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When Should I Start Potty Training?

When is the best time to potty train my child?  Potty training is a huge step for your child, and many parents worry that they will wait too long before they begin potty training their toddlers.  Others are afraid that they will impede the success of their potty-training efforts by starting too soon.  So exactly when is the best time to potty train your child?  Conventional wisdom tells us that whether or not a child is ready depends on his emotional and physical readiness more than on him reaching a predetermined age.  Some children are interested in learning to go potty independently by age two, while others may be quite a bit older.

However, this line of thinking may be on the way out the door! The Journal of Pediatric Urology in 2009 published a study indicating that the timing of training is more important than the potty training method that is used.  This study, which was authored by Dr. Joseph Barone finally puts a definitive age on the optimal time to potty train.  According to Dr. Barone, children should be moved out of diapers between the age of 27 and 32 months.  Dr. Barone’s research revealed that children who gave up diapers after 32 months were more likely than their peers to develop problems with urge incontinence, bedwetting and daytime wetting later on down the road, from age four to twelve.

The research data was retrieved from a study of children who were under the treatment of pediatric urologists for daytime wetting problems.  Parents were questioned on the age at which potty training was started and what method of potty training they used.  The children being treated were potty trained at around 32 months while those without problems were trained at an average of 28 months.

Just as there are drawbacks to starting potty training too late, there are also reasons that you should not start too soon.  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a child has no control over his bladder or bowel before his first birthday, and most will not be able to stay dry all night long until they are five years old.  There are a number of skills that your child has to make come together at once in order to successfully toilet.  For example, he will have to walk to the potty, pull down his pants, and sit, all the while holding his urge to pee or do “number two”.  Toddlers don’t have that capability until they are at least two years old in most instances.

Trying to potty train your child too early can cause him to resist potty training altogether, which can delay the child being trained. Moreover, starting potty training before your child is ready usually ends in his failure, which can impact his self-confidence and self-esteem.  In essence, if you try to train him too early, you may be setting him up for failure.  Furthermore, the time invested in potty training will increase and unnecessary stress will be placed on both the parent and child.

Your child will give off obvious cues if he is actually ready to be trained. In particular, your child may be ready for potty training if he exhibits the following abilities/behaviors::

  • Can pull his pants up and down on his own.
  • Can sit on and get up from the potty chair.
  • Complains when his diaper is wet or soiled.
  • Shows interest in the toilet or potty chair.
  • Stays dry for two or more hours during the day.
  • Tells you when he needs to go, either verbally, with his facial expression, or with his posture.
  • Understands and follows simple directions.
  • Wants to wear “big boy” underwear.

So when can I start potty training my child?  While every child is different, the general consensus indicates that potty training can start anytime around 24 months (2 years of age) when he is physically capable of holding his urge to pee.  Meanwhile, potty training should be completed before 32 months (2 1/2 years).  The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that it would be best to study whether your child first exhibits any indication of readiness in potty training before attempting any methods.  But if your child shows sign of refusal and stress during potty training, it is best to stop and try again when he is more willing and ready.


[1] Barone, J.G., Jasutkar, N., Schneider, D. Later toilet training is associated with urge incontinence in children. Journal of Pediatric Urology. 2009 December; 5 (6):458-461

[2] Shelov, S.P., 2009 Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 (5th ed.). American Academy of Pediatrics

[3] Klassen, T.P., Kiddoo, D., Lang, M.E. et. al.  The Effectiveness of Different Methods of Toilet Training for Bowel and Bladder Control. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Number 147

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