Potty training: signs that your baby is ready

Potty training is a major milestone for young children and reflects an early part of their transition out of toddlerhood and into childhood. It can be daunting for many of us parents to tackle. Anticipating all those accidents coupled with the indecision about when to start and how to do it can be stressful. But we’re here to help. We’re here to share guidance from our experts so you can gauge when your child is ready and sort through the approach best suited for your family.

Let’s start with developmental readiness because this is the single most important factor that predicts success with potty training, more so than the approach you take. When we talk about developmental readiness we are not simply referring to an age band – though typically, potty training occurs when children are between 22 and 36 months old – we are referring to other specific cues that will help you determine that your child is ready. Here are the major signs:

  1. Your child can stay dry for about two hours. Check your baby’s diaper for wetness about 2 hours after it was last changed. If it is dry, your baby’s body may be ready to transition to a potty.
  2. Your child can label their private parts. Teaching your child the proper names for their private parts is important for many reasons. In the context of potty training, it is important for children to be able to express that they need to go, and this includes being able to talk about what body parts they’re using and how their body feels.
  3. Your child demonstrates an interest. It is important for your child to willingly use the potty and if they are not interested this task will turn into a battle. Some children naturally express an interest—for example, by trying to sit down on a child size potty if available, asking to use the big potty at home or by going into the bathroom when they have an urge. Other children may not initially express interest themselves, but parents can help shape this. For example, you can bring them into the bathroom and start talking about using the potty, read books about going potty, or purchase a potty that they can sit on. Keep it low pressure, however, and allow your child’s natural curiosity to take hold.

Once you determine that your child is ready to potty train, it will be important for you, as a parent, to think about the best approach. At healthynest, we believe that the best approach is the one that fits your family’s lifestyle and temperament. This means that the approach feels feasible and realistic to stick with during the training phase (when accidents are inevitable and stress is often a part).

You might decide to rip off the band aid and potty train during a single weekend or work toward a diaper-free life in a slow and steady manner over several weeks or months; or you can combine these approaches, taking a few slow and steady steps, followed by a training weekend. Before you decide, be sure to communicate your plans to others who care for your child and ask them if they are both willing and able to implement the approach you hope to use. If your childcare provider does not feel equipped to implement the plan, it is best to think of an approach you can agree on. Consistency is key

Regardless of the specific method you use, an important consideration is whether this process feels positive for your child. If your child appears nervous or tentative, gentle encouragement can go a long way. But if your toddler is more resistant or asks for their diaper back, take a pause from potty training and try again in a few weeks. If you are finding that your child remains hesitant even after take a break or two, you can set up a reward system to help shape your child’s behavior and success with potty training.

To be effective, a reward system should consist of small, achievable goals that are positively reinforced each time. For example, if the ultimate goal is using the potty independently, you may first want to help your child simply communicate that they have to use the bathroom. And any time your child tells you they need to use the bathroom, praise them, give them a high five, or even a sticker. All that praise is an example of positive reinforcement that doesn’t require anything other than your enthusiasm. Stickers, tattoos, bubbles also are all great reinforcers. Once your child has mastered step 1 – consistently letting you know they have to go to the bathroom for about five consecutive days – you know you’re ready to move on to the next step.  Depending on your child, this might entail simply walking into the bathroom when they have to pee or poo, or it might entail them sitting on the potty with a diaper. Continue to move forward in small increments until your child is consistently using the potty.   

Potty training is a significant early milestone. Not only does it often offer parents and our Earth relief from all those diapers, but it is a big leap forward in your child’s autonomy and self-regulation, and development.