When Should I Start Toilet Training my Child – and What Should I Expect?

When Should I Start Toilet Training my Child – and What Should I Expect?

Many parents appear to be confused about toilet training their child.

Amanda, the mother of two-and-a-half-year-old Jonathan, is representative of the kinds of concerns parents bring to me about toilet training. She recently emailed me stating that she had started toilet training Jonathan about three months ago and she was very encouraged by his progress at first.

“He seemed to enjoy sitting on the potty chair and was able to be successful both with his urination and bowel movements,” Amanda reported. “He was not having many accidents and I began to think we had turned a corner and that he would stay dry all day.”

However, she has more recently found that Jonathan seems to have little interest in using the potty or in staying dry.

“Even when I remind him and ask if he needs to go to potty,” Amanda said, “he just looks at me and then goes in his pants. It doesn’t seem to bother him and he keeps on playing.”

“I wonder if he’s too young to learn to control himself,” Amanda said. “On the other hand, I think I must be doing something wrong. Most of my friends say their two- and three-year-olds are completely toilet trained. What’s wrong with me? Or is something wrong with my son?”

The concerns raised by Amanda are relatively common among the mothers and fathers who voice questions about toilet training. It seems apparent to me that parents aren’t sure when to start toilet training, what methods to use, and when they should expect their children to stay dry. I will answer these concerns and I hope provide some relieve for you if you are frustrated or confused by the inability of your child to graduate from diapers to pull-ups to regular underwear.

There is no question that toilet training your child can – and likely will be – a real challenge. This will be particularly true if you have a boy, as they lag behind girls by a few months in developing their ability to use a potty chair or a toilet when they feel the urge.

When should you start toilet training your child? Conventional wisdom has changed in this area over the past few decades. These days parents are beginning the process of toilet training at a later age than previous parents did — and today’s children are usually older when they have accomplished the task.

The conventional wisdom in the past was that children are capable of being toilet trained between 18 and 24 months. However, both bladder and bowel control requires rather sophisticated coordination. It is not until somewhere between 12 and 24 months that children’s brains are developed to the extent that they can be aware of a full bladder and the need to urinate. And it’s not until they are between 24 and 36 months before they realize they are ready for a bowel movement and are able to communicate this need.

Given this, as more recent studies have pointed out, there is little likelihood of success with toilet training if you start before 27 months. Recent research suggests that most children take about 12 months to completely train. The American Academy of Pediatrics has said that most children can stay dry in the daytime by about age 48 months and most will stay dry at night by about 60 months.

Given this, what is the best method to use?

As you might imagine, with the diversity of families and cultures in this country, there is no one method that is followed. Furthermore, there are no good studies that tell us which approach is best. However, based on my work with parents, I have some advice which has worked well with parents who have used my suggestions.

First, it’s perhaps best to start toilet training between 24 and 30 months, depending on your judgment of the readiness of your child. Second, it’s usually best to introduce a potty chair which is small enough for your child’s feet to touch the floor. Third, when you do start, make sure that your expectations are realistic and that you don’t apply pressure to your child to complete the process in a few days or weeks.

Finally, I find it works well if you know your child’s toileting schedule so you can remind him or her to use the potty chair at about the time they are likely feeling the urge. That way they can associate the urge with the use of the potty.

By following these suggestions and keeping in mind the realities of toilet training, your child should be toilet trained by the appropriate age given in this column.

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