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​​This information is included in our Guide to Potty Training. Click here to see the rest of the guide.

"You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." That's probably the best metaphor to describe potty training. Children follow their own timetable when it comes to their readiness to learn a new skill or eliminate a current habit. Many parents worry that they are doing something wrong, or that their child has major problems, if he or she is not fully toilet-trained by a certain age. The advice can be contradictory and the anxiety great. These tips will help:

  • Developmental ability. Most moms and dads wonder when they should start toilet training. The answer depends on your child's developmental ability, which often differs from chronological age. Children of the same age do not always have the same skill level. Take, for instance, a couple of 3 year olds. One may be able to hop on one foot while the other falls during each attempt. A child develops according to his or her own timetable. Some move quickly, while others take it slowly. Before you begin toilet training, ask yourself a few simple questions:
    • Can my child recognize when she needs to use the toilet, and can she explain to me why she needs to use it?
    • Is my child able to zip, button, snap, and put on and take off his clothes?
    • Does my child have a positive outlook about starting toilet training and the ability to control bowel movement?
    • Can my child use the words "potty" or "toilet" in a simple sentence so I know when nature is calling? 

If you answered "No" to any of these questions, STOP! You need to slow down and give your child more time to develop in these areas. This may not be the answer you wanted, but moving ahead may cause more problems in the future.

  • Reasonable expectations. Setting reasonable expectations goes hand in hand with developmental readiness. Ask yourself these key questions:
    • Have I taught and practiced with my child ahead of time what it is I want him to do?
    • Have I consistently seen him do what I've asked with little or no help from me?
    • Have I modeled the behavior I want my child to follow?
    • Is she developmentally ready to do what I'm asking?

If you answer "Yes," then you may take the next step in toilet training.

Did you know?Recent studies show the size of a child's vocabulary depends on how much the mother talks to the child.

For more information on this topic, check out Help! There’s a Toddler in the House!

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