When to start potty training: what age should kids start (and do boys really take longer)?

The do’s and don’ts of potty training your children


Potty training is an important developmental milestone. But sometimes it can be more stressful on the parents than it is for kids! 

Allow your child to play on the potty so they can get used to it.
Allow your child to play on the potty so they can get used to it.

Most children complete potty training by 36 months. The average length it takes kids to learn the process is about six months. Girls learn faster, usually completing toilet training two to three months before boys do. Firstborn children also tend to take longer to learn than their younger siblings, who pick up cues from the older kids. 

On their podcast Kids Considered, pediatricians Dean Blumberg and Lena van der List of UC Davis Children’s Hospital shared these five do’s and don’ts for potty training. Follow these tips to get started. 

1. DON’T start at an age you feel you need to. DO wait until your child is ready: physiologically, cognitively and emotionally.

For physiological readiness, your child must be able to control the sphincter, the muscle that holds and empties the bladder and rectum. This usually happens around 12-18 months. 

For developmental readiness, your child should be able to get to the toilet on their own, sit down, pull their pants up and down, and be able to communicate to you or another caregiver that they need to go. 

For emotional readiness, your child might show an interest in being potty trained. For example, they might go to the same spot in the house when they need to go. They might tell you when they want their diaper changed. Or they could show that they can hold it in for longer periods, like waking up from a nap with a clean diaper. This usually happens after age 2. 

2. DO get potty gear that makes the process easy and fun.

Consider getting a small potty seat. Or outfit your own toilet with an insert and stepstool. Let toddlers pick out the color or design! Getting underwear designed with your child’s favorite characters also makes training more exciting – make sure to get many pairs in case of accidents! Another tip: allow your child to play on the potty, starting with sitting on it fully clothed, so they can get used to it. Toilet training-themed books, videos, songs and games can also get your child more involved in the training process. 

3. DO be consistent and give lots of praise, DON’T force it or punish your child.

Create a plan for consistency. A common strategy is taking your child to the potty every 30 or 60 minutes for the first couple of days. If that goes well, try to extend the periods between tries; good times to encourage your child to use the toilet include upon waking up in the morning, after meals, before and after naps, and before bedtime. 

Choose a word your family is going to use for pee and poop. Stick to it! 

If your child doesn’t end up going after a minute or two on the toilet, don’t force it. Get up, move on and try again later. If they have an accident, don’t punish them. Help them clean up, show them what to do with their dirty underwear and how to change into new ones. 

Praise your child every time they make it to the potty, even if things don’t go as perfectly as you would like. Reward them with sticker charts in the bathroom or treats like a small candy – rewards are highly motivating for little kids! 

4. DO be prepared for common issues.

If your toddler is afraid of flushing or sad to see their poop disappear, try making it a fun game, like waving bye-bye as it floats away. 

Boys may have more success sitting down. Some might make a big mess standing up. Either way, this is all fine while training. 

Some kids may only want to potty with one parent. Others may want to go only at their daycare because their peers do. Encourage success where you can. 

If your child is struggling with constipation while pooping, consult your pediatrician before starting potty training. 

5. DON’T be frustrated if you experience setbacks.

Eighty percent of families will experience setbacks. Even if your child is successful making it to the bathroom during the day, it’s very common for them to still need diapers or pull-ups during naps and overnight. Most kids, by age 6, will be able to get through a night’s sleep without having an accident.

If your child isn’t making progress, stop the process and try again in another two or three months. Don’t let family or friends make you feel you have to do it a certain way or on a certain timeline. Every family and child’s situation is different!

Related links

Kids Considered – Potty Training episode