Signs your toddler is ready to potty train

If your toddler isn't physically and cognitively ready to potty train, it's unlikely you'll have success. Watch for these signs of potty training readiness before deciding it's time to give potty training a go.

A mom sitting behind her daughter, who is sitting on a potty training toilet.
Photo credit: / yamasan

It might seem like just yesterday you were changing your toddler's first diaper, and now you're wondering if it's time to start potty training! Read on to find out more.

When do you start potty training? 

There's no magic potty-training age when kids are ready to start learning to use the potty, but some start to develop the necessary physical and cognitive skills between 18 and 24 months.

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Many parents don't start potty training until their kids are between two-and-a-half to 3 years old, when daytime bladder control has become more reliable. And some children aren't interested in potty training until they're closer to 3, or even 4. While it might be more convenient to have a 2-year-old who's itching to potty train, it’s also very normal to have a child who wants to wait longer, or ends up going through a more gradual potty-training process.

Keep in mind that starting potty training before your child is truly ready doesn't mean you'll finish sooner – it's more likely that the process will just end up taking longer.

Before 12 months of age, children can't control their bladder or bowel movements, and some toddlers who show many signs of readiness may still be physically unable to control elimination. And children who can stay dry during the day often take longer to stay dry at night. In fact, you might want to think of daytime and nighttime dryness as two separate potty-training milestones.

You don't have to wait until you've checked off every item on the potty-training readiness list to start. Just look for a general trend toward independence and an understanding of what it means to go to the bathroom like a grown-up. Also, don’t feel like you have to potty train at a certain age based on advice from your own parents or grandparents. Research is showing that in more recent years, children are trending toward the later end of the average potty-training window, with parents taking their time and pushing it less.

How long does potty training take?

In spite of programs’ promises to potty train in three days (and it is possible for some kids!) research shows that it can take much longer, and that parents might expect a wide range of results. But on average, it usually takes around at least a few months for total success.

The age at which you begin potty training also matters: One study reported that kids who started between ages 18 and 24 months took an average of 13 to 14 months to potty train, while children who started after they were 27 months old took 10 months or less. The bottom line: Parents who start earlier tend to finish earlier, but also take longer, as the study suggested.

Other children do succeed with a short and intense training program, such as the three-day method, but it can be helpful to curb expectations to avoid frustration if your child doesn’t. It isn’t an indication of your abilities, their effort, or any other issue – it simply varies from child to child.

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Checklist: Signs of potty training readiness

There are tangible signs you can look for to determine if your child is ready to potty train. Though they don’t have to meet every sign, reaching multiple milestones before beginning the process can often lead to better success.

Physical signs

  • Is coordinated enough to walk, and even run, steadily
  • Urinates a fair amount at one time
  • Has regular, well-formed bowel movements at relatively predictable times
  • Has "dry" periods of at least two hours or during naps, which shows that their bladder muscles are developed enough to hold urine

Behavioral signs

  • Can sit down quietly in one position for two to five minutes
  • Can pull their pants up and down by themselves
  • Dislikes the feeling of wearing a wet or dirty diaper
  • Shows interest in other people's bathroom habits, like wanting to watch you go to the bathroom or wear underwear instead of diapers
  • Gives a physical or verbal sign when they're having a bowel movement such as grunting, squatting, or actually telling you they're going
  • Demonstrates a desire for independence
  • Takes pride in their accomplishments
  • Isn't resistant to learning to use the toilet
  • Is in a generally cooperative stage, not a negative or contrary one

Cognitive signs

  • Understands the physical signals that mean they have to go and can tell you before it happens or even hold it until they have time to get to the potty
  • Can follow simple instructions, such as "go get the toy"
  • Understands the value of putting things where they belong
  • Has words for urine and stool


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Signs your child is not ready for potty training

If you're feeling frustrated, and you're noticing signs of frustration in your child too, that might be a sign that your toddler isn't ready for potty training yet. If they aren’t yet coordinated enough to walk (or potentially run!) to the toilet, and they can’t steadily climb onto the toilet and sit still for a few minutes at a time, they might not physically be ready to potty train.

Also, you might have a child that isn’t showing any interest in potty training, such as curiosity around you or their siblings’ bathroom habits. They also might not have the vocabulary to identify what they need to do, like using words for "pee" and "poop." In that case, it might be best to wait until they're a bit more interested and able to better verbalize what’s happening.

Read more:

Tips for potty training boys

Potty training tips for girls

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The best potty chairs and potty-training seats

8 best travel potties for toddlers

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American Academy of Pediatrics. 2009. Psychological readiness and motor skills needed for toilet training. a new window [Accessed April 2022]

American Academy of Pediatrics. 2009. Toilet training: Which Method is Best? a new window [Accessed April 2022]

Blum, Nathan J. 2003. Relationship between age at initiation of toilet training and duration of training: a prospective study. a new window [Accessed April 2022]

Nemours Foundation. 2019. Toilet training. a new window [Accessed April 2022]

Vermandel, Alexandra et.alOpens a new window. 2008. How to toilet train healthy children? A review of the literature. a new window [Accessed April 2022]

Zero to Three. Undated. Potty Training: Learning to use the toilet. a new window [Accessed April 2022]

Alexandra Frost
Alexandra Frost is a Cincinnati-based freelance journalist, content marketing writer, copywriter, and editor focusing on health and wellness, parenting, real estate, business, education, and lifestyle. Away from the keyboard, Frost is also mom to four sons under age 7 who keep things chaotic, fun, and interesting.