How to know if your child is ready to potty train

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Before I begin, let me just confess that I do not have a Ph.D. in Potty Training.  I haven’t read all the literature on potty training nor have I conducted studies with hundreds of little potty training participants.  I have, however, potty trained two of my own children and helped potty train several of my younger siblings.

I’ve talked with enough parents to know that potty training can be a stressful time in a parents’ life, but that with a little guidance and a few tips the job will result in many fewer gray hairs than it may have otherwise done.

Children begin the potty training process anywhere from 12 months of age to 3 and a half years.  In order for your child to be successful at potty training they must recognize the cues their bodies give them.  You, as a parent, also need to be ready to potty train.  I often hear many parents comment that they simply weren’t/aren’t ready to embark on the process.  These things are all okay.  What age your child potty trains (within reason :)) has no bearing on whether you’re a good parent or not.

Here are some of the signs of “potty readiness”:

  • Wants to always watch you, your spouse, or their siblings go to the bathroom.
  • Tells, or indicates, to you when they are wet or poopy and need to be changed.
  • Goes into a different room for a little privacy before they do #1 or #2 in their diaper
  • Wants to be changed immediately when wet or messy

*I have often heard that you should wait to potty train your child until they are old enough to pull their pants up and down.  Unless, you are simply too busy to take your child to the bathroom, your child’s ability to get their pants up and down on their own shouldn’t be seen as a necessary skill for potty readiness.

If your child is showing any combination of these signs the next step I suggest is that you get a potty chair (not just a potty seat) and place it in the bathroom next to the toilet.  Your child’s reaction to the potty chair is often the strongest indicator of whether they are ready to potty train.

Other potty readiness indicators:

  • Wants to sit on the potty chair anytime you or another family member goes to the bathroom.
  • Seems content to sit on the chair for a minute or two (i.e. doesn’t just lift the lid, sit down, get up for the novelty of it).
  • Actually goes #1 or #2 in the potty

My boys are pretty much polar opposites when it comes to personality.  My oldest is very compliant and it is very easy to get him to do what we ask him to do.  My youngest is very stubborn and takes a lot of creative parenting.  They both, however, showed very similar signs for potty readiness.  At about 20 months of age, my oldest began to show signs of potty readiness.  I potty trained him at 26 months (as soon as I was over my morning sickness).  My younger son showed signs of potty readiness at 18 months.  He pretty much potty trained himself.  At 23 months he, with the exception of occasional accidents, is daytime potty trained.

What signs of potty readiness have your children shown?

Stay tuned on Wednesday for tips for low stress, successful potty training.


About Amy @ Oh So Savvy Mom

Amy is mom to three, wife to one, and a sister and aunt to many. Her family is a former military family now settled in Lehi, Utah. Oh So Savvy Mom began as a way for Amy to share parenting and product advice with others. Just as she has evolved, Oh So Savvy Mom has evolved into a resource for Healthy Living for Families, Food, Parenting, and Family Travel.


  1. I wish my little man was showing more of these signs :( he does goes to another room to do his business so I guess that is a start!
  2. I don't have any kiddo's right now but I will say this is a great post. My 2 sister in'laws have little ones and one has one on the way, I will bring them to your site to share their thoughts and read your tips :-)
  3. Hmmm, my kids are older now so I don't remember much of the potty training stage. I do remember how much easier it was when we let my daughter (oldest) pick out her own dino potty chair. She loved that and wanted to use it all the time. Training was a cinch after that.
    • That was a great move on your part. Kids are much more apt to do things (potty train, for example) when they feel like the whole thing was their idea, and they have a certain measure of control.
  4. Thanks for some of the tips. The ONLY times my daughter has gone #2 in the potty is if I notice by her body language that she's pooping, but I still like to read people's suggestions because we'll get to the point before I know it.
  5. My oldest showed all of these signs and it took her a year to train. Now that my son is showing the signs, I'm still waiting a while to start potty training. I just can't go through that nightmare yet. I'm looking forward to reading your tips on Wed, I need them.
    • It is true that even though some kids may show all of these signs their bodies may still not be ready to be fully potty trained. Most of the signs I included are all about interest. Some kids who are super interested in the potty may not physically be capable of controlling their bladder for longer than an hour, or they may not realize how to tell they have to go to the bathroom before they actually start going. I've found that my younger son who potty trained at 22 months has to go to the bathroom about every hour. My older son who potty trained at about 28 months could go about 2-2.5 hours. There are pros to potty training early, but there are also pros to waiting. You do what it best for you and your little one.
  6. Im about to start toilet training my 3rd.... Although I'm tempted to wait longer. My eldest was almost 3 when he was finally "ready". I put him in underwear one day when he was ready and that was it. Might have only had one or two accidents. It was instant success. I had tried earlier but he wasn't interested. My second was close in age and so he just followed his older brother - I'm pretty sure that was pretty smooth sailing as well because au don't really remember it :) Now there isn't 3 year age gap to the 3rd and I'm floundering a bit...will give it a go but if he's not ready will just wait. Great advice you give about not feeling pressure to toilet train at a particular age. It eliminates heaps of stress if the child is actually ready to do it!
    • My two are two years and 9 months apart, and it was really my older son who got my little one excited about going in the potty. Perhaps the big brothers can help out a bit. There are advantages to potty training early and advantages to potty training later so whatever you decide should work out well for you as long as you can just stay positive (that's often the hardest part). :)
  7. SO GLAD I AM DONE WITH ALL THIS, lol....tho as a pre-k teacher, i am never REALLY done, lol
    • I actually don't mind the whole potty training thing for the most part. Are some of your pre-k kids not potty trained??? or maybe it is just the constant accidents you're dealing with. I used to teach preschool, but thankfully the preschool manager dealt with that stuff.
  8. Oh dear, according to this, my son really isn't showing much signs... but I've had the potty chair out for months! (he's 22 mo). He does like to get toilet paper if he sees me going, and SOMETIMES if I can catch him right before he poos he is happy to do it in the toilet, but he never ever tells me he is wet/poopy. Sigh! :) I am prego now and didn't want to have 2 in diapers... but looks like I might! :)
    • LOL, Julie, don't worry I'm not the potty training oracle. There may be other potty readiness signs that I don't know about. There might be hope for him yet, and if not, well, sometimes ya just gotta wait. At least you've got his willingness to go in the potty on your side. :) That's a good sign.
  9. I don't the first thing about potty training, but this sounds like solid advice!
  10. Emily @FamilyNLifeLV says
    My son started talking about going, and although he wasn't showing many other signs we went for it. He trained at 26 months. I think a lot of parents wait til they are showing most of those signs, and then feel frustrated when they don't do well bc they waited so long. Great information!
    • I think that is a good point about waiting too long. Kids can become more stubborn (or less open to change) as they get older. Sometimes it is best to catch and ride the wave of enthusiasm when it comes.
  11. I take a middle of the road stance on potty training. (I taught 2 year old preschool for 4 years...I helped potty train a lot of kids!). I think there is a balance between when they are 'ready' and when YOU decide they will learn. None of this "do you WANT to use the potty?" cuz it really isn't an option, ya know? Some things just have to be done! And I DETEST pullups! Good old fashioned training pants and a rubber pant outside worked for mine. Too bad preschools and daycares wont acccept that! Makes potty training way easier!
    • I think your child needs to be at a point of readiness (psychologically), but there are plenty of things a parent can do to help their child get to that point. I don't think there is any reason for a developmentally typical child to go til their 4 years old before they potty train simply because their parent says "they just haven't expressed interest yet". That child knows that their parent has handed them all control. :) So, yeah, I think we're pretty similar in our middle of the road approach. Thankfully, with the popularity cloth diapers are gaining there are some really easy and cool training pants that I'd imagine a lot of preschools and daycares (who are becoming increasingly more accepting of cloth) would accept.
  12. I'm definitely tuning in tomorrow for more info! I'm a first-time mom to a 15-month old little man. He's showing many signs that he's ready, including using sign language whenever he wets or dirties his diaper, but he's not walking yet. He seems really interested, just not physically capable yet. I want to learn all I can so as soon as he's walking we can tackle it! Do you know anything about the Potty Scotty program? From the reviews I've read, it seems effective, but it's also a little expensive and maybe completely unnecessary? (Just like most of the baby gear "must-haves" stuffed in my closet! :) )
    • The Potty Scotty Program is a potty training in one day program. While I believe it can work for some, I'm of the opinion that your child needs to have both a very compliant disposition (meaning it is easy to get them to do what you want them to do) and they need to be at the peak of physical readiness for potty training in order to be successful at this program. (Just my opinion.) I looked into the program before potty training my eldest and thought the overall method was of a more behavioral approach (very rigid commands and rules that your give your child) than I wanted to take. Like I said above, though, there are many parents who are happy with the program, but I didn't think it was right for my son or for me.
      • Thank you so much for the great advice. He is definitely NOT the type of child that will respond well to rigid commands or rules! He already takes quite a bit of creative parenting to get him to do anything that I want. And honestly, when he does, I think it might just be luck! ;)
  13. Thanks for the savvy information. My little Maya will soon be ready to potty train and your information will really come in handy. :) Ellie
  14. I have a 28 month old step son and we get him every weekend and my husband and I are trying to potty train him. We go to the potty about every 15-30 mins and he's a big eater so we reward him with goldfish, popsicles, m&ms etc. He does great when he with us but he doesn't really speak that well to tell us when he's got to go, and his mother doesn't pursue it as we believe she should. She has time just has better things to do. I dont know wether we should just give up or keep working with him in hopes that one weekend we have him we will get him potty please!!
    • I don't know the whole situation, and I don't know your stepson's personality so it is hard to give you a definite answer. You say that he does well with the potty training when he is with you so you're on the right track. If he doesn't talk well, you could always teach him to sign potty--it is one of the easier signs for kids to do. Just have him make a fist and shake it back and forth. It sounds like a really tough situation you're dealing with when you send him back home during the week just to have him go back into diapers. I'm not sure what your relationship is with your husband's ex, but would there be any way you all--together--could come up with a potty training plan. Keep it simple. Come up with a plan of how you will reward him when he goes (you are already doing that at your house so you can suggest that your stepson's mom do the same). Talk about the need to be consistent between both houses. If she is open to talking about it let her give plenty of suggestions as well. Be excited when you talk with her about it, compliment her on how excited her little guy is to go potty and how he's learning so fast. I'm not sure if any of this is any help, I know that navigating these dual parenting relationships can be more than tricky. Feel free to ask any more questions or email me at