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Children's Health

Toilet Training Information

Many NetWellness visitors have questions about toilet training or potty training. There is really no one right way or right time to potty train a child. Current wisdom is to delay toilet training until the child is about 2 years of age.

Signs of Readiness

Training depends on the situation and the child's state of readiness. Some signs of readiness include:

The toddler years are a challenging time for parents. Toddlers are driven to be independent! Part of the way they achieve a sense of independence is by saying "No!" to everything their parents want them to do, even when it is something they love such as playing at a park. It is as if who they are as a person is the opposite of their parent's wants and desires. Thus, potty training goes best when a child has experiences that are gentle and help the child to choose to be diaper independent.

Helpful strategies include the following suggestions.

  1. Begin reading books and watching videos about potty training when your child is about 21-months-old. Librarians can help you locate these materials.
  2. Take the child to the bathroom with you or older siblings of the same gender to learn the big boy or big girl routine.
  3. Have the child make a choice between 2 potty chairs equally acceptable to you. It can be decorated by the child with stickers to make it their special toilet.
  4. Have the child select and try on "big girl" or "big boy" underwear.
  5. Tell him or her to let you know when he or she is ready to stop wearing diapers and wear grown-up underwear.
  6. Praise, but not excessively, any efforts to sit on the potty, even if it is with their clothing and diaper on, or wash hands and follow other toileting routines. Singing a silly song or making a game out of trying each step is a good way to engage the interest of the child in trying each step of the process.

Toddlers really do want to please their parents and glory in praise for making the choice to be a big boy or big girl.

Another helpful strategy is to use the "self as model" strategy from early childhood education. This involves taking pictures of the child doing each desirable step of the process and creating a story in simple words about the child with the pictures as the illustration. Children love stories about themselves and their families and pictures to relive the moments. It might start with a picture of the child celebrating their 2nd birthday. Move on to Mom and Dad knowing that 2 years old means the child is growing up and can do more things, perhaps accompanied by the picture of the child and parent doing the "So Big" arm raise. It could go on to say that one of those things is not using diapers anymore with a picture of the child in underwear. Tell about the steps in learning about going to the bathroom by following mom or dad, reading stories or watching videos. Then move to pictures of the child doing each step of the process. End with pictures of the child pulling on special underwear and his parents beaming with pride as they shake his or her hand in congratulations. Read the story every day. Compliment the child as he or she does a step in the process "just like in the story!" This will build the desire to be potty trained. This will become a treasured keepsake in your family.

Diaper Free Movement

There is a movement called Diaper Free that encourages parents to develop awareness of the elimination communications of their young child. It is certainly true that in many parts of the world diapers are not used at all and mothers learn the subtle behavioral signals of their child when elimination will occur soon. Many parents have found Ingrid Bauer's book, Diaper Free: The Gentle Wisdom of Infant Hygiene, a useful resource for learning more about earlier potty training.

Please Be Aware

Parental potty training frustration is the number one cause of child abuse in the toddler years from 1-3 years of age. If you find yourself feeling stressed and distressed by trying to achieve toilet training too soon, it is best to stop and wait until the child is developmentally more ready to work with you on this important achievement.

For more information:

Go to the Children's Health health topic, where you can:

This article is a NetWellness exclusive.

Last Reviewed: Nov 09, 2007

Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN
Professor of Clinical Nursing
College of Nursing
The Ohio State University