The key to potty training success is patience and an awareness that all toddlers reach this milestone at their own pace. Different strategies work with different children, but these tips generally get the job done. If your little one isn’t developmentally ready for potty training, even the best toilet tactics will fall short. Wait for these surefire signs that your toddler is set to get started:
You’re changing fewer diapers. Until they're around 20 months old, toddlers still pee frequently, but once they can stay dry for an hour or two, it’s a sign that they’re developing bladder control and are becoming physically ready for potty training.
Bowel movements become more regular. This makes it easier to pull out the potty in a pinch when it’s time.
Your little one is more vocal about going to the bathroom. When your child starts to broadcast peeing and pooping by verbalizing or showing you through his facial expressions, potty training is on the horizon.
Your child notices (and doesn't like) dirty diapers. Your little one may suddenly decide he doesn't want to hang out in her dirty diapers because they're gross. Yay! Your child is turning her nose up at stinky diapers just like you do and is ready to use the potty instead.
Kids are generally not ready to potty train before the age of 2, and some children may wait until as late as 3 1/2. It’s important to remember not to push your child before he’s ready and to be patient. All kids are different as to when you should start potty training. Your child is not developmentally lagging if it's well past his third birthday before he gets the hang of potty training.
How to prepare your child for potty training
These tips can help make a smooth transition to the active toilet-training phase:
Play up the pottying positives. Before your first diaper-free trial run, highlight the benefits of using the toilet. You might say, "Wearing underwear is fun!" or "Pretty soon you can flush, just like Mommy and Daddy!" But don't knock diapers or call your child's old habits babyish — that could provoke your toddler’s contrarian streak and lead to real resistance.
Establish standard bathroom talk. Some experts recommend using formal words (defecate, urinate) rather than slang so kids won't be embarrassed by babyish terms when they're older — but what's more important is to be consistent in your usage. And never refer to your child's diaper contents as "smelly" or "gross"; he'll be much more comfortable with toileting if he sees going to the bathroom as a natural, non-"yucky" process.
Commend grown-up behavior in general. Let your child know that you support his burgeoning maturity by praising feats such as drinking from a cup without spilling and sharing toys with a friend. Don't demand too much sophistication, however — if he feels pressured to perform, he may start yearning for the simpler days of babyhood (and act accordingly).
Dress for potty training success. Get into the habit of dressing your toddler in the right potty training clothes (pants that pull up and down without any fiddling — no overalls or tricky buttons), and then practice the all-important pull-down maneuver. Ask your toddler to pull down his pants before diaper changes and then pull them back up after.
Show your toddler how to use the potty. Toddlers love to mimic, and the toilet is no different. Sure, you could explain to your child how to squat, wipe and flush, but it's much more effective — not to mention efficient — to simply bring him to the bathroom and demonstrate. Not all parents are comfortable parting with their modesty, though, so don't feel bad about skipping this step if it’s not quite your speed.
Bridge the gap between diapers and the potty. If possible, change your toddler’s diapers in the room where his potty is stashed — this subtly reinforces the connection between the two. After he has a poopy diaper, bring him to the bathroom so he can watch you flush the contents. If he's frightened by the flushing sound, just dump and flush later.
Pick the right potty. Look for a model that's durable and won't tip over when your child jumps up to check his progress. (For an added dose of excitement, shop together for the potty and wrap it as a "gift.") Or opt for a potty seat. Some children balk at the "baby" potty and demand to use the "grown-up" one instead. In that case, buy a potty seat that attaches to the toilet. Look for a stable fit — a shaky seat can spook a child back into diapers for weeks — and a foot rest, which offers something to push against during bowel movements.
How to potty train your toddler
Potty training is a huge milestone and for many parents a rollercoaster ride, but take solace in the fact that you've laid the groundwork and now it's time to put that potty to use! Here are some tips on how to start potty training your child:
Switch to pull-ups. When your child is just starting out on the potty, play it safe with the disposable variety. He can pull them down like underpants, but in the event of an accident they absorb like diapers and can be ripped off rather than pulled over his feet. Once your little one has enjoyed a few successes on the potty, try switching to washable cotton training pants.
Let him bare his bottom. To boost your child's awareness of his body's signals, allow him to scamper about (in a private yard or room with a washable floor) with his lower half unclad. It's hard to ignore urine when there's no diaper to hold it in. Keep the potty close by so your child can act on his body's signals quickly.
Watch closely. At this point, you might be better at detecting your little one's signals than he is. Look for telltale signs (like fidgeting or straining) and gently ask when you suspect he has to go. Even if you're too late and he's already done the deed, have him sit on the potty anyway to reinforce the connection.
Keep him motivated. Remind him that using the potty means he's growing up. In the beginning, a small, tangible incentive can help, too — for every success, try putting a sticker on the calendar or a penny in the piggy bank. As he becomes more comfortable using the potty, it's best to phase out the rewards and let his inner motivation take over.
Teach him to check for dryness. This offers him an added sense of control. If he's dry, give him a pat on the back (or a big hug), but don't criticize him if he's wet.
Be patient. Even the most enthusiastic toddler can take several weeks to master potty training proficiency — often with as many steps backward as forward. If your expectations are unrealistic, you could diminish his self-confidence. Don't scold, punish or shame. No parent enjoys mopping up a puddle of pee, but try to stay cool. If you overreact, you might discourage your toddler's future attempts.
Cut the nagging. Keep it casual when reminding your tot about using the potty — nagging will only provoke resistance. Similarly, don't force him to sit or stay on the potty — even if you know he's about to void. (Hey, you can lead your pony to the potty, but ultimately it's his decision to use it.)
Don't deny drinks. Many parents reason that by rationing fluids, they'll cut their toddler's chances of having an accident. But this approach is unfair and unhealthy — not to mention ineffective. In fact, the better tactic is to step up your child's fluid intake to give him more opportunities to succeed.
Avoid a bathroom battle. Squabbling over going to the potty is sure to prolong the struggle. If you meet with total resistance, it's best to throw in the towel (and the toilet paper!) for a few weeks. Be patient. As you wait for your child to come around, don't bring up the subject or compare him to peers who are already in underpants.
Potty training doesn't usually come easily or without bumps, so don't underestimate the process. It's all about waiting for signs of readiness in your toddler, setting the stage and going for it. While the prospect of ditching the diapers is exciting, getting there can try your parenting patience. But don’t lose hope. Potty training your toddler might seem endless, but sooner or later your little one will get the hang of it and outgrow diapers. Good luck!