You want to begin potty training your child, but not at the wrong time. How do you know whether the time is right or whether it’s best to wait? If you are having difficulty with training, how do you know if you should stop and take a temporary break?
Assuming your child is healthy and developing normally, the first consideration is her age. If she is less than 18 months old, she is almost certainly too young to begin potty training.
How to Evaluate Potty Training Readiness
If you think for some reason that your child is ahead of schedule developmentally and you don’t want to wait, you can evaluate her potty training readiness using information available in many places. For example, the website of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has a section on toilet training with multiple helpful articles.
The AAP recommends a child-oriented approach to potty training, in which you teach your child to use a potty. The process usually takes a number of months, longer if it goes badly and your child gets angry or frightened. If you begin potty training too early, you may have to stop if your child cannot understand what you want her to do. This can actually delay successful training.
If you are planning on using an intensive method like Azrin and Foxx, you can use their tests to see if she is ready for potty training. The test areas include bladder control, physical readiness, and instructional readiness. Azrin and Foxx believe that if a child is lacking only instructional readiness, she may be able to learn the necessary words (like “here, “there,” “pants,” and “wet,” among others). You can teach her keywords and then try training. If your child does not pass the other tests, she is not ready to begin potty training.
Your Child Seems Ready for Potty Training, but Training Doesn’t Start Well
Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, one of the first proponents of child-oriented training, believed that children give clear messages when they aren’t ready. For example, you should not continue training a child if she:
- Makes it clear she doesn’t want to learn to use the potty, either by saying ‘no’ or through her actions (running away, crying, or screaming)
- Gets upset when you want to take off her diaper so she can use the potty
- Looks at the potty and urinates on the floor
- Hides and has a bowel movement in a closet or corner of a room
- Always says ‘no’ when asked if she needs to use the potty
If she is trying to tell you she doesn’t want to learn to use the toilet yet, you almost certainly will not be able to teach her. Proponents of child-oriented training believe that your child will let you know when she is ready.
Other Factors that Affect Potty Training
Most experts say that significant stresses to a child and/or the whole family make toilet training too difficult. According to the AAP Guide to Toilet Training, there are definite times when you should not begin potty training, including:
- Your family has just moved
- You have a new baby
- You are a two-parent household and are separating or divorcing
- Your child is in the resistant “terrible twos” phase and frequently says “no”
Potty training is already difficult for a child and family. Trying to learn how to use the potty can be all but impossible at times of change, stress, or illness.
Your Child Will Eventually Be Ready to Potty Train
In almost every case, simply waiting solves the problem. Your child will mature physically and emotionally.
While you are waiting, let her see you use the toilet and explain what you are doing. Teach her any words she doesn’t know that you will need. Practice giving her simple instructions about things that don’t scare her. For example, ask her to bring you a toy, or put a doll on her bed. Don’t butt heads with her.
Here is a reassuring quote from the AAP book Guide to Toilet Training, page 44: “Fortunately, toilet training is not a process that can be successfully initiated at only one point in your child’s life.”
You do not need to worry that you are going to miss the right moment.