Toilet training

Toilet training

The key to successful toilet training is making sure your child is ready. Your child's bladder must be fully developed and they must be emotionally ready. This will take patience and understanding on your part. Usually, girls toilet train earlier than boys. The common age for toilet training is around age 3.

Pushing your child to toilet train before they are ready will lead to accidents and power struggles. Avoid toilet training if your family is under stress, such as planning a move or welcoming a baby.

Use a potty chair when starting toilet training. Always remain calm and give your child lots of encouragement and praise. When they have an accident, encourage them that next time will be better.

Signs your child is ready for toilet training

Signs your child may be ready for toilet training include:
  • stays dry at least two hours during the day or after a nap
  • has regular bowel movements or uses words or facial expression to say they are about to have a bowel movement
  • is uncomfortable wearing a dirty diaper
  • asks to use a potty chair
  • wants to wear underwear

Your child may have accidents while going through toilet training. If your child has many, they may not be ready.

Toilet training is a good time to teach your child how to wash their hands. Help your child wash with soap and warm water. Sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice while washing (about 15 to 20 seconds) so they learn how long to wash.

How to toilet train

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, toilet training includes the following.

  • Tell your child what their body parts are called and how they work.
  • Use words your child can understand. Avoid using negative words.
  • Use a potty chair. You may want to let your child watch you or your partner go to the bathroom.
  • Let your child tell you when they have to use the toilet. It's OK if this message comes after they wet or soil a diaper. Praise your child for telling you.
  • If you see your child has to use the toilet, say, "Let's go potty" and lead them to the bathroom right away.
  • Keep your child seated on the potty chair only a few minutes at a time. If they have no interest, don't get upset. Try again another time.
  • Set up a routine by taking your child to the potty chair every day at the same times.
  • Support and encourage your child. Training may take awhile. Give your child lots of positive words, hugs and kisses. Don't punish or discipline them. Toilet training must go at your child's pace.
  • Teach girls to wipe from front to back. This will help avoid urinary tract infections.
  • Teach your child that flushing is normal. Tell your child that they cannot be flushed down the toilet.
  • Once your child starts using the potty chair, use pull-up type training pants.
  • Your child will stay dry during the day sooner than at night. If your child has nighttime problems after age 5, talk with your health care provider.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education, Guide for the Care of Children: Ages Birth to 5, sixth edition, ped-ah-91554
First Published: 02/01/2010
Last Reviewed: 11/16/2022