Knowing the right age to begin potty training can be tricky, particularly if you're feeling pressure to get it done.
You may find yourself under more than gentle pressure to begin toilet training your child as early as possible, especially from grandparents.
Forty years ago, when nappies were washed by hand, early toilet training was understandably popular, but in the majority of cases it was more to do with good timing than training. Some parents became quite adept at 'catching' the goods in a potty, but that's not quite the same as training your child to do it voluntarily!
You may also feel pressure to get on with potty training quickly if you're expecting another baby. The thought of having two children in nappies can be quite depressing, as well as being an additional financial pressure.
But look at it this way: do you really want to be dealing with potties and puddles at the same time as coping with your newborn? It's also worth bearing in mind that having a new baby in the house can be disruptive to any family – especially your other children – so it's not a good time to consider potty training.
"Early training is no more a sign of intelligence than an early tooth," says childcare expert Dr Christopher Green. "Intelligence comes from the brain, an organ quite distant from the bladder!" So try not to equal potty training with your child's brain power.
Try not to equal potty training with your child's brain power.
How young can they start toilet training?
Before your child can be expected to use the potty, the nerve pathways from her bladder to her brain have to be in place. Imagine the pathway as a road from A to B; if the road has not been build yet, you'll never reach your destination – no matter how hard you try.
Gaining continence varies from child to child; the average age for dryness by day is around two to two-and-a-half. But children vary considerably in their readiness to use the potty, and there is no ideal age to start. Have a potty in the house as early as you like, but don't push her into doing something she's not ready for – this can do more harm than good.
Signs that your child is ready for toilet training
- She is 18 months old or more.
- She has an awareness that she has wet her nappy or had a bowel movement and is feeling uncomfortable. She may clutch her nappy, wriggle uncomfortably or even tell you that she has done a wee if her vocabulary stretches this far.
- She can tell that she is about to have a bowel movement before it starts. She may stand very still and go pink in the face,p or she may indicate to you with sounds that something is about to happen.
- She is able to hold on to her urine for a short while. This usually happens after the control of her bowel movements, later in her second year.
- She understands what you tell her when you show her a potty and explain what it's for.
- She is happy to sit on the potty or toilet regularly, even if she is not filling it initially.
- She shows an interest in copying you and wants to try using the toilet herself or wearing proper pants.
- She can manage her clothes and get on and off the potty herself. (She is less likely to resent the learning process if she feels in control.)
Children vary considerably in their readiness to use the potty
Are girls quicker than boys?
It's often said that girls pick up toilet training more quickly than boys, but there's little evidence to support this. In fact, boys seem to enjoy playing firemen, which makes the whole experience of potty training more fun for them and possibly encourages them to pick up more quickly!
But Dr Christopher Green believes that girls do tend to make friends with the potty slightly earlier, possibly because of their different anatomy.
Whatever the truth, what does seem true is that there is a strong link between how your child performs and how quickly you and your partner were trained as kids – so ask your parents for clues!"