Before your child is ready to begin potty training, she must progress from spontaneous and uncontrollable urination and defecation to voluntary control over her bowel—and then her bladder. In general, if your child can coordinate the muscles and balance needed to run, then she can control her bowels or bladder. Of course, just because your toddler has the muscle control does not mean she will use it.
Believe it or not, your child will let you know when she's ready to begin toilet training. Until that happens, don't try to force the issue or rush your child into it. If you urge your child to take up potty training too soon, she will fail—and feel anxious for having disappointed you—and the whole process will take longer. Besides, it makes sense to let your child decide when she's ready. The whole objective of the process is to have your child gain control over her bladder and bowel movements. So from the very beginning, it will help if your toddler feels in control of the process.
For most toddlers, the process begins some time between the second and third birthday. But a rare few start even earlier and many more don't start until they are three.
In general, girls tend to gain control over bladder and bowel movements sooner than boys. But regardless of when they start using the potty, few children master this skill until close to their third birthday. Even early starters tend to have at least occasional accidents until age three. And late starters tend to have fewer accidents, perhaps because they're more mature physically by the time they begin. So why be in a hurry to get your child on the potty?
The key to determining when your child is ready for toilet training is your toddler's self-awareness. Your child has to know when she is going to relieve her bladder or bowels before it happens. Toilet training will fail if your child becomes aware of the need to go to the toilet only after the pee or poop is running down her leg.
Don't start toilet training when a younger sibling is about to be born, when day care is just beginning, when a family member is very ill, or when some other monumental life change is occurring. Your child should not have to deal with more than one change at a time.
Watch for these signs that your toddler might be ready:
- Your child's diaper is often still dry a couple of hours after it was changed.
- Your child shows that she understands simple requests or instructions.
- Your child demonstrates the ability to mimic adult behavior.
- Your child has the verbal ability to let you know when she needs to go to the bathroom.
- Your child shows a marked dislike for wet or soiled diapers.
- Your child offers a tip-off when she's about to have a bowel movement. It may be a facial expression; she might stand straight up, as still as a statue; or she might head for a particular location.