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Toilet Training: How and When to Begin

Based on content from JOHNSON'S® Your Baby and Toddler, from Birth to 3 Years.

There is no single "right age" to begin toilet training because each toddler is different. It's useful to note that toilet training is possible only when your toddler is able to control the muscles of her bottom and bladder. These muscles mature between 18 and 36 months, so it is generally recommended to start toilet training after she is at least two years old.

Pick the Right Time

It is worth having a potty visible and available in the bathroom for some months prior to the start of formal training to allow your child the chance to get used to sitting on it and even using it occasionally. In addition to your toddler developing the necessary muscle control, other signs that may indicate your toddler is ready to begin include:

  • Her ability to sit down on a potty and get up easily.
  • Her ability to tell you when she has the urge to go.

Past generations of parents, to escape the tyranny of endlessly washing cloth diapers, began toilet training their children at a much earlier age. There was a certain amount of success, but this depended on parents making a potty available at the right time rather than babies being able to control their bladders and bowels. Much of the time was spent with babies sitting on potties, waiting for things to happen! In fact, rushing to toilet train your child could just make the process longer and more drawn out. Studies show that many children who begin toilet training before 18 months aren't completely trained until after the age of four, whereas those who started at around age two were completely trained before their third birthday.

To begin toilet training, you may choose a potty or a toilet seat insert. Some toddlers like the idea of their own potty, while others prefer to use the "grown-up" toilet with an insert seat. If you see signs of waning interest with the potty, for example, try switching to a toilet seat insert (or vice versa).

Once you think your toddler is ready, explain that without diapers she will need to use the potty. Because many disposable diapers are designed to prevent any feeling of wetness, it may help to choose training-type diapers with special "wetness liners" that let your toddler feel a little bit of wetness. Be sure to watch for signs of diaper rash, and take precautions to protect against "accidental" wetness. Gentle, hypoallergenic DESITIN® Rapid Relief Cream can help prevent and treat diaper rash by sealing out wetness and irritants.

You may also wish to make the transition to underwear to teach toilet training. Of course, you may have to tolerate several "accidents" or near misses when you make the switch from diapers.

Here are some signs that your toddler may be ready to try underwear:

  • She's beginning to try to remove her pants and diaper without your help.
  • She's aware of her need to pee or have a bowel movement (even if wearing a diaper) and she tells you.
  • She's watched you or other family members use the toilet.
  • She sits on and tries to use the potty, e.g., before her bath in the evening.

Getting into a Routine

Once you have some evidence that your toddler knows what will be required of her once she goes without diapers, you can consider taking the next step to underwear. You can make this a special occasion by explaining that she's now going to wear "big kid" underwear and asking her to help pick out a few pairs. Avoid a time when your toddler has to cope with other changes in her life, such as a move to a new place, the arrival of a new baby or other major adjustments. Try to pick a time of relative calm, when her routine is consistent.

You will need to give your toddler regular reminders that she might like to use the potty. After asking her, don't sit her on the potty unless she says yes; otherwise she won't make the connection for herself. Sometimes she may say no, and two minutes later realize she does need to go. But this is better than relying on you to tell her. Some accidents are inevitable, but if your toddler is ready to manage without a diaper these should number very few. Work on the principle of praising her efforts and successes, and, if accidents do occur, gently remind her that this is what the potty is for, change her, and make no fuss. Reacting negatively may make her resentful and less inclined to try again.

Another advantage of waiting until your toddler is older (and ready) to begin toilet training is that it's a natural time to teach good hygiene. As she becomes more independent, she'll want to bathe and wash herself, so now's a perfect time to introduce the concept of washing her hands each time she uses the potty.

Choose gentle cleansing products that are made for your toddler. JOHNSON'S® BUDDIES™ Easy-Grip Sudzing Bar with a patented soft pouch that won't slip from your toddler's hands and is fun and easy for your toddler to use.

Practical Concerns

Make sure you have a potty that is comfortable to sit on, and for boys, it's helpful to have one that has a higher splashguard at the front. You will also have to instruct your son to point his penis down into the potty while sitting on it. It's easy for a boy to sit down quickly without checking, only to discover that he is splashing all over the floor!

It's a challenge to toilet train when on the road, but it's possible. Ask your toddler to visit the potty just before leaving home, and be sure to scope out restroom locations as soon as you get to wherever you're going. Try to maintain good hygiene habits even while on the road, by packing a gentle cleanser. For extra long trips, with no foreseeable restroom, you may want to consider using a diaper to avoid accidents.

Finally, it is worth remembering that every toddler develops at a different rate, and that patience is key. If you try not to rush this stage and take toilet training at her pace, you will also end up teaching your toddler that learning new skills is fun and empowering. And that's a great life lesson.