“While age certainly plays a role (I generally recommend somewhere in the 22 to 28 month range) it isn't the most important factor to consider when starting to potty train,” says Jandu. It’s best to look out for certain developmental signs which can signal that your child is ready to start potty training. “If they are staying dry for longer periods, asking to have their diaper changed, showing an interest in the bathroom, or hiding to have a bowel movement, this may be the perfect time to start,” she continues. Be sure that they can also follow basic instructions, communicate verbally or physically, and walk and sit comfortably, and note if there are any other changes happening in your child's life at the same time. Try to make this period as normal as possible. If you’re moving, welcoming a new baby, or going through another big life change — hold off to be sure that stress won’t derail the process.
Try to mentally prepare yourself and your child so you’re both ready to successfully make this change. “Before ditching the diapers cold turkey, try to incorporate some fun potty training-related activities into your daily routine a few weeks in advance,” suggests Jandu. Read some potty books, watch potty videos, and even play "potty" with your child's toys so they can start to understand the steps of how to go potty before they have to do it themselves. “I like to compare pee and poop to our body's trash — food and drink goes in, our body uses up the good stuff, and then the pee and poop need to be thrown away,” Jandu explains. This comparison will help them understand the concept of going potty. “Since many toddlers can be resistant to change, try counting down the days of wearing diapers to give them some time to prepare and gain confidence. You also want them to realize that this change is a permanent one and that one day they’ll be too big for diapers just like they’ll get too big for bottles, pacifiers, and cribs.”
“I always recommend starting with a floor potty since it’s your child's size and they can get on and off independently,” says Jandu. She also likes that they’re portable. (If your child has already been introduced to the potty at daycare or somewhere else try incorporating a seat insert for the regular toilet.) Jandu also recommends having flushable wipes on hand so your child can learn to wipe on their own, as well as buying a few packs of underwear. (Get them one size too big so they’ll feel less like a diaper and help with body awareness.) If you’re concerned with accidents throughout the day and overnight, pick up some puppy pads for the furniture and a waterproof mattress pad for the bed.
Jandu recommends five basic steps for potty training:
Step 1: Plant the seed -- Take some time to introduce your child to the concept of using the potty to get them familiar with it.
Step 2: Choose a weekend -- Ideally these first days should have no disruptions so you can focus your attention on helping your child learn to use the potty and you can learn their patterns and cues.
Step 3: Stay bottomless -- During the first day to day and a half, keep your child totally bottomless — this helps them to learn their body's sensations and be more aware when they have an accident. It also helps you be aware as soon as they start to have an accident so you can catch some pee and poop in the potty, creating a learning opportunity.
Step 4: Don't be held hostage -- Incorporate some short outings as soon as Day 2 to give your child some practice with potty use out of the house. If you go to a new place, explore the bathrooms there together so they can become familiar with using the potty places other than home.
Step 5: Get back to reality as quickly as possible -- Don't rearrange your entire lifestyle to accommodate potty training. Kids thrive on their routine, so keeping them out of their normal schedules could actually hinder potty learning.
“I am a big fan of using rewards during potty training,” says Jandu. So try offering them a reward they wouldn’t get any other time like a certain candy, toy, or video to watch. Offer the reward immediately after potty success to make the connection that they earned the reward because they used the potty, and keep doing it after each potty use -- whether they ask for the reward or not.
Jandu recommends having another person around, whether it’s a partner, friend, or family member, who can step in during potty training in case things become frustrating and you need to take a moment. “If your child is resistant to using the potty, try to step back and give them some control over the situation. Ultimately that is what kids are trying to maintain,” she says. And if they do have an accident, that’s okay! Every accident is a learning opportunity. “Simply say, ‘Oops, accidents can happen. Remember pee and poop only belong in the potty.’ Then clean up and then move on.”
Every child is different, but it usually takes about seven to ten days for a child to be accident-free if you’re going without any diapers. Nighttime could take a bit longer. “Every child's pace will be different, and the amount of time it takes is never a reflection on your parenting,” says Jandu. Just be patient!
Erin Reimel is a freelance beauty editor and copywriter from the Philadelphia area. She has worked for publications like SHAPE, Cosmopolitan, ELLE, Glamour, and Women's Health. She currently works in education teaching beauty communications at her alma mater, Syracuse University, and working in the advancement department of the all-girls high school she attended. When Erin is not at school or writing and editing beauty content, she can be found playing with her brussels griffon puppy, Freddie, and singing show tunes.