When to start toilet training

Toilet training is a difficult transition for both children and parents. When should parents start toilet training? The truth is, there is no right, definitive age to start. The timing is unique to each child; you may notice the child displaying behaviors that let you know it’s time. Starting toilet training before a child is ready may make it more difficult for both you and your child.

A child needs to develop before starting toilet training

Infants (less than 12 months old) have no bladder control; the bladder empties automatically when it is full. As a child grows older, the brain develops control over the bladder and bowels. The child’s brain is developing to allow nerves in the spinal cord to send messages to the bladder and bowels from the brain. The sphincter muscles control urine flow, and muscles in the rectum and anus control the release of stool. These processes combine as your child grows, allowing control over when he or she goes to the bathroom.

Children may have little control over bladder or bowel movements from 12 to 18 months.

How to tell my child is ready for toilet training

Each child is different, and may exhibit these behaviors at different ages. Most children may show these skills between 18 and 24 months, although some children may not be ready until older than that. Boys often will start later and take longer to learn toilet training than girls. To begin toilet training, your child should be able to:

  • Walk/move well to be able to get on the toilet chair
  • Tell you/communicate the need to urinate or pass feces
  • Be able to “hold it” –– able to control the muscles used to go to the bathroom

These are the signs that your child has these skills and is ready to toilet train:

  • Asks for a diaper change, or tells you he or she is about to urinate or have a bowel movement
  • Is uncomfortable when the diaper is soiled or wet.
  • Enjoys copying his or her parents, siblings or family members
  • Follows you into the bathroom to see how the toilet is used
  • Wants to do things to make parents or caregivers happy or to be praised
  • Has dry diapers for at least two hours during the day or is often dry after naps or overnight

An average age of achieving toilet training is 27 months old, or 2 years and 3 months old.

How to start toilet training

Do you know where to start with toilet training? Here are some tips to get you started:

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  • Choose words to represent “urine” and “bowel movement.” Make sure to choose words that aren’t embarrassing for you or the child, and that you wouldn’t be afraid of the child saying in public. Don’t use negative words to describe either action, such as “stinky” or “dirty.”
  • Get your child used to the toilet and bathroom. Use a toilet chair on the floor instead of placing the child on the toilet. A toilet chair is more secure, since the child can have his or her feet close to the floor. There’s less risk of falling. If you decide to use an over-the-toilet seat, use a footrest for your child. At first, have your child sit on the toilet chair in his or her clothes. You also can empty the contents of the diaper into the toilet to show its purpose.
  • Schedule bathroom breaks. Have your child sit on the toilet chair without a diaper for a few minutes every two hours, as well as after waking from a nap. Don’t have the child sit for more than five minutes. You can stay with your child while he or she sits. If your child wants to get off of the toilet, allow it. Offer praise for trying, even if nothing happens. Remind your child that he or she can try later.
  • Notice the signs — quickly. If your child is squirming, squatting or holding his or her genital area, get to the toilet as quickly as possible. Help your child become familiar with noticing the need to go, stopping what he or she is are doing, and getting to the toilet. Praise your child for telling you that he or she needs to go.
  • Teach proper bathroom hygiene. Show girls how to wipe from front to back to prevent moving germs from the rectum to vagina. Make sure your child washes his or her hands after getting off of the toilet, even if he or she doesn’t “go,” to get in the habit.
  • Know when it’s time to graduate to training pants or underwear. You may try to stop using diapers after a few successful weeks of toilet breaks and staying dry during the day. Your child can return to diapers if he or she has trouble staying dry. Celebrate the transition out of diapers!

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