The pressure to potty train can be intense. Your child’s day care or preschool has set a deadline. You want to keep up with others in playgroup. And, honestly, you can’t wait to ditch that diaper bag. But don’t let factors like these push you, says pediatric nurse practitioner Rebecca Cesa, CNP.
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“So many parents get frustrated or run into problems when they try to train a child who just isn’t ready,” she says.
Cesa and other experts give you the tools and guidance to set your child up for success.
While there’s no right age to potty train, Cesa recommends parents wait until their child is between 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 years old. “That’s when most children have enough brain and bladder development to potty train successfully,” she says.
Watch for these promising signs:
You can’t blame parents for wanting to instill mature behavior in their children. So what’s the harm in potty training early? Plenty.
“Potty training too soon can make your child a chronic holder,” warns Cesa. Young children may know not to wet their underwear. But that’s not the same as having the discipline to take themselves to the bathroom.
If your child is only urinating two or three times per day, that’s not enough. Holding urine too long can cause urinary tract infections, especially in girls. Kids should urinate five or six times per day, she says — about every two to three hours.
Chronic holders may also have more issues with daytime wetting (enuresis). About 15% of 5-year-olds struggle with it, says Cesa. Most often, daytime wetting is a behavioral problem caused by bad toileting habits — and potentially brought on by early potty training.
Children who hold urine often hold stool as well, causing constipation. Constipation can cause bladder issues and inhibit potty training as well.
Toilet training too early can make the process more difficult than it needs to be — for you and your child. You don’t want your child to link potty use with frustration and tension.
“Forcing children to do something they’re not ready for can affect their development,” adds Cesa. “Children can develop anxiety, especially around their parents, which can have repercussions on the parent-child relationship.”
To save yourself a lot of grief, embrace these four truths, says pediatrician Jason Sherman, DO:
Have your child:
Other tips include:
To help you reach toilet training nirvana, invest in:
To keep your child motivated, Dr. Sherman recommends:
Potty training is a natural process — one that will happen for most children by age 5. “Give them reasonable time to master toilet training on their own,” says Cesa.
But if it doesn’t seem to be working, take a break. The process can be stressful for kids. Also consider delaying potty training right after:
Keep in mind that accidents happen. Daytime accidents are normal until about age 5, she notes. Bed-wetting can persist longer.
But if your child is still having difficulty by age 4, check in with your pediatrician. If their development is otherwise normal, they may just need a little more time. If toileting is still a concern by age 5, your pediatrician or a pediatric urologist may want to evaluate them for other issues.
Nocturnal enuresis is when kids wet their beds. But bed-wetting is not considered a problem until they’re 6 years old and wet the bed at least twice a month. Most of the time, bed-wetting goes away without any treatment. But if your child is older or you’re concerned, talk to your pediatrician. Bed-wetting alarms are often successful. There are also medicines available that can help.
While you may feel disappointed or even frustrated, it is common for children to go back to having accidents — temporarily. But having intermittent accidents (for example, wetting themselves a few times one week but not the next) is not potty training regression.
Regression is when the behavior happens for several weeks, such as when your 8-year-old regularly wets her bed after being dry at night for years.
If you are concerned that your potty-trained kid suddenly isn’t, see your pediatrician. Even if there were just a couple of accidents, if it worries you, go in. And if accidents happen for more than a week, get a doctor’s help.
Watch for these milestones to measure your potty progress: