When Should You Start Toilet Training?
A recent New York Times article, “How Do You Start Potty Training” by Dina DiMaggio, got me thinking about what is often the first behavioral challenge that parents face with very young children. It isn't just the questions of "how to toilet train" but at "what age to start training" that baffles most moms and dads.
If you check the literature, there is quite an age range for when to start. Most experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, advise parents to assess signs of readiness for toilet use before beginning to toilet train... but what are those signs of readiness?
The milestones that indicate a child is ready fall into three categories: physical, cognitive, and emotional.
The physical signs are the easiest to assess. Can your child walk and run continuously? Do they have regular, well-formed bowel movements? Have bladder muscles developed enough to hold urine for more extended "dry" periods? Can your child pull their pants up and down? (no fancy belts, suspenders or overalls can help on this one). Does he or she dislike the feeling of a wet or dirty diaper or underwear?
Cognitive signs are straightforward, as well. Does your child have words like "pee-pee" and "poopy"? Are they able to comprehend and follow simple instructions such as, "sit on the potty"? Do they understand what it means to put things where they belong?
And finally, are the following emotional milestones in place? Is your child interested in your bathroom habits? Do they want to try it too, or do they show resistance to sitting on the potty? Are they cooperative in general, or are they in a particularly negative oppositional phase? Do they display a desire for independence? Are they proud of their accomplishments?
Not all of these signs need to be in place, all the time, but most of them are essential for ultimate success.
In the meantime, there are lots of children's books that you can read to your child that help prepare them cognitively and emotionally. My personal favorite is the classic, Once Upon A Potty, by Alona Frankel.
Good luck, and don't get too discouraged. If your child is ready, the process - even though there may be lots of accidents along the way - will go fairly quickly.