Oh hell. We know that haunted look in your eyes. You’ve seen some sh*t, mama. Some serious sh*t. The idea of potty training your child (aka never having to wipe a butt again) probably seems pretty good right about now, huh?
The good news is your days of dealing with poop explosions and saturated pajamas will come to an end. Eventually. But there’s no straightforward answer on what age to start potty training. It’s all about when your child is ready. And when you’re ready too – because it requires a bit of hard work and emotional preparation on your part to potty train successfully.
What age to potty train
While the average age to start potty training is 27 months, don’t take that as gospel. You may decide to start them younger than this if your toddler is ready (and you have some sort of peeing and pooping prodigy on your hands) or older than this (if your child is taking their merry time, or you just ain’t got time). Remember, baby development varies, as does the ideal potty training age.
What are the signs of potty training readiness?
Because kids develop at different paces, looking out for the following signs is a better indicator that it’s time to start potty training than their age.
Using words or signs
Your child will start telling you that they need to (or have already done) a wee or poo – either by using words or by indicating, grabbing their diaper, or doing an adorable poop waddle.
Having dry diapers for two hours
When your kid has stopped being a Baby Born doll (you know how you give it a ‘drink’ and it goes straight through?) and can go a few hours without wetting their diaper, they’re getting closer to potty training readiness. It’s also a good sign if their diaper stays dry throughout their day nap.
Pulling at diaper
Your toddler may start getting frustrated with their diaper and trying to pull it off – especially when it’s wet or dirty. Transitioning to disposable training pants as a first step may work well in your efforts to ditch the diapers for good.
Showing interest in toilet
While kids will always desperately need to be with you when you go to the toilet (what’s with that?), at some point they’ll wonder what you’re actually doing in there. They may start asking questions about the loo, or even copying your bathroom behavior. E.g. ‘washing their hands’. Or ‘putting Bunny on the toilet’ (more likely IN the toilet).
Being able to pull down pants
While this definitely increases the risk of unsolicited streaking, it’s a good sign they’re ready to pull down their underwear or training pants independently to use the potty.
Being able to get on and off the potty
Can your child sit on the potty unassisted for long enough to pee or poop? If yes, then they could be ready to start toilet training. And no, you don’t need to whip out a stopwatch and time your child to work this one out. One of the joys of parenting life is using iPad bribery to keep your kid on the potty. We’ve all been there. Let’s just own it.
Differences for boys and girls
Training boys and girls to use the toilet may require slightly different techniques. There are obvious physical differences to consider, but potty training boys may start later than with girls.
When to potty train a boy
There’s no specific age that boys should be ready for potty training, but any time after two is a safe bet. (By the way, only 40-60% of kids are toilet trained by 3 years old.) Start earlier or later according to when your son is showing readiness signs and whether you feel good about giving it a shot.
Some parents can get stumped around whether training boys to pee standing up or sitting down is best. Trust us on this one – one of our top potty training tips for boys is to get them started sitting down. It can take a while to master penis control.
When to potty train a girl
Research suggests that girls toilet train earlier than boys. On average, they tend to be able to stay dry at night by 22 months old (compared to 25 months for boys), and can pull their underwear up and down by 29.5 months old (33.5 months for boys). But every child is different. If your little girl doesn’t seem ready to start potty training, don’t force it.
To make your potty training bonding experience with your daughter even more glamorous (not really), teach her how to wipe her butt front to back to avoid infection.
Potty training tips
In the same way there are loads of views out there on how to sleep train a baby, there are plenty of methods you can use to teach your child to use the potty. Some claim to be able to teach them in a day, others in three days, and others suggest doing it gradually over time. Do some research into what method suits you and your parenting style.
Here are a few general tips for potty training:
- Introduce the potty early – When your child starts to show potty training readiness signs, invest in a potty chair (or a training seat which goes over the toilet, if you’re using that) and start encouraging them to sit on it. Some parents like to show their kids that the potty is where the poop goes by throwing dirty diapers in there.
- Use books – There are heaps of handy kids’ books that can help teach your child potty skills. Check out: Potty by Leslie Patricelli, Big Girl Panties by Fran Manushkin, Potty Superhero: Get ready for big boy pants! by Parragon Books, and Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi.
- Let them watch – Yeah. It’s awkward. But for educational purposes, it can be useful to let your child watch you use the loo. In fact, an American Academy of Pediatrics article makes the great point that babies in underdeveloped countries are often taught to use the toilet from 12 months’ old simply by observing family members doing it.
- Use words – Start to introduce words like ‘poop’, ‘wee’, ‘potty’, ‘need to go’ etc. so you can encourage your child to communicate when they need the toilet. When they’ve mastered this sort of language, you’ll be closer to achieving potty training success.
- Start with bowel training – Up until now, your kid has shat themselves whenever they had to go. They probably didn’t even know they COULD hold in a poop or practice bladder control. There’s a difference between controlling bowel and bladder movements, and a lot of parents like to start with bowel training. This means you focus on getting your kid to the potty when they’re about to poop, which can be easier to predict and respond to than peeing.
- Be OTT positive – Don’t be afraid to overdo your successful potty attempt celebrations. Dance, sing, clap, offer praise and rewards, tell the neighbors. Let your kid know that their sh*t is THE sh*t. This can all help make potty training fun for them.
When NOT to potty train
Even if your child is over two years old and showing signs of readiness, there are certain times you probably shouldn’t start training for the potty. This includes:
- When other big stuff is happening in life – Some of the worst times to start toilet training are when you’re moving house, going on holiday, starting daycare, or adding a baby sibling to the family. These situations are bound to cause stress and change the routine, which can make potty training extra tricky.
- When you have to force it – If they don’t wanna, they don’t wanna. Trying to force potty training on an unwilling child may create negative associations with the toilet and draw the process out longer.
- When you’re stressed out – You need to keep your cool when dealing with sh*t. If you’re not feeling good, save it for another day.
- When your kid is sick – They may not be able to listen to the body’s signals or control it as well during periods of illness. And the poop may be of highly undesirable consistency, making mistakes all the more upsetting for everyone.
All in all, remember that potty training your toddler is hard work. For you, yeah. But also for this little poop machine! It’s an exciting but emotional time for them, so be sure to remind them often how awesome they are at crapping. Maybe using different words.