When is the best age to potty train?

Every new parent, and even experienced parents, has to face the questions of how to and when is the best age to potty train. Standard advice from experienced moms, pediatricians, and authors will tell you to wait until your child is ready. But this may leave you confused as to what “ready” looks like, and it may leave you with a child increasingly nearing kindergarten not yet toilet trained.

How this stage is tackled is largely decided by culture. Here is a breakdown of the various potty training methods.  But the decision is the parent’s as to which is the best potty training method. And you don’t have to choose just one; all of these can be combined to fit your lifestyle and temperament and your child’s age and temperament.

Elimination Communication

Elimination communication is used primarily with infants from the age of 0 months to about 18 months of age. In tribal cultures, this is the only way parents know how to do potty training and having a 12-month-old not potty trained would be highly unusual. In a 2004 issue of Contemporary Pediatrics, it was reported that 50% of the world’s children are potty trained by 12 months of age. In those cultures that infant potty train, how to do potty training is probably not a concern; it’s just a normal part of caring for an infant.

The core of elimination communication is that the parent learns to understand their infant’s communication beyond just signs for hunger and attention, but also for elimination. These parents learn, often by attending to their child while diaper free, that certain grunts and body shifts mean their child is about to pee or poop. Then they hold their child over a pot, potty, or even the skink while their infant eliminates. As their child pees, parents make a “sssss” sound and if their child poops, parents make a grunting sound. Once the infant understands the cues, parents can take their infant to a potty and cue them to poop and pee as needed, as well as responding to the cues their infant gives them. When practicing elimination communication full time, infants can be potty trained in about four to five months according to infant toilet training studies.

Potty to GoParent-Led

With parent-led toilet training, the parent makes the decision as to when to potty train and what method to use and then teaches the child all the skills necessary. As with elimination communication, the parent watches for when a toddler needs to eliminate and then takes their child to and puts them on the toilet. With this, the parent teaches the child that when she feels the need to pee or poop, she should go to the potty. However, until the child understands this, the parent takes it upon them self to take their child to the toilet when needed.

Eventually the child will learn to come to their parent or caregiver when they need to go. As the child practices and ages, she will then go to the bathroom independently. With parent-led potty training, it’s not left to the child to manage their own potty training, as the parent takes full responsibility for this. With a parent-led approach, potty training can begin as early as 0 months of age or as late as the normal potty training age in the U.S. of 36 months of age.

Child-Led Toilet Training

Child-led is the most common method parents today in the U.S. use. With this, parents must wait to start toilet training until their child is ready because the child is expected to use the toilet fully independent of adult help very quickly. The readiness signs can vary, but often include that the child can dress themselves, is walking well, shows an interest in potty training, goes several hours without soiling their diaper, likes to put things away, is cooperative, and dislikes his dirty diaper. Some checklists also require that the child knows and chooses to tell the parent when they are about to soil their diaper before a child is considered ready to potty train.   

Once the child shows an interest and meets other criteria on the checklist, much of the responsibility gets left to the child. They are responsible for coming to the parent when they feel the need to go, or even taking themselves to the bathroom and completing the task independently. There tends to be a much shorter period of time where the parent acts as a teacher, as the child is older and has more expectations placed on him. Due to the readiness checklist and responsibilities that this method requires, child-led potty training cannot be started until long after age two, although many do not start until closer to age three.  Using this method, it’s now not uncommon for parents to still be questioning what age to potty train as their child nears their fourth birthday because he doesn’t seem interested in potty training.  

Fast Track

The fastest way to complete the toilet training process is to never use diapers during the day while your child is awake. During fast track potty training, the child is naked as much of every day as possible. With this, both the parent and child learn signs of elimination.

With parent-led potty trainers, the parent takes their child to the potty before an accident occurs. Of course, this happens only after a few (or a few dozen depending on how attentive or distracted the parent is during this time) accidents occur. Using child-led potty training, the child is encouraged to go to the potty when they feel the need on their own. The accident teaches the child about those feelings, and what happens if she doesn’t make it to the potty.

When it’s prudent to be dressed, fast track potty trainers wear cloth training pants and never disposable training pants (except at night or naptime). Fast track potty training methods can be used at any age, from newborns to preschoolers.

Slow and Steady Method

Potty training slowly or part-time means using disposable training pants or diapers for infants to avoid the accidents that are inevitable otherwise. However, this does slow down the process whether you are using parent-led or child-led potty training. Either way, the disposable training pants or diapers don’t allow the parent or the child to learn signs of coming elimination and respond to those signs quickly. With the slow and steady potty training methods, it will probably take longer to potty train. But for some parents, the fewer accidents involved is worth it. Like fast track potty training, you can use this method with newborns or toddlers.

Daily Routine Toilet Training

With a daily routine, going to the potty becomes just that; part of the daily routine. Parents learn when their child tends to use their diaper, and replace regular diaper changes with regular potty sitting. Typical times to take an infant or toddler to the potty include upon waking in the morning and after naps, before and after meals, before leaving the house, and when coming home. This makes potty time a habit that can be engrained in infancy or toddlerhood.

 As you can see from the many methods, what age to potty train and how to do potty training is largely decided by the parent and heavily influenced by the parent’s culture. In tribal cultures that do not use diapers, elimination communication and potty-trained 6-month-olds are the norm. In the U.S., the right age for toilet training is largely determined by a checklist of readiness signs in preparation for child-led potty training, which makes it normal to not start until two and a half to three years of age.


More Toddler Articles of Interest:

The Best Stay in Bed Clock for Toddlers