There’s no correct age for starting to potty train a child. Some are ready at 18 months old, while others could be three years or even more.
First, remember every child is different. You shouldn’t feel inferior because your friends are dashing around unencumbered by nappies while you’re still struggling under the weight of an over-stuffed changing bag.
Second, the longer you leave it, the quicker they will learn – because the child’s ability to understand what is happening is that much greater.
At least one person will tell you their child/niece/grandson was potty trained by three months, or some equally impossible age. Don’t listen to them.
Being potty trained doesn’t mean a child goes to the toilet the instant they sit on a potty. That’s an automatic, Pavlovian-style reaction.
When a child is potty trained, they recognise the signs of needing to go, and then let you know (ideally before an accident happens). This simply isn’t possible with small babies – they lack both the physiology and the communication skills.
You should also bear in mind that children learn at different speeds. Some will get the hang of using a toilet within days – if that’s yours, then congratulations! Others will take weeks, and the reality is likely to be somewhere in between.
Remember too that just because they’re dry during the day, they won’t be so at night for a while. That’s a whole different story and can take a lot longer.
So – want to know if your child is ready to give it a go?
1Unhappy with the nappy
Ever since your baby was born, you’ve changed his or her nappy when you’ve realised it’s wet or dirty. Your child will have picked up on this. If he or she shows discomfort when their nappy needs changing – perhaps by pulling at it or trying to remove it themselves, they are showing awareness of what’s going on.
2Going in private
If your child starts disappearing somewhere quiet to fill his/her nappy in private, or even if they just move away from you, this is a clear sign they know what’s going on, and realise it isn’t usually a public event.
3Showing an interest
If your child becomes fascinated by the toilet and wants to watch when you – or other people – use it, they’re ready to learn. They might also fetch their potty themselves and want to sit on it alongside you.
4Waking up dry
Most young children will go to the toilet when they nap during the day. If your child is regularly waking up with a dry nappy after sleeping, they are learning to control themselves for short periods of time.
5Drier for longer
Are you using fewer nappies during the day? Most parents are pretty obsessed with their child’s toilet habits so if you notice your son or daughter is going for longer periods between needing the toilet it’s worth starting to potty train.
6Letting you know
If your child tells you when they’ve just filled their nappy – or even better, that they’re about to – that’s the clearest indication yet they are ready to move on. Don’t forget to praise them and reinforce that they are doing the right thing.
On a practical level, if your child can follow simple directions, it will make the training process much easier.
It might also be better to wait for some good weather as you’re likely to have lots of laundry to start with. In fact, you might want to stock up on provisions and arrange your life so you don’t need to go anywhere for the first couple of days!
It’s important to stay calm and be patient for however long it takes, especially when your child has an accident in public. Young children crave your approval – if they think you’re angry with them, it will make them sad and anxious, and have a negative effect on the training process.