Potty Training Readiness

by Narmin Parpia

When should I start potty training?

What is the right age for potty training?

Excellent questions and there is NOT a shortage of answers and advice for these questions. I just checked on Amazon.com for books on potty training; there are 35 books for parents, 71 books for your children and 30 videos on the subject of potty training. Try an online search on the subject; there is not shortage of advice and information available. It can be very confusing to read conflicting advice online, in books, in the media and of course also from your friends and relatives.

What does potty training mean to you? Or what does having a child be potty trained mean to you?

My mental model / definition of a potty trained child; A potty trained child knows that s/he is to eliminate in a potty or the toilet; S/he will do so own her/his own when s/he has the urge to eliminate. The child may still need help with proper hygiene such as wiping and washing, however, the child initiates going potty on his/her own.

So based on this definition, here are my thoughts on subject of when you should start to potty train.

There is no set age at which potty training or toilet training should begin. The right time depends on your child's development in the following four areas:

Physiological Development (Bladder and Bowel Control)

In order for your child to be able to eliminate when s/he wants to (voluntary vs. involuntary), her/his sphincter muscles have to be developed / mature enough to delay excretion for a brief period of time. All my research including the American Academy of pediatrics say that children's elimination muscles reach full maturity somewhere between 12-24 months, and the average age of maturity is 18 months.

So how is a parent to know if a child's elimination muscles are mature?

Your child's behavior and actions will guide you in knowing how your child is developing in this area.

Around his/her first birthday, your child will begin to recognize the sensation of a full rectum or bladder, signaling the need to eliminate. You observe this awareness through their behavior of squatting and grunting when having a BM and tugging at the diaper when urinating. At this age, they may not be able to delay elimination, but they need to make the connection between the feeling of fullness and the act of excretion or urination.

On the average, at about 18 months, your child's sphincter muscles mature and now your child has the ability to delay excretion for a brief period of time. Night time bowel control is usually achieved first, followed by day time bowel and bladder control and finally nighttime bladder control.

Your will notice that your child will no longer have bowel movements at night. Then you will observe that you child can stay dry for a few hours at a time. You child will wake up dry from long naps, followed by waking up dry in the morning.

Physiological readiness signals for potty training are (bladder and bowel control):

  • Childs awareness of the need to go -- demonstrated by squatting, grunting, hiding when child feels need to eliminate
  • No BM's through the night
  • Dry diaper for long periods of time i.e. from long naps and/or in the morning
  • Urinate a lot at one time (vs. a little through out the day)
  • Some regularity of bowel movements

So, if you think your child has full bladder and bowel control, should you start potty training?

Not necessarily. Just because a child is physiologically ready to be potty trained does not mean that s/he has the other skills -- motor, cognitive and verbal, emotional and social skills required for the whole potty training process.

Motor Skills:

On the average, children will walk around the age of 12 months. Once your child has mastered walking and running, then s/he may be interested in acquiring other "grown up" skill and will start developing other gross and fine motor skills required for potty training. The main motor skill required is having enough finger and hand coordination skills to dress and undress and more specifically, to pull his/her underpants down and up.

Motor Skills readiness signals for potty training are: