Health & Beauty
May 12, 2006
When should I potty-train my child?

Dear Doc,

My son is almost two years old. When would be the right time to potty-train him, and how do I do it?


Dear Celia,

The right time would depend on both you and your toddler. Toilet training requires discipline and consistency on the part of the parents, so don’t start until you can devote the time and energy necessary to encourage your child on a daily basis for at least three months.

Your child is ready when he or she can signal that the diaper is wet or soiled, or when your child is able to say that he or she would like to go to the potty. This usually occurs when a child is 18 to 24 months of age. However, it is not uncommon for a child to still be in diapers at two and a half to three years of age.

To prepare your youngster, allow him to be present when you go to the bathroom and help him to feel comfortable there. Allow him to see urine and bowel movements in the toilet. Let your child play with flushing the toilet.

Buy a potty chair for him, and place it in his normal playing area so that he will become comfortable with it. Tell him that the potty chair is his own chair. Allow him to play with the chair and sit on it fully clothed, as if it were a regular chair. Allow him to leave the potty chair at any time. Do not force him to spend time sitting on the chair.

After he has become used to the potty chair and sits on it regularly with his clothes on, try to get him comfortable sitting on the potty without wearing pants and a diaper. The next step is to show your toddler how the potty chair is used. Place stool from a dirty diaper into the potty chair. Allow your child to observe the transfer of the bowel movement from the potty chair into the toilet. Let your child flush the toilet and watch the bowel movement disappear down the toilet.

After he has become comfortable with flushing the toilet and sitting on the potty chair, you may begin teaching him to go to the bathroom. Keep your child in loose, easily removable pants. Place your child on the potty chair whenever he signals the need to go to the bathroom. His facial expression will change when he feels the need to urinate or to have a bowel movement. He may stop any activity he is engaged in when he feels the need to go to the bathroom.

Most children have a bowel movement once a day, usually within an hour after eating. Most children urinate within an hour after having a large drink. In addition to watching for signals that your child needs to urinate or have a bowel movement, place your child on the potty at regular intervals. This may be as often as every one and a half to two hours.

Stay with your child when he is on the potty chair. Reading or talking to your child when he or she is sitting on the potty may help him relax. Praise him when he goes to the bathroom in the potty chair, but do not express disappointment if he does not urinate or have a bowel movement in the potty. Be patient with your child. Once your child has learned to use the potty chair, he can begin using an over-the-toilet seat and a step-up stool.

It may take up to three months to potty train your child. It is important for you to be patient and supportive. Do not punish your child when he has an accident. If your child is not toilet trained within three months, consult your family doctor. The most likely reason your child has not learned to use the potty is that your child is not yet ready for toilet training.