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When to Start Potty Training

Children are able to control their bladder and bowels when they’re physically ready, and when they want to be dry and clean. Every child is different, so it’s best not to compare your child with others.

 Bear in mind the following:

  • Most children can control their bowel before their bladder.
  • By the age of two, some children will be dry during the day, but this is still quite early.
  • By the age of three, 9 out of 10 children are dry most days. Even then, all children have the odd accident, especially when they’re excited, upset or absorbed in something else.
  • By the age of four most children are reliably dry.

It usually takes a little longer to learn to stay dry throughout the night. Although most children learn this between the ages of three and five, it is estimated that a quarter of three-year-olds and one in six five-year-olds wet the bed.

If your toddler seems to be a late starter when it comes to potty training, you may be reassured to know that the age a child is potty trained is not linked to intellect. Nor does it correlate with other stages of development. For example if a child was an early talker, it doesn't necessarily mean they'll be potty trained earlier. Also bear in mind that girls are often ready for the potty sooner than boys.

If other children seem to be out of nappies but your child isn't yet, don't worry, and don't feel pressurised into starting too soon - 15 per cent of children are not potty trained at three and four per cent are still not trained at the age of four.

You can’t force your child to use a potty. If they're not ready, you won’t be able to make them use it. In time they will want to use it; your child won’t want to go to school in nappies any more than you would want them to.  In the meantime, the best thing you can do is to encourage the behaviour you want.

Most parents start thinking about potty training when their child is around 18 to 24 months old, but there’s no perfect time.  Proper toilet training is virtually impossible for a child under 18 months because the sphincters (muscle outlets) of the bladder and bowel aren't yet under their control.

Try to plan ahead and choose a time when you can devote your time to potty training, with few distractions or changes happening in your child’s or your family’s routine. It's also a good idea to pick a time when your child's going through a co-operative stage if possible.  It’s probably easier to start in the summer, when washed nappies dry more quickly and there are fewer clothes to take off.

Signs of Readiness

You can try to work out when your child is ready by looking for the signs that your child is starting to develop bladder control:

  • They know when they’ve got a wet or dirty nappy.
  • They’re aware they’re doing a wee or a poo, and may tell you they’re doing it - At around 18 months toddlers often know they're opening their bowels and stop playing for a moment, maybe standing still with a look of concentration. They might also tell you they've done a wee or poo and tug at their nappy or lie down in the 'change me now' position.  Another sign is if your child wees while her nappy is off and gazes with interest at the puddle and maybe clutches herself.  All these signals mean your toddler is starting to link effect with cause.
  • Your child's poos are regular and predictable
  • Your child can follow simple spoken instructions
  • Your child can pull their pants up and down
    • They are showing an interest in the potty or toilet - Your child has probably been accompanying mum and dad to the toilet for some time and may start indicating that he'd like a go at using the potty or toilet himself - sometimes when he feels he's about to do a poo.  Always encourage this role play, even if it doesn't produce anything.
    • Your child is uncomfortable with wet nappies and wants them changed
  • The gap between wetting is at least an hour. (If it’s less, potty training may fail and at the very least will be extremely hard work for you.)
  • They know when they need to pee, and may say so in advance.

Potty training is usually fastest if your child is at the last stage before you start the training. If you start earlier, be prepared for a lot of accidents as your child learns.

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