Six Signs Your Child is Ready to Potty Train

mom and toddler standing with a potty chair

For moms and dads in military families, teaching your children be even a shade more independent can be a game changer.

Though potty training may feel like a massive undertaking, the freedom from diapers is just glorious. Fewer diapers to change? Less stuff to tote around when we leave the house? Count me in!

However, any seasoned mom can tell you that starting to potty train before your toddler is really ready is a recipe for frustration – for all of you! Even the American Academy of Pediatrics has made clear that potty training is best left until your child clearly shows signs of readiness.

Letter board with text reading "let's talk potty training."

So, how will you know your child is ready to potty train? Check the following six signs that your kiddo is ready to ditch diapers!

1) They are at least 18-months old.

Age is the least important indicator of readiness. After all, age is just a number! That said, eighteen months is the earliest you are likely to see a child ready to start exploring the potty. Potty training is largely a physiological development, and very few children are physically ready to potty train before this.

By 18 months, most children’s bladders have grown large enough to “hold it” for a few hours; their reflexes and nerves are more fully developed; and they have mastered the motor skills needed to potty independently.

This is still on the early side for potty training, but most children are very ready between the ages of 2-3.

2) They understand bathroom jargon.

The next sign your toddler is ready to potty training is a big one! Whether your toddler is a chatterbox or still working on their growing vocabulary, they need to understand you when you give them instructions. Your child doesn’t need to be verbal to understand potty lingo!

Do they know what you mean when you say you are going to the bathroom?

Do they know what pee and poop are?

Do they know all about diapers, wipes, toilet paper, washing hands, flushing?

Potty training is going to be very, very difficult if your child doesn’t yet have a basic understanding of the language we use in or around the bathroom.

If you have any doubts as to whether or not they understand the lingo, talk to your child as often as possible. Explain what you are doing in the bathroom or while you change diapers and fill their day with words to describe their world, including the bathroom. This habit will ensure they are ready to train. The more frequently they hear these words and see you connect them with objects and actions, the better prepared they will be.

African-American girl smiling in front of a yellow potty training chair3) They show interest in potty training.

For once, the fact that we moms never even get to go to the bathroom alone is going to work in your favor! All that clinginess pays off (at least in part) by teaching your child what potty training is all about.

Do they want to know what you are doing in the bathroom?

Do they want to “help” with the toilet paper or flushing?

Do they want to get up close and personal during your trips to the facilities?

Do they want to imitate, too?

Yes? This is a great sign! Encourage them to safely explore the toilet, teach them to wash their hands well, provide opportunities for them sit on a potty chair next to the big toilet, and capitalize on their natural curiosity!

4) They “tell” you when they need to go.

Wouldn’t it be great if our children started saying, “Excuse me, dear mother, I feel the need to urinate and will take myself to use the lavatory now.”

Since that’s not happening any time soon, “telling” you can come in many forms. Again, this doesn’t necessarily need to be verbal!

Your child may go hide in a favorite corner to do their business every time. My oldest used to hide in the playroom, and our youngest likes to hide behind the curtains when he needs to poop. You child may wiggle, squirm, reach for their private area, cross their legs, or do a potty dance. They may also have some of the words to tell you that they need to “go.”

The important thing is that if you really pay attention, you can tell they need to pee or poop.

5) They can pull their pants up and down independently.

This particular sign isn’t as necessary as it is just plain helpful.

If your child is going to get tangled up in their clothes or accidentally soak their pants in their attempts to use the toilet, then potty training isn’t going to be terribly helpful for you, is it? A little bit of coordination goes a long way!

Practice is key to mastering the motor skills associated with potty training. Let your child work through the challenge of pulling on their own pants in the mornings. Teach them how to pull pants down to their ankles and back up again. If you need to, you can also size up in pants to boost their confidence and independence!

Toddler boy sitting on a potty training chair reading a colorful book6) They can hold their bladders for 2 hours at a time.

Staying dry for at least two hours at a time is an excellent indicator that your child has enough control over their bladder to potty train. Their bladder will have grown to a large enough capacity to hold a few hours worth of fluids, and their body is beginning to take over control of the bladder muscles. 

If they are still perpetually wetting diapers, their little body may not be quite ready yet. Wait until you begin to routinely see dry diapers after nap time or notice that you are changing increasingly fewer wet diapers to dive into potty training.

You can even calculate about how much volume your little one’s bladder should hold at each age and stage here!

If you think your toddler is on their way to diaper-freedom, download a free copy of this handy assessment to know for sure before you jump into training. If you’re confident that your child is ready to say goodbye to diapers, then stock up on fluids, treats, and coffee (for mom!), and dive in!

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Mary Vaughn
Mary is an Army wife of 7 years, mother to three wild boys, and owner of a small business helping other moms as a sleep consultant and potty training coach (yes- it is a thing!) called Mother Together. She is originally from Gettysburg, PA, has an undergraduate degree in education from American University in Washington, DC, and taught middle school before following love into the adventure that is a military marriage. Mary proudly considers herself the millennial everymom: rocks the side part, overuses the laugh crying emoji, looks forward to a daily glass of wine, and will probably be buried in skinny jeans. Her hobbies and interests include exploring local businesses and restaurants, camping when the weather is just right, knitting, coffee, and casual amounts of moderate exercise to create balance to her love of cooking. Mary is perpetually seeking new binge-worthy shows and audiobooks, so feel free to connect and share your interests!