Most children are ready to be potty trained between 18 months old and their third birthday. What about your child?

Girls are often ready before boys and tend to learn more quickly. While starting too soon can set up a child for failure, beginning too late creates problems as well. Missing the 18- to 36-month window can make learning difficult because the habit of spontaneous elimination becomes instinctive. Late potty training can also turn into a control issue for the increasingly independent preschooler.

Two developmental factors are important for success. First, your child must be able to exercise some control over his bladder and bowels. You can tell that your child is developing this ability when he wakes up dry, stays dry for a few hours, goes into a corner to fill his nappy or announces, “I’m going wee!” Second, your child needs to have the ability to follow simple instructions and to pull his pants down.

Once you know your child is ready, it’s up to you to initiate training. Announce that your child is now a “big boy” or “big girl” and ready to do away with nappies. Then pick a two-week time frame when you can be home with your toddler and focus on toilet training.

For the first day or two, plan to be home without interruption, preferably with older siblings at school or occupied. You may want to use resources such as toilet-training picture books to reinforce the concepts.

One mistake that complicates and prolongs toilet training is stopping and starting. Once you have determined that your child is ready, don’t give up if the first few days are frustrating. Also, avoid having your child use disposable training pants with the possible exception of bedtime. Cotton training pants are more effective at letting both him and you know immediately when he has an accident.

The journey has challenges, perhaps a few soiled outfits or an “I have to go right now!” when you are stuck in traffic. During these times, be careful how you respond. An appropriate response is to have your child help clean up and review what to do next time, while maintaining a positive attitude.

A final pitfall to avoid is a power struggle, which exists when battle lines are drawn – when your child’s will is pitted against yours. Some children figure out how to push your buttons by refusing to toilet train. If you find yourself in this situation, be especially careful not to react emotionally. Stay consistent and calmly emphasise the consequences for stubbornness and cooperation.

Dr. Julianna Slattery

Dr. Juli Slattery is a clinical psychologist, author and the co-founder of Authentic Intimacy, a ministry dedicated to reclaiming God’s design for sexuality. In addition to speaking, she hosts the weekly podcast Java with Juli. In 2020, Juli launched Sexual Discipleship®, an online platform to equip Christian leaders for gospel-centred conversations about sexual issues. Juli served at Focus on the Family from 2008 to 2012 as a writer, teacher and co-host of the Focus on the Family Broadcast.

She’s the author of 12 books, including God, Sex, & Your Marriage; Rethinking Sexuality; and Sex & the Single Girl. She and her husband live in Akron, Ohio, and have three grown sons.

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