When to Start Potty Training

Parents discuss potty training basics, including when to start.


As one parent writes to their baby group:

"I was just wondering where people are with potty training? 
Our almost 18 month old has been fascinated with the potty for a while. She has a hand me down book from a cousin called "Big girls use the potty" which she loves. So we bought her a potty to have around without doing anything at all to get her to use it. I figured there's no real point in actual potty training until they have more language.
She likes to sit on  the potty while we're in the bathroom and in the last couple of days she's insisting that we take her diaper off before she sits on it. At this stage, I'm really just following her lead but it made me think I should perhaps have more of a plan or get a book or something -  rather than make it up as I go along (my preferred parenting method).
Is she too young? Any thoughts/advice/recommendations very welcome!
Hope you're all having a good summer."
- H, mother to S, 17.5 months


In this article:


General Tips

Recommended Reading


 NOTE: The "book du jour" for Potty Training right now is "Oh Crap."  Comes up again and again on our toddler groups and Advice Group.




20-30 months is the authoritative #, anecdotal evidence suggests 17-22:

"I was wondering who was going to be the first to post about this! We've been thinking about starting A. soon. I'm reading Oh Crap! Potty Training etc. right now and it says the ideal time is 20-30 months but lots of folks have success with 17-22 months, too. She uses the ability to sing the whole ABC song as a kind of measure, and also said that putting the potty down before you are actually training isn't a great idea unless they are ONLY using it to sit on when you are using the toilet and not putting other things in it / seeing it as a toy (we have a potty that she sits on when we go on the toilet, so I think the author approves).  The book is wordy but even skimming it, as I am doing, has been helpful to prepare me for making the leap. I think we are going to wait until we get through another few big changes first (moving into our new place, re-integrating A. with her child-care providers after 2.5 weeks of travel) but I'm hoping to devote a week to it when my partner and I can sit down with our calendar."


Follow your child's instincts:

"I don't have any direct experience with this yet, but I just wanted to say it sounds like this is the ideal scenario and that you are doing everything perfectly right! She is expressing interest, you are following her lead but not forcing anything – I'm betting that things will happen pretty naturally whenever she is ready."

"We  also did not apply pressure and just followed her lead, which happened a bit before she turned 3. Only a few accidents."

 ""I have two older kids. While they read books, occasionally sat on a kid potty, etc, really I waited until just after their third birthdays. For both, I waited until they said they wanted to. For both kids, it was after a play date showed up in undies and they wanted undies too. It was about a week of staying homenear the potty, setting my phone alarm to get them on the potty every hour or so, with a little dance party when they peed or pooped, and talking about keeping our new fancy undies clean. Don't torture yourself for the next year with fighting and accidents, wait until they want to do it. And from experience, kids can't really hold it and wait until they are 3 or so anyway, so cut them a break."


Don't push your child:

"I'll tell you our story and views on potty but every family is different and there really isn't a right way. There is a wrong way, which is to push a child that is not physically or emotionally ready. I think around 18 months is a good time to introduce the concept of potty if your child has already started showing awareness of a full diaper (Otherwise, they'll just think it's a cool chair). For instance, N. starts pulling her diaper and points at it when it's full. I acknowledge it with enthusiasm and praise her and then change it. She also sees older brother go potty so she gets the concept and knows what it's for. For firstborns, I guess a book can substitute. We used Potty by Leslie Patricelli. While N. has potty awareness, I have absolutely no intention to go down the path of actual training (meaning bye bye diapers). Not as we approach winter. I can't imagine having to use a portable potty in 40-degree weather when outside. Many parents think that potty training is some sort of a relief, it is actually more work. It is a process that is much easier in summer time and when the child is older. Again just my personal view. For actual training, we have not read any books or followed a method. We followed his lead by getting a potty at 18 months. Around 20 months, he started hiding and needing privacy when he went no. 2. That's when we offered the option of using his potty in his room.  He used it every now and then. Around 24 months despite our reluctance, he started preferring the potty so we trained him in only 3 days and that was it. During those three days, we took off the diapers and took him potty every hour or so. Oh and we never left he house. Around day 4, we started going on short outings and used his portable potty. It was very easy. He has had a few regressions here and there but overall it was a positive experience as we followed his lead. There really is no magic to it. My foreign parents laughed at the concept of "training" (similar to sleep training). When I asked how they did, they said it just happened. They make parenting sound so easy back then! Anyway, that is our story and hope this helps. Would love to hear other perspectives."


Every family and child is unique:

"Every family and every child is different so I'll just share the experience we had with my son. Starting from an early age he was interested here and there so we kept a potty around that he'd use when he wanted to - zero pressure. There were periods when he did often and then months when it wasn't touched. He liked an audience and it felt like more of a novelty to use it I think. We used a separate seat solidly for a few months once we did the actual training and then a few months in he switched to use the normal toilet (no attachment.)
We waited til he was 3 and it was no drama, no rewards system, and no pull ups. We did 2 naked days at home and that was it! Literally naked for an entire weekend with some towels around in case of accidents (amazingly there were none), and had frequent reminders and potty checks. Come Monday, we told the nanny the plan and he was in underwear and we did frequent checks to help encourage him to listen to his body. By that point he understood and was ready. We did a few prizes for that initial weekend but no prizes beyond, but did a lot of positive reinforcement. He was also able to pull his pants up and down on his own to use the bathroom independently. When they're older they also have a strong enough vocabulary to use bathroom terminology (mommy I gotta go potty, I need to peepee, I gotta go bad, etc). I was concerned that I had over waited (which was also due to circumstances at the time - moving, baby coming, etc) because other parents had trained kids in their 2s, but in hindsight it was drama free and we avoided a lot of the battles and frequent accidents that many of my friends experienced.
I also agree with training during warm weather. In the first few months you'll likely want to carry a portable potty with you to playgrounds etc so for us, training in May at the end of a school year was ideal and we carried the portable potty just for that summer, avoiding layers of clothing and winter boots etc, and by the time fall hit we were comfortable enough that we no longer needed the gear. I plan to follow a similar approach with S. (who's now 19 months.)
Good luck to everyone! Again every family and child is different so good luck to folks kicking off now."


Sleep training is different (read the PSP article here about how to potty train at night!)

"Sleep training is totally different than wake training for the bathroom. My son is now 4.5 years old and has been completely potty trained for a year and a half, but he wears a pull up for both his nap as well as nighttime sleep (though he can do a 2+ hour car ride in underwear without an issue, he's just not tuned into his body when asleep). Sometimes he wakes up dry. Most of the time he doesn't. And I don't mention a thing. Many kids aren't ready for sleeptime underwear til they're 6! It requires the body to be mature enough to wake for a bathroom urge, many kids take years to reach that point and my son seems to be a very deep sleeper so I don't mess with it. He wakes to poop but pee never wakes him. I know he's not going to sleep in college with pull ups."

"Kids can wear pull ups for years - it's always better than a 3am sheet change"

oh no!! "Our older one whose 3 and a half wears pull ups to bed, decided to take them off first thing this morning and pee on his bed (and his stuffed animals). I heard him over the baby monitor telling his little brother that he had to pee but  we were too late to prevent it. Good luck, parents!!" YES, GOOD LUCK!


General Tips:

 What we did, plain and simple:

  • Got a potty seat to sit on top of our toilet, just in case (we have a Bjorn one; they're all the same-ish)
  • Folding step stool to stick next to the toilet, just in case
  • Kept a calendar and stickers hung up in bathroom next to toilet. Had her sit on the toilet each night before bath time. Pee? 1 sticker. Poop? 2 sticks on calendar. Some nights? No stickers. This went on for months and months and months. She did so well with this but had NO intentions of using the toilet at school, or any other time of day.
  • Finally, one day when she was almost 3.5y, and I had already been talking about using the potty for a long time. I told her I wasn't putting her diaper back on. She told me underwear was scary (even though she was excited to see the cool pairs we'd gotten) so I just let her walk around naked. Now here's the key: since she was old enough to get it, when she had to pee, SHE WENT TO THE BATHROOM HERSELF. It was amazing. She had had 2 accidents in a several month span since we've started.
  • Night time training is a totally different thing. Our kid wakes up with a wet pull-up so I'm not even going there yet.
  • We use pull-ups for road trips/things like that.


Recommended reading:

Oh Crap! Potty Training by Jamie Glowacki

Potty by Leslie Patricelli


More on PSP:

Read all our Potty Training advice here >


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