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When to Start Potty Training

Ready to ditch the diapers? Here's when to start potty training.



Potty training is a classic milestone, just like those early wobbly steps and the first real word. But when to start potty training can be a bit of a mystery to new parents. The desire to be rid of diapers or the impending arrival of a sibling can tempt moms and dads to speed the process, but starting too soon isn't always ideal.

Girls are often more interested in potty training than boys are, and start to show interest around age 2. However, that does not mean they're really ready to go diaper-free. Boys, on the other hand, don't show much interest in potty training until after age three. You do have to remember that every child is different and just because you're ready to be out of diapers -- they aren't on the same page.

"At the age of 2, many kids are simply too immature to start potty training, and they may hold their bowel movements, which can lead to constipation," explains Dr. Steve Hodges, an associate professor of urology at Wake Forest Baptist Health, who blogs about bed wetting and accidents. Early training can also take longer and may be more difficult, he suggests, so consider starting to potty train closer to the age of 3.

Here's more information so you'll know when to start potty training:

  • Note the Signs
    In addition to your child's age, be aware of certain indications that she's ready to start potty training. "These can include being aware of the sensation of needing to go and having an interest or willingness to sit on the potty," says Dr. Mark Wolraich, a professor of pediatrics at Oklahoma University Health Sciences Center. Also note your child's interest in wearing underwear, her ability to undress (pull pants up and down) and whether she can understand and follow simple directions.
  • Don't Compare Boys and Girls
    According to the University of Michigan Health System, boys may train 2 or 3 months later than girls, possibly because in some cases they are slower to mature, can be more physically active and perhaps less willing to sit patiently on the potty. For both sexes, peeing in the potty tends to occur rather easily, even as early as age 2, while pooping may take several more months to master and often requires a lot of parental encouragement, says Dr. Hodges.
  • Be Ready to Start
    Once you've recognized the signs that your child is ready to start potty training, don't hesitate to begin. Potty training will take a good bit of time, attention and commitment. "A parent should view their role as an enabler in the process, so have a potty available for the child to use, and even let her see you or an older sibling going to the bathroom -- she'll learn from this and perhaps be inspired," says Dr. Wolraich.
  • Don't Push Too Hard
    If you find that your child is frustrated or resistant when you start potty training, pull back a bit and start again in a few weeks, says Dr. Hodges. Insisting that she sit on the potty when she's not ready will only serve to make potty training punitive, rather than a typical developmental process. Pressuring your child to hurry can also backfire, as when training is connected to a deadline like the beginning of school, camp or another event.
  • Give Rewards
    Lots of praise and encouragement are important, though sometimes an actual prize can help highlight your child's success. You can give many hugs, high-fives and even applaud her efforts at potty training. Stickers on a chart are also a good visual for kids and a fun reward. "Because of concerns regarding overeating, try not to reward with food or candy every time there's success on the potty," advises Dr. Wolraich.

RELATED: ["How to Potty Train a Reluctant Child"]

No matter how potty training goes, try not to stress out too much. You may be influenced by a deadline or popular trends like potty boot camps, which advocate accelerated toilet training over the course of one weekend, but following this advice isn't always a good idea. "I potty trained three girls and have found that it's best not to look at it as a one-time deal, but rather as part of a long process of learning healthy toileting habits," reminds Dr. Hodges.

Want more tips? Read How to Potty Train Your Child at Night.

Jennifer Kelly Geddes is a New York-based writer and editor who specializes in parenting, health and child development. She's also the mom of two teen girls.

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