Potty Training Overview

pottyLast year, I wrote a detailed post on the potty training process. This year, I realized I needed a one-page overview of what to expect and what parents can do to help. I’ll paste the table below, or you can view (and print) the PDF of Potty Training Stages.

Stage What child knows / can do that shows s/he’s ready What you can do to help them learn
Body Awareness Has words for body partsHas words for urine and bowel movement (pee & poop)

Aware after: they know they HAVE peed or pooped

Teach language, in a matter-of-fact way. Do not use negative language or imply that body parts/products are gross or badHelp them notice when they are / have eliminated; Consider using cloth diapers that feel wet after they pee
Potty Awareness Wants to imitate others in a variety of daily activitiesUnderstands things have a proper place they belong AND understands poop goes in potty

Shows interest in the potty and in trying the potty

We role model all the things we want them to learn (inc. using the toilet)Help them put away toys and clothes
Show them how you dump poop from diaper into toiletBuy a potty – let them explore it
Practicing Have the motor skills to take clothes off and get on potty with help from caregiversCan hold urine (keep diaper dry) for two hours

Poop at predictable times each day


Aware during: they know they ARE peeing or pooping

Sit on the potty with their clothes on
Sit on the potty with their clothes off, but no expectation they’ll pee or poopPut them on potty first thing in the morning when they’re likely to peeLook for poop opportunities… when you think they are about to poop, or they are pooping, take them to the potty

Go pants-free (and socks free…) with a potty nearby so if they start peeing, they can go sit on potty. (Works best outdoors in the summertime)

Respond to any success with enthusiasm, but no scolding if nothing happens in the potty and no scolding for using diaper

Mostly Potty Trained Can take clothes off and use potty w/ minimal assistanceCan keep dry and clean for a longer time, with regular reminders to use the potty

Aware before: they know they need to go soon

Help them learn how to undress and how to use potty


Help them notice their cues and remind them to take action

Respond to accidents calmly – just clean up (or ask them to help you clean up). No punishment or shaming.

Completely Trained Aware before and know what to do: Know to go to the bathroom, can hold pee or poop till they’re thereCan put their clothes back on independently

Can toilet independently in the daytime (may need help wiping after a BM till age 5)

Can stay dry overnight

Transitioning from diapers to pull-ups can be gradual, or can be a “Big Day” approach


Respond to set-backs calmly. Ask them for help with finding solution (e.g. “we tried big boy underwear overnight. That didn’t work out last night. What should we do now?”)

Note: the age at which children reach each stage can range a great deal. It depends on gender, child’s temperament, parent’s temperament, cultural expectations, and other external influences. Some children can be “completely” potty trained as young as 15 months, but not most! Approximate ages: Body and Potty Awareness sometime between 16 – 24 months. Many children may be ready for Practicing from 20 – 30 months. Average age for “Mostly” is ~30 months for girls, ~32 months for boys, with the majority of girls there by 36 months and majority of boys by 39 months. (Note: about 1 in 5 children will be “completely potty trained” in terms of urine, but still choosing to poop in diaper rather than using the potty for much longer than that.) Most are “completely” potty trained by age 5, though 10% of kids have issues with night-time urine control up to age 7 or 8, and 3% of boys continue to bed-wet until age 12.

How long does it take to potty train (go from “practicing” to “completely”)? A few weeks to several months. Generally, the younger you start, the longer it takes.

More info from the American Academy of Family Physicians; American Academy of Pediatrics and the University of Michigan.

photo credit: thejbird via photopin cc


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