1) When Should I Start?
Short Answer: Early (i.e. 20-to-30 months, if not earlier)!
While many "experts” claim it is best to wait "until your child is ready" to potty train—by this they usually mean somewhere around three years old—waiting this long to potty train is a historical anomaly that presents significant behavioral challenges. Specifically, prior to the 1960's, potty training as early as 18 months was the norm in the United States. Large portions of the globe never caught onto this fad, and it is quite common in Asia and elsewhere for children to be almost completely trained by 18 months. True experts here have begun to come back around to what the rest of the world has known all along and have recognized that a good reference training window is sometime between 20-and-30 months, although some children are ready to begin at 18 months.
Starting early is crucial to successful potty training because you want to train your child BEFORE he or she progresses too far down the process of individuation (i.e. recognizing his or her own sense of being), which typically begins occurring around 12 months but really takes off after 30 months. Before 30 months, children tend to be attached to their parents and to want to please them, making them particularly open to toilet training. Conversely, once the process of individuation really takes off, your child will begin saying "NO" and being defiant just for the sake of being difficult. Training a child who wants to say "no" simply for the sake of it will make training exponentially more difficult. In addition, as children get older and more self-aware, they will require more privacy (this is natural) and it can be difficult to “teach” potty training to a child who is demanding privacy (to go into his or her diaper).
Other added benefits of starting early include the cost and environmental benefits of ditching diapers early, timing savings for caregivers realized through the elimination of the need to change diapers and perform other related activities (one famous book estimated these take an average of 9 hours a week of a typical caregiver’s time) and the benefit of being able to get your child into a potty-trained only day care. Lastly, successful potty training is a huge confidence booster for your child. This will likely be the first task in life she will take ownership of—successfully completing it and stepping up into the world of “big boys and girls” provides a sense of belonging and accomplishment.
2) How Do I Know My Child Is Ready?
Short Answer: He or she “knows” somethings going on.
What we mean here is that that your child is running to the corner or somewhere else to go (this indicates they know what is going on). Other signs include your child being able to stay dry for up to two hours (some resources say even one hour is sufficient), being able to communicate desires (e.g. "I'm hungry") or being able to understand and follow basic directions. Rarely is a child over 24 months “not ready”—in fact, they are usually ready much earlier. Although we don't agree with everything in their approach, the Mayo Clinic has provided a useful list of readiness signs, which can be found here.
If you want to start “priming” your child for potty training, you can bring him in the restroom with you and explain what you are doing (e.g. “Mommy is going pee pee”). An added benefit is that this will familiarize your child with the toilet, removing much of the "scare" factor. You can also teach him to say “poo poo” and “pee pee” when he is, you know, going poo or pee. Once he or she is using these words, you're definitely good to go.
3) What Equipment Do I Need?
Short Answer: A potty chair, a travel potty seat and a potty training seat.
As mentioned above, they key to successful potty training is consistency. This in turn requires that you have the right equipment for all situations so that you NEVER need to put those diapers back on. Specifically, you will need: (1) a potty chair to introduce your child to the toilet in an unimposing way; (2) a travel potty seat to allow for consistent training in public places and to build on your initial successes at home; and (3) a potty training seat for when your child is comfortable and big enough to use the "big potty.” All of these devices can be purchased for less than $50 in total if you are on a budget—DO NOT be cheap and backtrack on this crucial skill you are teaching your child by failing to get the correct equipment.
A potty chair is essential, because younger children have a harder time getting up and onto an “big” potty, even with a stool and potty training seat (i.e. insert). Younger children may also intimidated by the adult toilet and the potty chair represents a more approachable intermediate step. In addition, the potty chair can be placed in your child's bedroom during night training and in the back of your vehicle for road trips (you want to be ready and able to drop everything when your child indicates he or she has to go, even if there is no public toilet around). Lastly, the potty chair is also an invaluable tool for proper prompting once you move from “command-style” prompting to “hint-style” prompting (e.g. “would you like to use your tiny potty or the big potty?”). You can read our review of our top potty chair picks HERE.
A travel potty seat comes into play once you have the basic building blocks of potty training complete at home (i.e. usually after one or two days). Specifically, you want a portable and compact travel potty seat that you can bring with you EVERYWHERE. This is so you can help you child use the toilet in public places and maintain your training consistency. We cannot express how crucial this device is to proper training. You can read our review of our top travel potty seat picks HERE.
A potty training seat (i.e. insert placed over the adult potty) is used at home, usually in conjunction with a stool, once your child has decided he or she would like to “move on” from the potty training chair. Sometimes children move quite quickly from the potty training chair to the potty training seat, other times they will use the potty training chair for an extended period of time. Regardless, your child will need a potty training seat for some time because children are simply too small to comfortably sit on an adult potty. As mentioned above, it's also a great tool for “hint-style” prompting when used in conjunction with a potty training chair (e.g. “would you like to use your tiny potty or the big potty?”). You can read our review of our top training seat picks HERE.
4) How Long Will It Take?
Short Answer: Three-to-seven days for the "basics."
It will take your child three-to-seven days to be ready for you to hand him or her off to a day care provider or other caregiver, and up to a month for "self sufficiency" on the big toilet.
The first day or two of potty training is all about getting your child from “I went to the bathroom/peed/pooped” to “I’m going to the bathroom/peeing/pooping” to “I have to go to the bathroom/pee/poop.” A survey of top books on this topic reveals that this process typically takes one to three days (usually one or two).
These first steps take place at home and will require you first putting your child on the potty when you observe them going (or signaling they need to go). You need to verbalize what they are doing (“you are going pee pee /poo poo in the potty, good job!”). Next, you will begin “prompting” child to go, also while at home (“let’s go potty”—importantly, the nature of the prompting will change over time, but at this stage it’s more of a command), getting your child to the toilet when you observe his or her “signals” or he notifies you he is “going.” As your child becomes more aware of his body’s signals, he or she will inform you that “I need to go.” You’ll likely have only seconds to get your child to the toilet. By this point, your prompting will have become less frequent and less of a command. Instead, it will me more of a suggestion (e.g. “would you like to use your tiny potty or the big potty?”). Your child will only be wearing very loose or even no pants at first, but as he starts “getting it” he or she will begin going back into his or her normal clothes (all loose fitting so they are easy to get down/off and so that your child doesn’t feel like he or she is in a diaper.)
After these first steps are done, you are ready to go out. You’ll need a travel potty for this (more on equipment later). The point at this stage is to demonstrate consistency as he or she continues training in public places. You’ll make trips to the store, DMV, wherever isn’t home, just to use the toilet outside. Once in these locations, you’ll show your child where the potty is, prompt and help him or her use it. Success here, will generally be reached by day three-to-seven. At this point, your child can typically be handed over to day care IF they are cooperative and the “basics” will be complete.
Full training, including night time training, wiping, going to the toilet by himself or herself will take a few more weeks, but you will be over the hump!
The above is only a brief summary of the first steps you will need to take. For detailed, step-by-step information on how to potty train your child fast check out this website by One Proud Toddler.
5) What is THE KEY to Success?
Short Answer: Consistency (i.e. never fallback on diapers).
Consistency is the KEY to successful potty training and by that we mean that once the diapers go off, “thou shall not be used again.” Specifically, diapers are all your child has known since the day he or she was born. They wrap your child’s body and provide a sense of comfort. Once they come off, your child loses that sense of comfort and the experience can be quite jarring. This is why top potty training books recommend spending the first one or two days of training at home with your child either literally naked from the waist down or wearing VERY loose pants (and definitely not with tight fitting underwear). This is done, among other reasons, so that your child becomes acutely aware that he or she is NOT wrapped in the comfort of a diaper. This also lets you observe when he or she is going to the bathroom so that you can explain what is happening ("you are peeing") and place him or her on the potty chair ("big girls/boys go in the potty; good job").
To maintain consistency, you should attempt to NEVER reintroduce diapers. If you do, they can become a crutch and you may find your child waiting to go until the diaper goes back on. Mistakes will happen, as this is new to your child and likely the first major learning task in his or her life. What matters is how you react—be clam, supportive and maintain C-O-N-S-I-S-T-E-N-C-Y.