How to Potty-Train Your Toddler

1. Look for signs of readiness. Around age 2, kids show signs that they’re becoming more aware of the business happening down below: Your toddler may hide behind the couch during a bowel movement, or present you with a fresh diaper when it’s time to be changed. “This is a good time to introduce a child to the potty, simply by showing it to him or her,” says Tanya Remer Altmann, M.D., editor of The Wonder Years: Helping Your Baby and Young Child Successfully Negotiate the Major Developmental Milestones (Bantam Books, 2006).

Invite her to practice sitting on her mini-throne fully clothed—some kids can be sensitive to the feel of hard plastic against bare skin. If holding court on her potty is all she wants to do, though, resist the temptation to press her to use it. “Parents are often ready before their toddlers are ready,” notes Altmann. “And starting toilet training before your toddler is ready doesn’t usually lead to success.” Very generally speaking, girls train between 2 and 2-1/2, while boys do so between 3 and 31/2. Many children, though, won’t be ready until even later. (Full disclosure: My own lovely and very reluctant son trained at 4 years, 3 months.)

So consider whether your child is showing signs of readiness. Does she tell you when she has a full diaper? Has she asked to use the toilet, or for “big kid” underwear? The more positive signals she’s sending, the more likely she’s ready to toilet-train. But if you’re not getting those signals, shelve the underpants—you need to wait a few more months before making an effort that’s worth your while. Says Claire Lerner, director of parenting information and resources at Zero to Three in Washington D.C.: “While you can provide the opportunity for support, the bottom line is, it’s got to be the child’s choice.”