Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2008;78(9):1066

See related article on toilet training.

When should toilet training start?

Even though there is no “right” age to start training, most healthy children have the skills needed to start between 18 and 30 months of age. However, it is fine to wait until you feel that your child is ready.

Children are probably ready for toilet training when they:

  • Copy what you do

  • Show an interest in the toilet, a potty-chair, or wearing “big kid” underwear

  • Can walk, sit, and follow simple instructions

  • Indicate when they are about to have a bowel movement (for example, making a face or doing a “potty dance”)

  • Can pull their pants up and down

What should I do when my child is ready?

You need to be patient and encourage your child. Your doctor should examine your child before you start training. He or she can describe the different training methods and help find one that works well for your family.

A good first step is to buy a potty-chair. Children should start by sitting on the potty-chair fully clothed until they get used to just sitting on it. If they are afraid of the chair or the toilet, wait for a month or two before trying again. Once they are comfortable sitting on the chair, try to have them sit on it unclothed or with only a short T-shirt on. Praise children right away when they use the potty.

Dress your child in loose-fitting clothing that is easy to take off. Have several pairs of diapers or training pants available.

What else do I need to know?

Keep in mind that children have setbacks and need to be encouraged. Never call bodily functions “stinky,” “messy,” or “yucky.” This can make children self-conscious and they may refuse to use the toilet.

Boys usually take longer to train than girls; both can first learn to use the potty sitting down. Staying dry through the night usually comes later than staying dry during the day.

Toilet training should not start during times of stress. New additions to the family, illness, moving, and new care providers can be stressful for small children.

If you need help, or if your child is constipated, hides during bowel movements, or tries to hold in bowel movements, tell your doctor. He or she can suggest other things you can try.

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