Family Magazine

Potty Training 101: When to Start Potty Training

By Hemapriya Natesan @MyLittleMoppet

Babies are amazing creatures. Sure, they're adorable and their smiles can melt the hardest hearts, but looking at the rate at which they grow during their first year, you have to admit they're pretty incredible! Most babies follow a top-down pattern of development - head and neck muscles (3 months), hands and arms (6 months), torso and back (9 months), legs (12 months) and finally, the bowels. Notice that we haven't put a timeline for the last one, because gaining control of the bowels does not have a specific age. And this is exactly why training a child to use the toilet is considered one of the biggest challenges of a new parent; they don't have any clue about when to start potty training, let alone how to go about it!

Potty Training Across the World

The question about the right age to start potty training is dependent on several factors. Potty training is practiced very differently across the world, and is culturally specific. In certain African tribes, babies are potty trained from six months onward. Baby wearing is the norm there, and when the mother senses that the baby has to go, she takes her out and lets her go right there on the ground! In China, one year old toddlers wear pants open at the crotch, so that they can be placed over a potty as soon as they need to go. In the United States, potty training is much later, usually between 2 and 4 years. Across the world, it has also been seen that the average age of potty training has been increasing through the years.

Potty Training 101: When to Start Potty Training

All this seems consistent with the increase in popularity of disposable diapers and other modern equipment like washing machines and dryers. In India too, rural children are potty trained earlier than urban kids who have better access to diapers. Traditionally, parents watch for signs of elimination in their baby, and quickly place them on the potty. Cloth diapers make a child uncomfortable when they're soiled, and increase the child's own motivation to go to the potty to avoid getting his clothes dirty.

Deciding when to Start Potty Training

Okay, now you know how people did it earlier and how they're doing it now across the globe. But how do you know whether you're ready to start potty training? This is something that actually depends upon your child and circumstances. Most of us don't spend all day outdoors like the African Digo tribes, so their methods won't work for us. Disposable diapers till the age of 3 or 4 may sound convenient but can be expensive as well as not being a very eco-friendly option. So basically, there are two ways you can start potty training.

Method 1: Elimination Communication

Potty Training 101: When to Start Potty Training

This is the method where the parent watches out closely for signs the child is about to urinate or have a bowel movement and then quickly place them on the potty. This may be accompanied by certain sounds the parent makes, which the child soon associates with potty time. This works even for young infants, but requires complete involvement of the parent. It can be difficult and stressful if the parent is already overwhelmed with other responsibilities. On the other hand, you'll have fewer messes and your baby will be diaper-free at a much earlier age.

Method 2: Child-Led Training

Potty Training 101: When to Start Potty Training

In this method, you wait till the child is old enough to show certain signs of potty training readiness, usually by 18 months onward. Here, the child is more involved in the process, but it can take longer for the child to be completely dry. Also, you'll have to keep buying diapers till you have successfully completed potty training.

Your choice of method will depend upon your individual circumstances as well as your child's temperament, as no two children are alike; not even siblings have the same potty training age!

Signs for Potty Training Readiness

If you are going to wait till your child is past one year to start potty training, you should ensure that your child is cognitively and physically ready for the process. The signs listed below are good indicators that your child is ready to start potty training.

Physical Indicators

Potty Training 101: When to Start Potty Training
  • He has bowel movements at about the same time everyday
  • He does not have bowel movements at night
  • He can stay dry for a few hours at a time, maybe even short naps
  • He can sit and stand from a chair independently
  • He can pull his pants up and down

Cognitive Indicators

  • She seems interested in using the adult toilet or in wearing big boy underwear
  • She can follow basic instructions
  • She seems uncomfortable wearing soiled or wet diapers or clothes
  • She appears to want some privacy when doing her business

Starting before your child shows these signs can backfire and the process can take much longer than needed. Potty training is not something that can be rushed, and forcing a child can cause lasting emotional trauma and future problems like bed-wetting. Even if your child shows these signs, there are a few times when it is recommended to wait to start potty training. If any major change is imminent in your household, like the arrival of a new baby, or shifting to a new home, it's best to wait till the child is well adjusted to the change. So take it easy, make it fun and you'll both enjoy the ride!

Watch out for our next post in this series about how you can kick start the potty training process.

Lots of Love,

Potty Training 101: When to Start Potty Training

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