What age should you start potty training?

What are the signs your toddler's ready to potty train? When should you start potty training - and when should you avoid trying it?

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Potty training, like a good comedian’s punchline, is all about…er…timing! If you start potty training too early, you risk months of frustration and mess (more than usual, anyway!) and if you leave it too late, well, let’s not even go there just yet.

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Don’t start potty training until your child’s around 15 months old

It seems like you have to wait until the perfect storm of your child’s readiness and your preparedness hits before you can even think about starting to go potty. But how do you know for sure that the time is right?

While you’re eager to whip that nappy off, your little one may not be so ready to let go, as it were. “Your toddler doesn’t have sufficiently mature muscle or neurological systems to control her bowel and bladder until she’s at least 15 months old,” says psychologist, Dr Richard Woolfson.

“Starting potty training too early could lead to fights between you and her. Look instead for signs that say she’s ready.”

Now there are people who are keen to start potty training earlier – some even from birth, using a method called elimination communication.

But in general, 15 months or so seems about right,  though of course every child is different – and, as wise MFMer and potty training doyenne donk wrote on our forum, we shouldn’t stress about the age our kids are, because it’s more about how ready they are:

“I think potty training is less about age and more about when the little one is ready for it,” she says. “After all, we all get there in the end, don’t we?”

Quite right, donk! It seems there’s no ‘right’ age to start potty training – it’s all about understanding your child and recognising the signs of readiness… Cue our simple checklist!

What are the signs that my child is ready to start potty training?

If you can answer ‘Yes’ to 7 or more of the questions below you can probably consider starting potty training with a really good chance of success.

  1. Has your child started showing an increased interest in others using the toilet or potty?
  2. Does your child show awareness of when she is going to the toilet in her nappy? (she may stand still, go quiet or even take herself somewhere private)
  3. Does your child get agitated if a soiled nappy isn’t changed straight away?
  4. If your child has a daytime nap, is she typically dry when she wakes up?
  5. Does your child have a fairly predictable wee-ing and poo-ing cycle?
  6. Can your child take down a skirt or trousers by themselves?
  7. Does your child understand simple instructions?
  8. Has your child got enough language to communicate simple needs?
  9. Has your child got the ability to concentrate for more than five minutes at a time?
  10. Has your child got a predictable time coming up?  For example, are there no big changes looming such as moving house, new siblings or a big holiday?

And when’s the best time of year to potty train?

Finally ditching nappies is an exciting milestone for both you and your baby, and summer is the perfect time to let her go nappy-free.

Warmer weather (hopefully!) means fewer layers so kiss goodbye to complicated wrestles with clothes when the urge strikes – yay! And also, being outdoors ensures the lawn is more likely to suffer an accident than your favourite rug, which is always a bonus.

Some parents do wait until spring or summer, so their toddler can run around with no pants on. Which is great if your tot is ready and it happens to be spring – but don’t wait six months for summer if you think she’s ready; equally, don’t go for it too early just because the weather’s nice!

And remember, Christmas may not be ideal, as there’s lots going on and your child is out of her normal routine. And there are some presents we can live without!

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What else is going on?

As with any big change in your child’s life, it’s important to avoid too much upheaval at once. If you’re moving house, start potty training well before the planned date, or give your child time to settle in before you begin.

If you’re having a baby, the same applies: bear in mind that some children ‘regress’ when a new baby arrives, going back to babyish behaviour, and even wetting themselves again.

On the other hand, if your child’s old enough to be completely potty trained before the new baby comes, it’ll be less work for you than changing two lots of nappies.

Starting nursery

If your 3-year-old is starting nursery or playgroup, check if she needs to be potty trained. Vicky Hodson, deputy manager of Lilliput Montessori in Leicestershire, says:

“We’re happy to take children at any stage of potty training: just before they start, right in the middle, or wearing pull-ups.

“We take babies and toddlers as well as 3 and 4-year-olds, so we have lots of nappy-changing facilities. But playgroups that only take older children might not be equipped for changing, so may just accept children who are potty trained.”

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