When To Start Potty Training

When to start potty training is one of those questions that both experts and experienced parents actually agree on.

When you are both ready, this is an event that you must have the support of the whole family. That way everything will be consistent for your child.

There is no point starting, if your partner is not yet ready to participate. 

Q. When To Start Potty Training
A. When The Child Is Ready

So...how do you work out the best time to begin toilet training? There are 4 things to consider:

1.Are putting undue pressure on yourself, or listening to any old fishwives who happen to grace you with their opinions?

2. Is your child physically ready to toilet train?

3. Is your child emotionally ready to toilet train?

4. Are you ready for this experience?

The rest of this page will go into more detail about each of these 4 questions.

1# Release The Pressure

The first thing to do is concentrate on what is best for you and your toddler.

Forget (possibly) well-intentioned advice of the 'In my day' variety from the older generation, or your seething jealousy when your friend's son is toilet trained while yours prefers to use his potty as a sandpit.

If the time is not right, forget it for now. Take heart from the fact that the later you begin, the quicker potty training happens - but starting too early can cause unnecessary problems (1).

2# Is Your Toddler Ready Physically?

No child has proper bowel or bladder control before the age of 18 months.

This is because the voluntary control that a truly potty trained child has is only possible when appropriate pathways in the brain are formed(2).

Potty training babies under this age was common before the age of the super-absorbent nappy and super-efficient washing machine.

In reality it was the carers who were trained.

What they were actually doing was sitting the child on the potty or toilet so often that he or she was bound to produce some (highly dubious) evidence of bladder and bowel 'control'.

3# Is Your Toddler Ready Emotionally?

When to start potty training? Not during during times of major upheaval for your toddler - a new baby, family break up, moving house etc. Don't forget that starting nursery or daycare could well be a time of emotional turmoil for your child. 

You might want to go as far as letting your toddler lead the way and leave potty training until s/he indicates readiness (4). Read more about this Child-Led method of training in Potty Training Techniques.

4# Are You Ready?

This is a very important thing to consider in deciding when to start potty training - both expert and anecdotal evidence is in agreement about it.

Are you suffering from terrible morning sickness? Just started a new project at work or taking on extra personal responsibilities, such as caring for a sick relative? Any unusual stress in your life indicates that you should leave training until later on.

If you go ahead without being ready, the resulting tension will rub off on your toddler who will find toilet training a real uphill struggle, and both of you will be confused about when to start potty training. She needs you to be rooting for her every step of the way.

Further Information

Some experts, such as Jane Gilbert and Gina Ford, provide a list of signs to start potty training. These include:

  • Interest in accompanying others to the toilet
  • Understanding simple instructions, such as "get the ball"
  • Your toddler's nappy or diaper is dry when you change it

Talking to other parents is invaluable if you still cannot decide when to start potty training. You will find as many different stories as there are potty seats on the market, all with good tips...and mistakes that you can learn from. But remember it's between you and your toddler, don't be fooled by some of the Mother of the Year stories, because they are just that..... stories.


(1)Caring For Your Baby & Young Child (page 274), edited by Steven Shelov MD, 1997, Oxford University Press; Potty Training (page 12), Jane Gilbert, 2003, Hamlyn; New Toddler Taming (page 126), Dr Christopher Green, 2001, Vermilion; Your Toddler Month By Month (page 128), Dr Tanya Byron, 2008, Dorling Kindersley Ltd.

(2)Your Toddler Month By Month, (page 128) Dr Tanya Byron, 2008, Dorling Kindersley Ltd; New Toddler Taming, (page 125) Dr Christopher Green, 2001, Vermilion.

(3)Successful Potty Training (page 24), Heather Welford, 2002, Thorsons; Potty Training In One Week (page 13), Gina Ford, 2003, Vermilion.

(4)Potty Training (page 10), Jane Gilbert, 2003, Hamlyn; Your Toddler Month By Month (page 129), Dr Tanya Byron, 2008, Dorling Kindersley Ltd

(5)Potty Training (page 3 14-15), Jane Gilbert, 2003, Hamlyn;Potty Training In One Week (pages 12-13), Gina Ford, 2003, Vermilion

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