When my daughter was two years old, she was still in daycare, and she had not been potty trained. The daycare she was in at the time wanted her potty trained by the time she was three, so I worked my tail off to try to get her ready.
I bought the potty chair with the stickers, and I stockpiled the M&Ms.
I was all ready to go — physically and equipment-wise, anyway...if not emotionally. But she wasn’t. Not for a few more years.
Fortunately, I lost my job not long after my second daughter was born, so I was able to take both of my girls out of daycare. It didn’t matter so much then whether my older daughter went to the potty on her own or not.
I thought she was ready…but I was wrong
Not long after she turned two, my older girl started pulling down her pants and taking off her own diaper. That was when I thought, ‘Okay. This is it. She’s ready for potty training.’
So, I got out the chair. She knew what it was immediately because it looked just like a real toilet (except real toilets don’t have a sticker dispenser).
I started to pull her pants down and put her on the potty. She didn’t want any part of it! I thought for sure I had completely misread the signs that she was ready for getting out of diapers, so I sought help from online forums and books — anything I could get my hands on to tell me whether or not my child was indeed ready for potty training.
Elizabeth Pantley’s book, The No-Cry Potty Training Solution, is one of the best I found in my search for knowledge. It’s full of helpful information on deciding when and how to start potty training.
What are the signs that a toddler is ready to potty train? Here are a few mentioned in the book — and how they relate to my own experiences as a potty training mom (times two) and, several years later, a potty training daycare worker responsible for dozens of kids.
1. Your child is at least 24 months old
I know there are some people who have their children potty trained by the time they’re 18 months old (usually these are second/third/fourth children who see their older siblings using the potty and want to imitate them). My younger daughter (almost exactly two years younger than my oldest) was potty trained much sooner than her older sister just because she saw her using the potty.
I think she had more of an independent do-it-yourself spirit than her older sister did, too. She was trying to hold her bottle herself when she was only three months old!
Pediatricians recommend waiting until your child is at least 24 months old — just because of the extra cognitive and physical/motor development required for the potty training process. Younger children may have trouble understanding commands and/or manipulating their clothes by themselves. That’s one of the reasons we didn’t even start trying to potty train children at the daycare until they were two years old.
2. Your child tells you when he/she has a wet or dirty diaper
My older daughter didn’t always do this…and neither did her sister. They always came to me and asked to have their diaper changed in the mornings, but they didn’t always let me know at other times of the day.
Sometimes hours would go by, and I knew they must have done something in their diapers. But they wouldn’t tell me when I asked, and I had to check for myself.
The same was true of many of the kids at the daycare for the year I worked there, but there were a few who did actually point and say either, “Pee” or “Poop.” These were the ones who potty trained easiest and fastest…without a doubt!
3. Your child goes off some place private to have a bowel movement
Both my daughters used to do that. They would just, without warning, leave the room. And if my husband or I tried to follow them, they would throw fits and shout at us to go away. If they were in a position in which they couldn’t leave the room, they just went off to a corner by themselves.
At the daycare, obviously, the kids couldn’t leave the room. So, there were lots of times I saw kids go off into corners by themselves or try to hide behind toy shelves. These were the kids I encouraged most often to go to try and use the potty.
4. Your child can listen well and follow instructions
This is an important one because helping your child learn to use the potty requires a lot of instruction (Go into the bathroom, pull down your pants, sit on the pot, wipe off, flush, wash your hands…). If a child doesn’t listen to you and/or doesn’t understand what you are saying, you will have major potty training problems.
My daughters were (still are) very stubborn. They listen well when they want to, and they follow directions well (again — when they want to). They were the same even as very young children.
When they were toddlers, I just had to convince them they really did want to use the potty!
Admittedly, this was much easier with my younger daughter than with the older one for the reason I mentioned above. She wanted to be like her big sister.
For the most part, the kids at the daycare were mentally and emotionally ready to start potty training when they were two years old. Some were not. We experienced fits from some of them when we tried to take them into the bathroom. And some of the kids just gave us blank stares when we talked to them about the potty. Those were the kids we knew weren’t quite ready yet (some of them still weren’t ready by the time they made it to the three-year-old room), so we didn’t push them.
5. Your child can take off and put on his/her clothes by him/herself
I know I, as an adult, don’t really think about all the technical skills that are involved in going to the bathroom. At least, I didn’t until I started trying to get my older daughter to use the potty herself. It really is a complicated process, when you get right down to it.
By the time my girls were two years old, they had just started to put on their clothes by themselves. Oftentimes, they would put their pants on their heads and their shirts on their legs. I tried to make it as easy as possible on them by dressing them in fleece or sweat pant sets when they were young, so they would just have to pull things on and off — no buttons or zippers.
I can’t tell you how many kids would come in to the daycare wearing cute little jumpsuits and overalls that made it almost impossible for us to change diapers, let alone for them to try to get their own clothes on and off to go potty.
Don’t do that to your children. Yes, those outfits are cute. But when you’re talking about teaching important life skills, practical is much better than cute.
Your child may be ready before you are
One important thing Pantley mentions in her book is the fact that parent readiness to potty train can seriously influence the child’s potty training readiness.
If you are not ready, your child won’t be.
I loved changing my daughters’ diapers. Really, I did. I loved that time of being with them and helping them. I knew, as my second born got closer to leaving the diapers behind, that I would miss it — a lot. And I did.
I’m the kind of person who loves being needed. I experienced that same sort of joy and anguish with the kids at the daycare. I loved that one-on-one time with them, and I felt a pang of sadness each time they headed off to the toilet without me.
But our goal as parents and childcare professionals is to raise up little humans to be the best big humans they possibly can be, and that includes helping them become more independent — needing us less.
This goal was always in the back of my mind as I was potty training my own kids, and it was there as I helped those kids at the daycare.
I wanted them to succeed more than anything.
So, I got myself ready when I saw that they were ready!
There’s no “right” time to potty train your child — other than what is right for your child
The bottom line is: If you just pay attention, you’ll know when your child is ready to potty train. He/she will give you plenty of warning. And, if your child is not ready, that won’t be too hard to figure out either.
Be persistent, but patient. Be encouraging, but never pushy. The potty training will happen, no matter what you do. But you can have a great deal of influence on whether the learning experience is a happy one or a traumatic one — for both you and your child.
Aim for serenity, not speed.
You’ll both be better off for it.