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Published on July 31, 2013

Young boy flushing a toilet

It’s Potty Training Time: How to Know When Your Child is Ready

Let’s Get Started                      

The first thing to remember is that punishment NEVER has a place in potty training. Potty training is actually one of the leading instigators of child abuse; it is something that causes parents to “lose it.” It can be very frustrating when a child pees on the carpet for the third time in one day or poops behind the couch. If parents or caregivers find that they are getting very angry or frustrated, it’s time to stop potty training for a few weeks before trying again. Punishing a child during potty training actually sets up a stress cycle for the child that will make training more difficult.

Readiness is the Key!

Potty training requires a fairly complex set of skills: language, muscle control, connections between the brain and the muscles, and motivation. In other words, the child’s brain has to receive a message from the bowel or bladder that it’s time to go. Then the muscles have to contract to hold the pee or poop until the child can use language skills to ask someone to help, or until the child can physically get to the bathroom, get their clothing off and sit on the toilet. Now the brain has to tell the muscles to relax, so the bowel or bladder can empty. In addition to all of this, the child has to be motivated to pay attention to all of these messages!

Signs of Readiness for Potty Training                        

  • Stays dry for a couple of hours between diaper changes
  • Sometimes wakes up dry in the morning or after a nap
  • Indicates dislike of having a wet or soiled diaper and may ask to be changed
  • Tells you before or after urinating or having a bowel movement
  • Is curious about parents or siblings using the bathroom
  • Can pull his or her pants and underwear or training diaper up and down
  • Begins to “order the environment,” which means putting things where they belong, lining up toys, etc.

When Should You Potty Train?    

The average age in the U.S. to begin potty training is about 2 ½ . 60 percent of children are trained by age 3. On average, boys tend to train a little later than girls. A child who is physically and emotionally ready for potty training will show progress in 2-6 weeks. There are some experts who promote earlier potty training or even not using diapers at all. Think carefully about your child’s temperament and learning style, as well as your own, before trying these methods. Whatever age you begin or whatever method you choose, remember that the goal is not only to become potty trained, but to do so with a high self esteem. Before you jump in with both feet, there are a few things you can do to get ready.

The Potty Chair          

Buy a potty chair and let your child explore it. This might include putting toys in it, opening and closing the lid and maybe sitting on it. Once the novelty has worn off, have the child sit on the potty for a few seconds in the morning or before bath. Try not to go overboard with the potty chair you purchase. One example is the “Jack Potty” which has a toy slot machine on the back! We think learning to go potty is enough for the child; he or she doesn’t need to learn to gamble at the same time. Another potty has a sensor on the bottom, and when the pee or poop hits it, the song “How Dry I Am” plays. Choose a simple potty that sits on the floor or a potty seat that fits onto the big toilet.

Attitude Adjustment

Treat body functions as normal and healthy rather than dirty and disgusting. If you have been making a big fuss when changing a stinky diaper (ew, gross, that’s nasty, etc), tone it down a little. When you change your child, you could say something like, “You went potty in your diaper. Pretty soon you will be able to go potty in the toilet where it belongs.”

What’s in a Word?         

Choose carefully when you decide on words for urination and bowel movements. The most common are “pee” or “potty” and “poo” or “poop.” If you want to be a little more sophisticated you could use “BM” for bowel movement. It’s important to choose words that other people can understand to avoid embarrassing or confusing your child. Once a little girl told her teacher that it was going to rain. The teacher looked outside and said, “The sun is shining. I don’t think it’s going to rain.” When the child insisted, the teacher said, “I heard the weather report, and it’s not supposed to rain today.” By this time, the child is dancing around, grabbing herself. NOW the teacher understands.

Choose carefully when you decide on words you will use for body parts. A good suggestion is “call it what it is.” It is OK for little boys to use the word “penis” and little girls can say “vulva” or “vagina.” If you are feeling a little iffy here, you could just use “private parts.”


Choose a time to start potty training when things are going well. Avoid stressful times like moving, a new baby in the family, giving up the bottle or pacifier, moving from crib to bed, etc. If your child is in a very negative stage, wait a few months. Choose a time when things are going well for the adults in the family, too. If you just changed jobs or have other stressful events happening in your life, you might want to wait a bit.


There is nothing more frustrating for a child than to get the message that he or she has to go, get to the bathroom and then be unable to get clothing off in time. Choose simple clothing that a child can manage: training diapers or loose training pants, and elastic waist pants that are easy to get off or dresses that are easy to pull up. Avoid zippers, difficult snaps, buckles and belts.

Next time we will give you some tips for the actual potty training process.

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