How do I Potty Train my Toddler?

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  • Written By: O. Wallace
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 28 August 2019
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There comes a time in every parent's life when he realizes that he has changed one diaper too many. After countless thousands of diaper changes and dollars, potty training can be a parent’s best dream and worst nightmare. Every parent in this situation is bombarded by advice by friends and family, instructions from medical experts and a whole industry of consumer products, leading them to wonder, “how do I potty train my toddler?”

First, a parent must assess her toddler’s state of readiness. Somewhere between 18 and 24 months, most children reach the physical and cognitive stage at which they can begin to potty train. These ages are very optimistic, since many children are ready closer to three years of age. Some particularly resistant diaper aficionados remain diaper-bound up to and through their fourth year.

Studies have shown that girls on average potty train earlier than boys, and that firstborns are more difficult to potty train. Experts agree that the parent who prematurely attempts to potty train will suffer a longer training process. The following is a potty readiness checklist:


  • Can go several hours between urinations
  • Empties the bladder fully while urinating
  • Has words for his bodily functions, such as “pee-pee” and “poo-poo”
  • Can physically get on and off the potty or potty chair
  • Understands and follows simple directions about going potty on the toilet
  • Has regular and predictable bowel movements
  • Shows interest in others’ bathroom habits
  • Understands the body’s cues that signal that it’s time to go potty
  • Dislikes a dirty diaper
  • Values and recognizes independence

As most experts agree, timing is essential. First, determine whether your toddler is ready physically and emotionally to potty train. Don’t try to rush it because you’re moving, going on vacation or starting your child in preschool. This usually ends badly, with either regression or flat out refusal to cooperate. Children don’t always deal with change well, so this should be an easy, non-stressful event in their lives.

Once you’re ready to get started, it’s time to cruise the potty training section of the baby department. Since toilets are designed for big people, get a padded adapter seat or toddler potty to make it more comfortable for your child. A step stool helps with the height and gives dangling feet a place to rest. There are books and videos available to set the mood. Yes, books like Everybody Poops and Once Upon a Potty really exist, and they’ve become classics in their own right.

After you’ve set up the new potty, take a couple of “dry” runs — have your child sit on the potty clothed so he gets a feel for it. Demonstrate with a doll or stuffed animal. The key is no pressure! Buy your child some cool underwear with her favorite cartoon character on them to get her excited about wearing underwear.

Once “P-Day” has arrived, set up a schedule designating how often you will visit the potty with your toddler. Most experts agree that it’s best to go cold turkey by switching to underwear and reserving pull-ups for nighttime or long trips away from home. For boys, start with sitting — he can learn to miss the toilet later.

Some parents find that incentives work, such as a sticker chart or treats for successful trips to the potty. It is important to make the experience fun and positive. Make sure that you give lots of praise for every attempt — successful or not.

Most parents find that staying dry through the night comes later — sometimes several months or years after the initial potty training. Limiting fluids after a certain hour can make a difference for bedwetting, and pull-ups are a mainstay for new potty users.

Regardless of whether it takes one day or several months, potty training is a challenge for nearly every parent and child. Once you complete this step in your toddler’s progression, it’s relatively smooth sailing until you have to teach him to drive a stick shift. Then you’ll be wishing he was back in diapers.


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Post 7

I want to share with you my experience with potty training. When my daughter was 15 months, we started the potty program. It was full of reward, because in a week she was doing number two only using the potty. But, after about three months, she had some nasty problems with diarrhea and she refused to use the potty. She would start crying if I just showed it to her. And this continued until I decided to stop and take a break.

I read all that is available online about potty training, but I was desperate, I didn't know what to do, until I came across a guide that saved me. I followed the steps and in five days, my daughter was fully potty trained, for number one and number two. This was six months ago and since then she has had diarrhea again, but she never stopped using the potty.

Post 6

Bowel withholding (a.k.a. poop refusal) can be frustrating for the entire family! Seems as if nothing works. I finally found a children's book on the topic, written entirely from the child's perspective. I can't believe it's taken so long!

For those of you struggling with this challenge, check out, "I Can't, I Won't, No Way! A Book For Children Who Refuse To Poop." It's available online and definitely worth the purchase. Can't say it solves the problem, but it will help!

Post 5

I just started training. My 28 month daughter does not want to sit on the toilet anymore. She used to live for it. If I keep her on long enough she may go, early morning but should I be worried?

Post 4

When the day starts,when should i start potty training for each day? he is at the point that the diapers no longer hold when he is asleep. he drinks fluids at night before bed. I can give him less, but when do i start each day? Concerned Father

Post 3

my son refuses to go poo in the potty. He's 3. He will tell us when he has to go pee but not poo. I've tried stickers, undies and nothing seems to work...any suggestions?

Post 2

i think it varies. my son resisted potty training until about 3 1/2, and then decided it was time. it only took a couple of days for him to get over going #2 in the potty. after that, he has had very few accidents. my daughter on the other hand, has been in "training" for several months. she is now 3 1/2, and always goes #2 in the potty. #1 is another story...she wets her pants several times a day, and has to be taken to the potty constantly. i'm wondering if she has a small bladder, or maybe less control?

Post 1

how long on average does potty training takes?

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