February 14, 2021

The Best Potty Training Tips

And everything else you need to know to successfully potty train

A mother hugging her toddler as both are sitting in a bathroom

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.

What is the best potty training age?

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:

  • Confidence.
  • Interest.
  • Muscle control.
  • Coordination.
  • Verbal skills.
  • Imitating family members.

Is it harmful if I start training earlier?

You can’t blame parents for wanting to instill mature behavior in their children. So what’s the harm in potty training early? Plenty.

Bladder issues

“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.


Parent-child stress

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.”

How to potty train: What’s the best way to do it?

To save yourself a lot of grief, embrace these four truths, says pediatrician Jason Sherman, DO:

  • There’s more than one way to do it.
  • Honor your child’s unique personality.
  • Remember: Mistakes are normal.
  • Seriously: Mistakes are normal.

Have your child:

  • Choose a toddler seat or potty chair and step stool.
  • Decorate it, so it’s exciting to use.
  • Sit on the potty regularly (even without going).
  • Close the lid before flushing.
  • Wash hands using warm water and soap for 20 seconds.

Other tips include:

  • Let your child watch you in the bathroom.
  • If training is going slowly, break it into smaller steps. Have them simply sit on the potty with bottoms on. Then try with bottoms off and go from there.
  • When they go, celebrate and reward them! Dr. Sherman says this is one time where he’s OK with a bit of bribery. Maybe it’s a trip to the park or library or picking out a special treat at the store.
  • Another memorable tip that Dr. Sherman shares is for parents to make a game of it. Draw a picture of the poop going down the toilet, through the pipe and then joining all of the other poop having a party together. For whatever reason, most kids tend to love this and will wipe, flush and wave goodbye as they tell their poop to have fun at the party.
  • If your child refuses to use the potty, consult your pediatrician.

What potty training supplies do I need?

To help you reach toilet training nirvana, invest in:

  • Stepstool, so they can climb on the toilet themselves.
  • Training pants, which are underwear-like diapers kids can pull up and down themselves.
  • Fun wipes, for easier clean-up!
  • Children’s books to pass the time.

How can I keep my potty training kid motivated?

To keep your child motivated, Dr. Sherman recommends:

  • Sticker ’em: Give kids colorful stickers for accomplishments.
  • Challenge ’em: Build a sense of pride in your child, which is better than any gift.
  • Praise ’em: Be their cheerleader.
  • Accept some accidents: When they happen, adjust your reward system and expectations.

What do I do if potty training takes too long?

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:

  • Moving.
  • Divorce.
  • New baby.
  • New day care.
  • Vacation.
  • Older sibling leaves the household.

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.

When will my kid be trained at night?

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.

How do I deal with potty training regression?

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.

So…can I throw away the diaper bag?

Watch for these milestones to measure your potty progress:

  • Peeing in the potty is usually the first potty training win. As they master this skill, continue to use diapers between bathroom trips.
  • Pooping in the potty takes longer because bowel movements are scary for some kids. Kids can have a bowel movement once a day or every other day. Your child shouldn’t be physically uncomfortable. If you suspect constipation, make sure your child gets enough fruits, veggies and water and limit dairy.
  • Staying dry all day — woo-hoo! — can take a few weeks to a few months.
  • Staying dry all night — the holy grail — can take several months to a few years.

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