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How to Tell if a Toddler Is Ready to Start Potty Training

A kid on the cusp of potty training is a frightening prospect for many parents. While it’s exciting to no longer be elbow deep in dirty diapers, the difficulty of teaching a kid to do their business on the toilet can make parents wish for the ease of a changing pad and a box of wipes. One of the biggest challenges of the potty training process is simply understanding if a kid is ready to start. After all, a reluctant potty trainer makes the process much, much harder. Luckily there are some signs, often subtle, that a kid is ready to start pooping like a big person.

READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Poop, Diapers, and Potty Training

Notably, the first indication that a kid is approaching potty interest arrives well before most parents would probably expect. “One of the first signs is that they notice that they have actually gone,” explains pediatric nurse practitioner Stephanie Bosche of Philadelphia’s Tri-County Pediatrics. Children, per Bosche, may stop and touch their diaper area in an acknowledgment that something has happened down below. It’s a good sign they’ve started understanding there’s something unique about the process of elimination.

While every child develops differently, this initial sign generally pops up in early toddlerhood — around 18 months. That said, Bosche encourages patience. “Now that doesn’t mean that they’re fully ready to get on the potty,” she says. “But it’s a good sign they’re starting to get there.”

What parents can do at these earliest signs is acknowledge their kid’s acknowledgment. Confirming that their kid has, in fact, pooped or peed, helps a kid orient themselves to what going on. And a simple “good job” will help them understand that there’s nothing weird or bad about urinating and defecating. The last thing a parent should do is develop negative associations with going potty, even if it’s not on the potty yet.

How to Tell A Toddler is Ready to Potty Train

  • Look for signs the kid is acknowledging that they are pooping or peeing, by touching their diaper area when it happens.
  • Some children may hide as they go potty in a diaper. They may even go to the bathroom to hide.
  • A child who is interested in parents using for the bathroom is ready to explore their own training toilet.
  • Some kids may not show interest but are keeping diapers dry longer and showing discomfort when diapers are dirty.

The next big sign a kid is ready may require parents have a watchful eye. “Kids may actually go to another area knowing they’re going to poop,” says Bosche. This may include sneaking into a corner, hiding under a table or behind a couch, or even going into the bathroom. At this point, it’s game on. “That means they are knowing before they even go that they have to go. That’s a big sign.”

The hiding behavior may arrive with other surefire signs it’s time for a kid to start potty training, including taking off pants or diapers after going potty or simply being interested in the toilet itself. This last behavior, which appears around two years of age, can be particularly disconcerting if a parent happens to be on the very potty the child is interested in at the moment. However, it’s important that a pooping Papa stays chill with a curious kid.

“It’s beneficial, especially for a child showing interest in potty training, to talk them through it,” explains Bosche. “That way they see it and understand it through watching. Because kids learn from emulating us.”

When kids reach this stage of intense interest, it’s a good time to have a potty around they can start mounting on their own, without any expectations. It might start as role play, but it’s a short leap from role play to actually getting on the toilet when it’s time to go.

The major caveat in all of this, of course, is that parents should understand that not every kid will show interest in potty training. “There’s not always a big ‘tada!’ moment that says a kid is ready,” cautions Bosche. “Some kids don’t show a whole lot of interest and need to be led to it a bit more.” She adds, however, that if the kid is keeping their diapers dry for longer periods of time, and showing obvious discomfort about wearing dirty diapers, it may be time to give them a gentle push towards potty training.