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Signs It's Time to Start Potty Training

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You may be ready to banish diapers from your life, but where potty training is concerned, it’s your child’s timeline that matters. Starting the process before your child is ready can do more harm than good. But how will you know when it’s the right time? We talked to a few experts to find out what to expect.

Physical Signs
Even if your toddler wants big-kid underwear and a potty of her own, there’s no use starting if she’s not physically ready to handle all the steps of using the toilet. And there’s no predicting at what age your child will be ready, says Dr. Alison Mitzner, a pediatrician and mom of two. “Some children are ready as early as 18 months or two years, while others are not ready until age three or even older,” she says. “There is no right age and every child is different.”

There are a few telltale signs of physical readiness. “Your child should be able to follow directions and able to cooperate with you,” Dr. Mitzner says. She should also be able to climb onto the potty herself, and take her pants and diaper off on her own. Putting them back on by herself may be a little trickier, so stick to pull-ups and elastic-waist bottoms during this phase.

Being able to control the bladder is important too. (Learning to go number two on the toilet often comes later.) “They have to be physically able to hold in their urine,” says Alise McGregor, owner and founder of Little Newtons Early Childhood Education Centers and a mother of two. “A good indicator is when your child’s diapers are dry when you go to change them.”

"One of my daughters was holding her urine when she was a year old,” Alise says. “I initially thought something might be wrong with her, but she was simply ready to potty train. She was in underwear by 16 months. My other daughter was three when she was potty trained.”

Emotional Signs
Does your child adamantly refuse to let go of diapers? If so, she’s not ready yet. “Your child will begin to show interest in big boy/girl underwear” when the time is right, Dr. Mitzner says. She may want to pick out her own at the store, or express interest in the underwear your and her older relatives wear.

A little friendly peer pressure might help speed things along. ”Kids who go to a daycare center tend to potty train quicker because they see others doing it,” Alise says. “When your child starts talking about the potty and showing interest in using it, that’s another good sign that it’s time to start.”

What to Do Next
Are all signs pointing to the toilet? You’re ready to the next steps: buying a small potty for the floor and/or a potty seat for your toilets, creating a potty chart, teaching her how to wipe and offering occasional no-pressure reminders to use the use the potty every few hours.

Above all, expect a long process with lots of setbacks. ”Try not to put too much pressure on kids to potty train; that could backfire on you,” says Alise. “Just stay consistent and keep encouraging your child to try to use the potty. It may take a while, so be patient!”

Kathryn Walsh is a freelance writer specializing in parenting and travel topics. Her work has appeared on,, and

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