Potty Training: How and When to Potty Train a Toddler

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How and When to Potty Train a Toddler


You can’t potty train a toddler who is not ready to be potty trained. But a toddler that has the signs of readiness? Yes, absolutely. It takes some commitment, but you can do it in less than a week.


Let’s discuss the pros and cons of potty training methods and also how to effectively potty train a toddler.


When is My Toddler Ready to Potty Train?

Research shows that most toddlers are ready to be potty trained between 18-24 months and that by 3 years old toddlers can fully potty train. This is going to be very specific to each family, as some children develop slower/faster than others. Also, girls are more likely to potty train three months earlier than boys.


Another study found that children that were potty trained older (between 18 - 42 months) had an increase of disorders eliminated (holding poop, refusing toilet after having been potty trained, accidents, wanting to wear diapers again, etc.).


Potty Training Methods (Child-led vs. Parent-led)

There are generally two camps when it comes to potty training - child-led and parent-led. And they are exactly what they sound like.


Child-led Potty Training Method

Child-led is potty training led by the child. This method of potty training was popularized by pediatrician Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, and it is the method recommended by the American Academy of Pediatricians.


When practicing this method, you’ll essentially be doing a slowly paced process of potty training that can take around 10 months to complete. You’re willing to take your time, following your child’s lead, and to stop and go in the potty training process based on your child.

The child-led potty training method can be highly effective though you have to be willing for potty training to take months to complete. 


Parent-led Potty Training Method

Then there’s parent-led, which was developed by psychologists Nathan Azrin and Richard Foxx in the 1970s. They advocated for a very disciplined regimented form of potty training that could be completed in one day. 


Azrin's and Foxx one day regimented potty training method is the basis of the many "3 Day Potty Training Method" that you see when doing a Google search for "potty training". 


It involves giving your toddler a lot of water so that there’s a frequent need to urinate. And to highly praise the child when they are successful (aka pee or stool in the potty) and to be disapproving towards the child when the child has an accident “No. Pee goes in the potty. That’s not correct.”


Of the two methods, the parent-led has proven to the fastest way to potty train child, though no research confidently shows what the long-term effects of either method are.


My Favorite Potty Training Products

oxo potty training chair

OXO Tot Potty Chair: The seamless design is comfortable and won't leave marks on tiny tushies, while the high backrest supports tots and encourages proper potty posture. 

Toddler underwear

Fruit of the Loom Tagless Toddler Undewear (comes in a variety of colors): These potty training underwear feature a soft liner that prevents against leaks and they are machine washable.


BabyLegging (get 5 FREE with code PJBABY): I first started using BabyLegs in 2005. These are perfect for keeping legs warm while your toddler wears underwear around the house.

Is my toddler ready to potty train?

Regardless of what method you use for potty training, your child should be developmentally ready to be potty trained. Child-led and parent-led potty training methods both require that the toddler is ready. 


Signs of potty readiness include:

  • Stays dry for 2-3 hours at a time or after a long nap
  • Is aware when having urinating or having a stool in the diaper
  • Mimics your actions when going to the bathroom
  • Has the physical skill to perform basic bathroom skills, like taking off pants, pulling underwear and pants on, being able to get on a potty (with very little help)
  • Has the ability to follow simple instructions
  • Tells you that they are ready 

If your child has these signs of readiness, then you’re ready to start whenever you feel ready!

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the child-led method and to begin between 18 - 24 months of age.


What is the best potty training method?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the child-led method and to begin between 18 - 24 months of age.


Besides that we know from research that being ready for potty training and not using negative wording when potty training is most effective, we don’t know which method is proven to be more effective without any negative short or long term effects.


So, it’s up to the parent to decide.

As a mother of four kids and a Parent Coach, I will share with you what I did with my children.


I followed a mix of child-led and parent-led approach.


I waited until each child showed full signs of readiness. My first was 18 months, my second was 36 months, my third was 20 months and my fourth was 24 months.

All my kids were potty trained within a week and here’s how I did it.

Once I saw that my child was developmentally ready to potty train, I chose a time to start that was as calm and neutral as possible. For example, a time that we didn’t have any major event the week before or planned event or significant changes that same week or the week after. 


I found weekends to be the easiest time to begin.


Preparing for Potty Training

Before I began the process of potty training, I would familiarize the child with toddler-size underwear, model going to the bathroom, and begin changing diapers in the bathroom.


Day One of Potty Training

The day we would begin, I would make sure to give the child extra water so that we had plenty of practice times. 


In the morning, the child would put on underwear and I’d familiarize the child with a potty. (While I’ve read of methods that have the parents place potties in every room, I had one potty and I moved it to the living room area for the potty training time, except for mornings and evenings when it sat in the bathroom for my toddler to use.)


Set an alarm so that you have your child sit on the potty every 25 - 45 minutes. When the child sits on the potty you could use this time to read a book to them or tell them a story or bond and connect the way you feel comfortable doing so. 



Did the child use the potty? Praise them appropriately and show your pride.

Did the child not use the potty? Thank them for trying and move on to your next activity.

Did the child have an accident? Let them know it’s an accident and that pee and stools happen in the potty.


(Read related article: Lack of Patience)


Also, have them help you (in an age-appropriate way) clean up the mess. You want to be very careful to not withdraw your love during this stage. We are teaching potty use, not punishing or criticizing our toddlers as they learn this skill.


Expect some messes during the day and in the evenings you may choose to continue during the night (make sure to use waterproof bedcover under your child’s sheets) or treat night time potty training separately than day time potty training.


Day 2 of Potty Training

The next day repeat the same as day one. 


And during these days, make sure to also have some play time on your yard (where you can also continue potty training).


Day 3 - 5 of Potty Training

On day 3-5, you’ll venture outside, bringing a potty along. Make sure to offer potty time to your child every 25-45 minutes. And to continue potty training during the day (and night if you're doing both together).


Your Child Is Fully Potty Trained!

After about a week, your child should be fully potty trained. And that is something to celebrate. Enjoy a treat together or any other form of celebration. 


What are the signs of potty training too fast?

I understand the need to want to get potty training out.of.the.way and quick. But if you proceed too quickly without reading your child’s cues, you risk stool withholding and regression.


In which case you’ll want to backtrack, take a break from potty training, and try again later when your child is more ready for potty training. 


With kindness,
Giselle Baumet

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