As your baby starts to move out of their babyhood, there's a lot to look forward to. Funny conversations, adorable clothing choices, and the incredible way they uncover how the world works are among the greatest joys of toddlerhood. Of course, having a toddler comes with its own challenges, one of which is the apprehension of potty training looming on the horizon. As your little one starts to get older, signs of potty-readiness will start to show. But, how long should it take to potty train a toddler? The thing is, there's no right answer, but here’s what the experts want you to know.
How long does potty training take?
On average it takes about six months to potty train a child who is ready. “I know this sounds scary when most methods you read about online advertise potty training done in just two to three days,” Jacklyn Gravel, a certified potty training consultant at Hey Sweet Cheeks, tells Romper. But the reality is that a lot goes into laying the groundwork for potty training.
In fact, success when it comes to potty training can be defined a lot of different ways. “Potty training has a lot of different timelines — it varies by family and child,” Samantha Jones, a certified potty training consultant at Toilet Training Academy, tells Romper. “Some families consider potty training to be done by seeing the child as 100% accident-free. Some wait until the child is successful during the day before they even try to tackle nighttime potty training.”
Not to mention, each individual child needs their own time to understand the process. “It can really vary on the child's personality — some stubborn kiddos want to be 100% independent, and depending on their development level, that can take longer or shorter,” says Jones. “Some are easy going. Some have a lot of fear, if they've already dealt with painful bowel movements or constipation. Sometimes a UTI can occur if the child is scared to start and holds in their pee. Obviously anything medical can hinder progress.”
And once you’ve begun the process, things won’t necessarily go in an upward trend. “It’s completely normal for the first few days to be all accidents,” Gravel says. “Many children don’t start having completely accident-free days ‘til a week or two into the process, and this isn’t even considering overnights! Add in a child who’s more resistant and it may be slightly longer. If you’re seeing even small progress and less resistance each day, then that means you’re on the right track.”
How do you know when your kid is ready to potty train?
Potty training can be a long process, with "readiness" being the first goal. Most children show readiness to potty train between 22 to 28 months, according to Jones. However, it’s also totally fine if you little one’s timeline is outside of that range. “If your child is younger and they're showing signs of readiness (maybe they have an older sibling they like to copy) then by all means start,” Jones says. “If they're older, don't worry either — anything’s possible!”
As your child becomes open and more prepared to begin the potty process, you might start to see a few signs that hint they are ready. “Parents should look for basic communication skills (even if non-verbal), ability to understand simple directions, mimicking the actions of adults, eagerness to please, and a good grasp on some motor skills,” Jones says. More specifically, as Gravel explains, keep an eye out for your child’s ability “to get on and off the potty and working on being able to pull pants up and down.”
Another sign of readiness is a “general interest in the bathroom: asking questions, pretending dolls are peeing, trying to observe caregivers, etc.,” Gravel says, as well as “acknowledging their diaper is wet or asking to be changed.” Other good indicators are “staying dry for longer periods during the day, waking up dry from naps [or] overnight, asking for a clean diaper, [and] telling you when they are going or have gone,” says Jones.
Every child’s timeline will look different, and it’s important to remember it’s a joint process, as you also have to be ready to devote time to taking the next steps. “Some children will display all of these [signs] and some may only display a few,” Gravel says. “One huge deciding factor is also that the caregiver is ready to begin and that there are no major changes coming that would impact consistency, such as a new baby, big move, job change for parents, or new school [or] daycare.”
Overall, it's best not to put the pressure of a timeline on yourself or your child to complete the process. If your child resists the potty or isn't catching on as quick as you’d hoped based on average timelines, chances are they are not yet ready. “It's important not to put pressure because children can feel that and become resistant,” Jones says. “For the parents, pressure leads to frustration and fear, which can just have a negative impact on the relationship.”
Even if you do find the process frustrating at times, patience is key. “The 3 C's I always tell my clients are consistency, confidence, and commitment,” says Jones. “When you're committed, your child will become committed. When you're consistent, your child will respond to consistency. When you're confident, your child will feel that confidence emanating from you. Just like any other skill your child has learned, it takes time and each child is at a different level of development.”
Additionally, Gravel explains, it’s important to remember that young children go through a period of massive brain development, and as an adult you can’t always expect them to be reasonable or logical, especially if they’re working through some fears or resistance to the potty. “Every child has their own unique learning style, motivation, and timeline for mastering new skills,” Gravel says. “Tapping into that has a huge impact on how smoothly this transition can go for everyone.”
There is no clear way to tell how long it will take to potty train your child. Your child may catch on in a few days or it might take a year. Looking for signs of readiness, as well as allowing them to learn and grow in their own time, is the best way to ensure your child's potty training success. (And your own sanity.)
Jacklyn Gravel, certified potty training consultant at Hey Sweet Cheeks
Samantha Jones, certified potty training consultant at Toilet Training Academy
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