall under the umbrella of potty training that children are asked to work on all at once:
- Listening to body cues
- Sitting on the potty
- Peeing and pooping
- Washing hands
When you look at each task listed out like this it seems like a lot, right?!
If your child is having a hard time with potty training, take a step back and work on each aspect gradually by introducing each step in a low-pressure way, even before you actually get to peeing and pooping on the potty.
This will help your child have a working knowledge of what to do and what’s expected of them, and it’ll be much less overwhelming than introducing every step all at once on day one of potty training.
Why you should not potty train too early
We’ve talked a lot about nailing down the sweet spot to start potty training, but is it possible to potty train too early?
The research on this topic is conflicting.
Some research tells us that starting before 24 months can increase the risk of daytime wetting later on.
But other studies have shown that there is no negative impact of starting potty training earlier.
This is where identifying the signs of potty training readiness is so important.
Be sure that your child is displaying, at the very least, the physical and biological capability of potty training before you start the process.
You’ll also want to be sure that your child has the support system necessary to have consistent expectations.
For example, if your child is 20 months old and you want to start potty training, but they don’t support potty training at their school until the 3-year-old classroom, you might want to consider holding off.
But this doesn’t mean that you can’t start introducing the concept of the potty to your child!
I recommend starting “planting the seed” for potty training from as early of an age as possible.
Getting your child comfortable and familiar with the potty before potty training actually begins can make the process go much smoother when the time comes!
My free webinar, 5 Things to Start Now to Make Potty Training Easier is a great resource, if I do say so myself!
Keep in mind also that every child is different, and not every child will display many obvious signs of potty training readiness!
If they don’t, it’s perfectly okay for you to assess your child’s capability and gently guide them through the process.
Many times, our kids are just looking for us to take the lead!
So good luck out there, potty-training mama!
You’ve got this.