Ultimate Guide on How to Potty Train a Toddler

Learn how to potty train a toddler and minimize the stress with this simple guide and parent-approved tips.

Updated June 27, 2023
potty training

Potty training is a huge step for both toddlers and parents! It's exciting, but it can also feel a bit overwhelming. When do you start potty training? How do you know your toddler is ready? And once you do, how do you begin?

It sounds like a lot, but don't say deuces to the idea of potty training just yet! We're here to flush away your fears and fill you in on how to help your child potty like a rock star.

When to Start Potty Training

Most parents want to get out of the diaper-changing stage as soon as possible, but if your baby isn't ready to make their move to potty independence, you'll find that success will be difficult to achieve. Want to know the secret to potty training success? The answer is simple - your child's readiness.

Signs of a Child's Potty Training Readiness

Most children show signs of potty training readiness in between the ages of 18 months and three years of age. However, potty training age is relative. It all depends on your child's ability to complete certain tasks, their growing awareness of their body, and their eagerness to learn.

Signals parents should look for include:

  • Your child has begun to announce that they are dirty.
  • Your child can communicate words like poop, pee, and potty.
  • Your child follows basic instructions.
  • Your child retreats to a private spot to potty. (For example, they stop playing to go in a corner or their room and return when they are done.)
  • Your child can pull their pants down and pull them up again.
  • Your child dislikes being in a dirty diaper.
  • Your child can walk and sit on the toilet with no assistance.
  • Your child can stay dry for at least two hours.
  • Your child is showing interest in going potty like 'a big kid.'
  • Your child seems to understand the purpose of the activity.

If your child is checking most of these boxes, then you may be ready to proceed with the potty training process!

Need to Know

These are the signs and average ages for children to become potty trained during the day. However, most kids are not able to stay dry at night until the ages of five or six. Signs of nighttime potty training readiness include waking up dry or slightly damp and waking up in the night to ask to go potty.

Signs of a Parent's Readiness

Another big factor in potty training is your schedule. This is a project that will take time and requires a regular schedule. The goal is for you to have at minimum a few weeks to dedicate to this project where the sole focus is your child learning to go potty like a pro!

Parents should not proceed with potty training if:

  • Your child is sick or recovering from an illness.
  • Your child is having behavioral issues.
  • Your schedule is about to become busy - for example:
    • Your work schedule is picking up.
    • You have vacations or travel planned.
    • Holidays are approaching.
    • Family or friends will be visiting.
  • Other big changes are about to occur, such as:
    • They are starting school for the first time.
    • A new sibling is arriving soon.
    • You are going through a divorce.
    • You are getting ready to move.
Need to Know

The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that these are some of the main reasons a child will experience potty training regressions. All of these scenarios can be a big stressor for kids and a sudden regression can big headache for parents, so it is best to wait until everyone in the family is ready.

Remember that this is a marathon, not a race. Make sure that you can dedicate the proper time and focus on this project. The good news is that when families conquer this milestone when they are all ready, your child will usually catch on quicker than you think!

Before You Start Potty Training: How to Prepare

Supportive parents teaching toddler daughter to use the potty

So you think your baby is ready to potty train? Here are a few steps to help you get them ready to be a big kid.

Introduce the Concept

Privacy is typically non-existent when you have a toddler in the house. That means that your child has likely spent a lot of time with you while you were going potty. The question is, did they actually comprehend what you were doing?

Before you dive into the deep end, make sure that they know what the potty is for and when it is appropriate to use. The easiest way to do this is:

  • Read books about kids using the potty.
  • Watch animated potty videos that go over the concept.
  • Use a doll or stuffed animal to simulate going potty in the toilet.
  • Buy a potty training doll that simulates the process.

Parents can also show their kids the 'before and after' of what it looks like to go potty in the toilet when they use the restroom. Talk about what you are doing throughout the whole process and how this is what big kids and grownups do. Let them look in the toilet, ask questions, and let them know it is okay to talk about their body and the things that are going on with it.

Finally, if you already have your training potty, begin having them practice taking off their pants and sitting down with you. This can help them see that this as a normal activity and not something scary.

Talk Them Through the Process of Going Potty Every Time You Go

Going potty is second nature to you, but this is all new to your child! A huge part of how to potty train a toddler is helping them understand the various steps. Therefore, break it down by describing each step that needs to be completed:

  1. Pull your pants and underwear down.

  2. Sit down on the potty. Make sure your butt is over the hole!

  3. Plant your feet on the floor or on the potty stool.

  4. Go potty!

  5. Wipe your butt from front to back. Once clean, pull up your pants, get off the potty, and flush!

  6. Finally, always wash your hands.

toddler washing hands

We say 'go potty', but what does that actually mean? As mentioned above, when parents take their kids to the potty with them and allow their kids to watch, it can help them to better understand the process of peeing in the potty. Introducing the concept with books and potty dolls can also help.

Next, you have to help them realize when it is time to go. Cues can be hard to notice when it comes to going pee. That is - unless they are naked! This is actually a part of the three-day potty training method. Lose the bottoms for two days and run them to the potty every time they start to pee. After a while, they will begin to recognize what is happening.

Need to Know

The best way to help your child associate the feeling of needing to go poopy with using the potty is to point out when they are doing it. Best of all, this can be done with their pants on. Most children have cues when they poop. Pay attention and when they start, take the time to explain that they are pooping! Let them know that when that feeling arises, instead of retreating to a corner, they should go to the potty instead.

Ask Your Child to to Repeat the Steps

When potty training, as your child completes each step, ask them what they are doing, and once it is done, ask what their next step is going to be. This further builds their understanding of what to do throughout the process! Remember that once they start potty training, consistency is extremely important.

This means that no matter if they simply sit on the toilet, they go pee or poo in the potty, or they have an accident on the way to the potty, have your child go through all the steps every time. This will not only reinforce the process, but it will also teach them good hygiene habits.

Teach Them How to Wipe

Next, explain how to wipe! Again, this seems like common sense, but it is all a new experience for them. It's usually best to start potty training boys when sitting, and then switch to standing once they have the hang of it, so these tips work for any child:

  1. Pull off X number of squares of toilet paper (parents can decide how many they think are best).

    1. Explain that they will need more toilet paper for poop and less for pee.

  2. Fold it up and lay it flat against your hand.

    1. Demonstrate how to do this!

  3. Wipe your bottom from front to back.

    1. Demonstrate this as well! This is best done on a doll or you can show them how to do it on yourself. Have them repeat the process on themselves.

    2. For girls, stress the importance of this step and what can happen if they don't do it correctly (they can get sick).

  4. Check the toilet paper to make sure that it is clean. If not, wipe again!

How to Teach Your Child to Wipe a Poopy Bottom:

While a little gross, there is a very easy way to help your kids practice wiping a poopy bottom that uses balloons and peanut butter. All you need is:

  • A child-sized chair
  • Two balloons
  • Tape
  • Peanut butter
  • Toilet paper

The balloons will simulate their butt and the peanut butter is the poop. You place the balloons side by side and tape them to the back of the chair. Smear peanut butter in between the cheeks and have them wipe until the surface is clean!

This video demonstrates how to do this:

Supplies to Buy

Young Mother training her toddler girl to use the potty

Another important step to take before you start potty training is to purchase all the supplies. Parents can get their kids excited about the process by letting their child pick out their potty training gear!

The top things to purchase before you start include:

  • Big kid underwear
  • A toddler potty
  • Training toilet liners (to help limit the mess)
  • A potty training seat for the big toilet
    • Look for ones with an attached ladder or purchase a step so they can easily get to where they need to go
  • A travel potty seat or disposable toilet seat covers
  • Disinfectant wipes - the first few days can be messy!
  • A big reward to work towards (this can be a toy or a treat)

You will also want to print out some fun potty training charts and buy either stamps or stickers to mark off their successes!

Prep an Emergency Kit

Before starting the potty training process, prepare for when you slowly start venturing back out into the real world to grab groceries or go to the doctor. Along with a travel potty seat or toilet covers, make sure that you always have supplies in case an accident occurs. This should include a change of clothes (pants or shorts, shirt, socks, underwear, etc), a large Ziploc bag to hold soiled clothes, disinfectant wipes, and hand sanitizer.

Accidents will happen, and that is okay. Having supplies ready can make these instances much easier for you and your child.

Decide on a Potty Training Method

Many people don't realize that there are two main potty training methods-the Three-Day Method and The Brazelton "Child-Oriented" Approach. The first step in your potty training journey begins with deciding which is best for your family.

Three-Day Method: This technique is exactly what it sounds like-three days dedicated to just potty training. Parents will make a big show about ditching the diapers and then they will let their kids roam free in their birthday suit, and watch them like a hawk. If they notice their child is ready to go, or already going, they will run them to the potty as quickly as possible. This method requires a lot of patience and praise, but many parents swear by it.

The Brazelton Approach: This method introduces the potty to the child around 18 months of age, way before they actually start potty training. Parents can have them sit on the potty fully clothed and slowly work their way towards sitting on it without their bottoms on. The next step is to empty the contents of the diaper into the potty each time they go to help them better understand the concept. Once they are ready to start potty training, parents will then have them go diaperless each day for small periods of time.

Need to Know

In the Brazelton Approach, if the child shows disinterest, parents are instructed to take a break from potty training for a few weeks. The intent is to put the child in the driver's seat and to not force the process.

Other approaches: There are also lots of other approaches parents take that aren't necessarily a specifically named method. These might include:

  • Relaxed and child-led, where the parent lets the child decide when to start based on showing interest and they take it at a slow nad steady pace (similar to the Brazelton method, but toilet training may not be introduced as early as 18 months)
  • Gradual adult-let, where the adult may encourage the child to go or set timeframes for the child to go but without a specific end deadline
  • Reward-based, where there's more of a focus on rewards or an end-goal during the process
  • Date-based, where parents designate a certain timeframe for training and an anticipated date when the child might be diaper-free
  • Other fast-track methods similar to three-day potty training
  • Diaperless or naked-potty training (for a longer time frame than three days)
  • Specific book-based methods, like Oh Crap! Potty Training
  • Underwear at home and diapers when out - gradual training

Parents may also combine different elements of any of these approaches (or their own preferences) to design a potty training strategy that works for them.

How to Potty Train: Additional Steps That Can Bring Success

No matter what method you choose, it is going to take at least a few weeks for your child to be accident-free during the day. These easy tips can help them to get there faster!

father reading potty books

Schedule Potty Breaks

Scheduling potty breaks to sit on the toilet and 'try' can be very helpful in establishing the routine and avoiding accidents. Parents can decide how frequently to set up these bathroom visits, but we also recommend going at specific times of the day when the need to go will be greater.

Parents should always take their child to 'try' to go potty:

  • Right after they wake up
  • Before and after nap and bedtimes
  • After meal times, especially if they drink a lot during the meal
  • Before leaving the home (after they get the hang of the process)
Helpful Hack

Setting timers can be a great way to remind your kids that it is time to try again. It is also a spectacular method for determining about how long they will need between each potty session. Parents can set timers with a fun ringtone on their phone or they can invest in a potty watch for their toddler! This can make the experience even more exciting.

Load Your Child Up With Liquids

The more they drink, the more they will pee, and the faster they can practice this crucial life skill! Therefore, make sure your child's sippy cup is always full throughout the potty training process.

Reward Progress

little girl looking and pointing at her pee and poop calendar

One of the best ways to get your kids excited about potty training is to have a reward chart. Every time they do a good job, they get a stamp or a sticker on their progress chart. This can earn them a fun prize. Some of the best options include a toy, an exciting excursion, their choice of a place to eat a meal, or a delicious treat!

Need to Know

Avoid giving a reward every time. Most of us have heard the stories behind the success of M&M's and potty training, but unfortunately, this can lead to unhealthy potty habits, like withholding their urine or feces for a bigger treat. It can also lead to power struggles and other problems. Working towards a reward also saves parents who find the need to visit the potty at the store and have no treats on hand.

Talk About Pooping

Pooping can seem like a scary concept for little kids. From the pressure to preform to the idea of falling in, doing a number two can be a struggle. One way to help is by focusing on your child's diet. Full-fat foods keep things moving and hydration ensures that your child's poo is soft, making it easier to go naturally. This can be enhanced by talking about this normally taboo topic.

Everyone Poops is a classic book about this process, but there are an array of options for parents to choose from. While slightly awkward, another easy way to diminish your child's fears is to let them in the room while you complete your business. This can help them see that everyone goes through it and it is easier than they think!

Key Things for Parents to Remember When Potty Training Their Toddler

First and foremost, potty training is a process. Some people find real success in the three-day method, but that doesn't mean that it will work for everyone. Regardless of the method you choose, there are a few things that all parents should remember:

  • Accidents Happen: Don't get angry or scold your child. Simply say, "That's okay! We will try again when you have to go potty later." Then, clean up the mess and continue with the routine like normal.
  • Focus on Conquering the Day: Make sure your kid is a potty pro during the day before you try your hand at nighttime potty training. Buy pull-ups for bedtime and only use them at night.
  • Don't Ignore Fears: Toilets are loud. They make things disappear. And most importantly, this is all brand new. There is a reason you want to potty train when no other changes are occurring in your toddler's life. Acknowledge their trepidations and never belittle their feelings.
  • Be Patient: Children take an average of six months to get the hang of using the potty. Just like with sleep training, regressions will happen. Keep the big picture in mind during these moments and know that your efforts are well worth it.

Potty Training Is Personal

Every child will get the hand of potty training at their own pace. A final note for parents is to keep in mind that girls typically potty train faster than boys-completing their training two to three months sooner. First born kids normally take longer than their younger siblings as well.

This is why it is so important for you to focus on each individual child and follow their specific cues. Start when they are ready and always remember to praise every single successful visit to the bathroom! Soon you will not have to worry about them going number one or number two!

Ultimate Guide on How to Potty Train a Toddler