Is Your Child Ready to Start Potty Training?

Susie McGee
The Potty Training Answer Book
The Potty Training Answer Book

Karen Deerwester, author of The Potty Training Answer Book, recently took the time to answer LoveToKnow Baby's questions about potty training readiness.

What are some signs that a child is ready to begin potty training?

Watch and wait for these four areas of readiness: physical development, language development, emotional development, and cognitive development.

  • Your child can stay dry for short periods of time.
  • Your child can communicate the need to potty before she goes.
  • Your child is curious and motivated.
  • Your child understands the sequence of before, during and after, as well as the big picture "this is the way to potty - goodbye diapers".

A list of readiness behaviors follows for each area of development:

The Physical Behaviors

Potty training requires your child to understand the inner and outer workings of his body. He begins to understand how his body feels before pottying and make a connection between those feelings and certain actions. He learns that a full bladder makes him pee and pressure on his bottom makes a poop.

  • Your child stays dry for at least two hours during the day.
  • Your child wakes up dry from naps.
  • Your child will pee or poop regularly--before bath time, an hour after breakfast, etc.
  • You see telltale signs when your child is pottying--he stops playing, makes a certain face, or is seen squatting in a more private part of the room.
  • Your child can walk to a designated place to accomplish a goal.
  • Your child can remove pieces of clothing to use the potty.

The Emotional Behaviors

All learning for young children involves an emotional component. This component is especially important in potty training because potty training involves some risk--age-appropriate risks but risks just the same.

  • Your child asks questions about pottying.
  • Your child wants to follow others into the bathroom.
  • Your child tries to imitate adult potty behavior.
  • Your child likes clean diapers and asks to be changed at appropriate times.
  • Your child cares about the outcomes of his actions. He expresses likes or dislikes after he does something and if reminded will remember those preferences the next time.
  • Your child is willing to sit still to master a task.

The Verbal Behaviors

Language changes your child's world. With language, your child organizes ideas into a sequence of before, during, and after. She describes needs and wants. She asks for help.

  • Your child knows her body parts.
  • Your child can tell you, first when she's pottied in her diaper, and then before she's pottied in her diaper.
  • Your child follows simple directions - "quick, run to the bathroom!"
  • Your child tells you what she needs.
  • Your child says she wants to "do it myself."

The Cognitive Behaviors

Language leads to more elaborate thinking. Your child makes plans. He coordinates actions and people to accomplish his goals.

  • Your child is curious about how his body works.
  • Your child sees the connection between his body and the potty.
  • Your child understand sequencing - before, during, and after.
  • Your child lines up his toys - understands order - things in "right" places.
  • Your child thinks ahead - he can stop doing something if he needs to potty.
  • Your child comprehends that potty books and videos are relevant to his actions at this time
  • Your child understands the "big picture" - "so, this is how things work"

How can parents begin potty training their child?

You prepare for potty training when your child is between 1½ and 2 years old. At this time of potty preparation, you expect nothing from your child. You are building the stage and adding some of the scenery.

  • Establish a positive potty training attitude.
  • Choose your potty words.
  • Include your child in your bathroom routines.
  • Make friends with a potty chair.
  • Talk about your child's diapers and potty routines.
  • Add a few potty books to your child's home library.
  • You may begin to interview friends and colleagues.
  • You may casually observe children 6-12 months older than your child.

Use this time to think about your child's temperament style. Watch your child's reaction to the new stimulus you are presenting. This is a stage for your child's future success - make it appealing for him.

What's the next step when your child shows an interest in potty training?

You think your child is ready. Your child is initiating potty behavior. She wants to sit on her potty. She doesn't like wearing diapers. She likes the idea of doing things the way mommy does them.

Follow your child's lead. Add a few potty routines to her daily schedule. Sit on the potty chair after nap if she has a dry diaper and after undressing before bath time. Make simple connections between your child's behavior and the potty.

Do not assume at this point that she's ready to run the potty marathon. She has no idea what the potty marathon is yet. Start explaining the 'big picture" - that when she's a little older, she won't wear diapers anymore. Watch and listen. Is she as comfortable saying goodbye to diapers as she is ready to say hello to pink princess underpants?

This is a time of exploration for your child and a time for you to evaluate how quickly or slowly to advance to the next level.

What is the most basic potty training strategy?

At some point, your child will advance from casual, some-of-the-time potty experiences to that new goal of using a potty instead of a diaper. Your child may wake up one day say "no more diapers". Or, the timing might be just right - a ready child and a long weekend with no other obligations and time to burn.

  • Name the event. A name reinforces the message you're trying to convey to your child - "Hooray, it's a "Potty Weekend!" (or Naked Noons or Potty Play Days)
  • Tell your child the goal. "We'll play and potty at home all weekend. Then you can say bye bye to your diapers."
  • Practice the goal under the simplest conditions. Your plan for the weekend is all about making pottying simple and easy for your child. Take off the diapers so your child can feel his body working. Dress him in easy-off clothing or no clothes at all. He'll then have immediate feedback as to what happens without a diaper and an easier time getting on the potty in a timely way.
  • Teach potty hygiene. Bathrooms are very fun places without obvious boundaries. Start with clear messages about how to use the toilet paper, how many times to flush the toilet, and a fun hand-washing habit. Sing the "Happy Potty" song to teach children how long hand washing should take.
  • Practice makes perfect. Athletes and musicians know repetition is essential to mastery. The beauty of a concentrated potty weekend is that you are creating the opportunity for repeated success. You are the time management expert for the weekend. It's up to you to take your child for potty breaks every two hours. Focus on the adventure of discovery and the satisfaction of success.
  • A happy ending. No matter what happens on this weekend, you've had a very personal, hopefully fun-filled time with your child. Tell your child how much you enjoyed being with him. If your child is ready, gift wrap those favorite underpants. If your child is still learning, end the weekend with a cake, light candles to commemorate each trip to the potty. Either way, you have everything you need to evaluate your child's future potty training behavior.

What's the Happy Potty Song?

Happy potty to me
Happy potty to me
I'm learning where to pee
Happy potty to me!
Happy potty to me
Happy potty to me
I'm learning where to poopie
Happy potty to me!

More Info

Is Your Child Ready to Start Potty Training?