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  • Dr. Laura Pennavaria

When to Start Potty Training?

Updated: Feb 3

Sixteen years ago, when my first son was almost 3 years old, I found out my second son was on the way. Naturally, I first reacted with excitement and anticipation for having another baby boy. As the reality of the pregnancy set in, though, I realized something — I was about to have two children in diapers. Anyone that has cared for an infant understands the logistics behind changing a diaper and the numerous problems that can arise. Between leaky diapers, diaper rash, affording diapers and finding a diaper that fits, taking care of an infant in diapers can be taxing.


To avoid doubling the number of diapers I had to change each day, I decided to try and potty train my oldest son before his brother was born. I knew he wasn’t ready but I had already counseled numerous families about potty training, so I decided to go ahead and try anyway. Unsurprisingly, he resisted. My timeline went to the wind and only once he was ready did he finally agree to be potty trained.


My experience with my first son is far from an anomaly, as many families face similar stubbornness and feelings of unease in their children as they first attempt to potty train them. Forcing children to switch out of diapers before they’re ready is more than difficult — it can create a rift and feelings of distrust between you and your child. So when, exactly, is the right time to start potty training? The simple answer, as you likely inferred from my anecdote above, is when the child is ready. The hard part, however, is knowing when they are ready.


There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to figuring out when your child is ready to be potty trained, but there are some indicators to look out for. At the bare minimum, a child should be able to walk, put on and take off their own clothes and understand simple instructions before you begin potty training them. Another important indicator is whether the child is expressing interest in using the toilet, as this usually makes the process of potty training faster and more easy for the parent or caretaker. There are a few other things to look out for, although these “hints” are less reliable at indicating a child’s readiness. They include the child expressing discomfort sitting in a dirty diaper, the child asking to wear “big kid” underwear and the child’s development of predictable bowel movements, including nighttime bowel control.


Readiness to be potty trained reflects a child’s achievement of important cognitive and emotional development, so the timeline varies between children. While this readiness typically happens between 18 and 30 months of age, girls typically reach the developmental point earlier than boys and roughly one-third of all children don’t reach the level until they are three years old or older.


It is also important to note that not all children will be ready to use the bathroom for urinating and pooping at the same time. Potty training can be an incremental process with some children easily urinating in the toilet but refusing to go number two. One of my children even went so far as to hide in the closet when he needed to poop, despite being able to urinate in the toilet without a problem. If your child is potty training abnormally slow, or if they seem to stop at an incremental point of training, reach out to your DPC provider. We are able to help provide more insight as to what may be causing the roadblocks and how to best move forward to get your

child potty trained.

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