What's the Right Age to Start Potty Training?

Is there a magic age at which to begin?

Potty training - the natural rite of passage for every family, often fraught with equal parts anticipation and apprehension. Learning to use the potty independently gives Junior a sense of freedom in his expanding world and gives Mom one less thing to do on her never-ending list for the day. And while we know that everyone does it eventually, and many people have a story to tell about it, most first time parents want to know if there is a magic age at which to begin.

So let’s look at what the experts say and what your child may be saying to you - both verbally and non-verbally - and let you decide.

What’s the Right Age to Start Potty Training?

What Do the Experts Say?

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that children may be ready as early as 18 months, but they do not recommend potty training before the age of 2 because they believe the necessary physical and emotional skills are not typically in place before that time.
  • Potty training expert Carol Bovill says that children are usually between the ages of 18 months and 3½ years when they are ready to potty train.
  • Family psychologist and best selling author, John Rosemond, suggests the most opportune window is 18 - 24 months of age.
  • On Becoming Pottywise for Toddlers authors, Gary Ezzo and Dr. Robert Bucknam, say that all children are different and will be developmentally ready at different times. They advise to start training your child when “she has both the capacity to learn and the ability to achieve.”

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As you can see there is a wide range of “expert” advice regarding the right age to potty train.The bottom line is there is no hard and fast evidence for a “right” age for potty training. But the key is that both you and your child need to be ready.

So how do you know if your child is ready to potty train?

What Does Your Child Say? 

In an AAP publication they cite the following signs of readiness:

  • Stays dry for 2 hours and is dry after naps.
  • Has regular and predictable bowel movements.
  • Shows signals, such as facial expressions, movements or words, that she is about to urinate or have a bowel movement.
  • Can follow simple instructions.
  • Can walk to and from the bathroom and help undress.
  • Is uncomfortable with wet or dirty diapers and wants to be changed.
  • Is interested in using the toilet or potty chair.
  • Is interested in using underwear.

Ezzo and Bucknam agree with the above and have the following additional indicators:

  • Stops an activity while urinating or messing in her diaper.
  • Stands a certain way and holds on to her diaper as she goes.
  • Wants to imitate parents or older siblings using the toilet.
  • Can sit and play for about 5 minutes.
  • Can put toys and other possessions where they belong on her own.
  • Has a name for urine and bowel movements

You may have heard warnings that starting too early or waiting too late can cause any number of long-term issues. Don’t be overly worried about getting it just right. Watch for the cues, be prepared yourself and keep it in perspective. As Dr. Burton L. White says, “It is simply one of a large number of necessary chores that are required of all parents.”

Annie Wiesman

Annie Wiesman

Annie Wiesman is the co-author of “Education Begins at Birth: A Parent’s Guide to Preparing Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers for Kindergarten.” She is a former kindergarten teacher turned stay-at-home mom who enjoys traveling, hiking in the mountains, and creating memories together with her husband and little girl.

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