here are some potty training myths that are actually true
7 Signs Your Toddler Isn't Ready To Be Potty Trained Yet

Don’t worry — they’ll get there.

by Kristina Johnson
Originally Published: 

When you've got a toddler whose stinky diapers are basically a biohazard, potty training seems like the light at the end of the tunnel. If you're dreaming of the day when you no longer have to get your hands dirty (sometimes literally) dealing with your kiddo's poop-covered butt, you might be watching them like a hawk to see if they're ready to say goodbye to diapers. Unfortunately, however, figuring it out isn't always easy, and the age when kids are ready to potty train can vary wildly. But before you get your hopes up that your little one is nearing the porcelain finish line, there are some signs your child is not ready for potty training that you should know about, because ignoring them can make things even harder.

Some moms and dads get to work on potty training as soon as their little one can walk, while others wait until pre-school makes it a necessity. In truth, there is no single timeline that will fit every child. “The average age is 27 months, with a few outliers training as early as 18 months, and those of course who wait until after age 3, even getting close to 4 years,” Mary Vaughn, a certified potty training consultant and founder of Mother Together, explains to Romper.

As much as you may be completely over changing diapers, potty training won't always happen on your schedule. If you try to force it before your kid is ready, more problems will arise. “The greatest consequence of potty training too soon is that it will cause a lot of undue stress for both parent and child,” Vaughn says. Among the causes of stress might even be dysfunctional voiding, or when a child withholds poop or pee, which could in turn lead to a urinary tract infection.

Below, these seven signs will let you know if you need to be a little more patient before starting potty training. And as hard as it can be to wait, rest assured that you'll get there eventually.


They have true accidents

Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images

One of the biggest signs a toddler is ready to potty train is that they become upset or at least aware of a dirty diaper. It makes sense, considering that it can't feel good to sit in a cold and soggy mess. On the flip side, if your kiddo doesn't seem to notice or care that their drawers are suddenly drooping, they likely aren’t ready yet, because awareness simply isn't there.

If your potty trainee consistently has true accidents, “meaning they didn't know they needed to go, didn't realize they were going, and seem to have no control over it,” as Vaughn explains, then they aren’t yet ready. “Not quite getting to the potty, deliberately choosing not to stop an activity to ‘go,’ and laziness are not truly accidents and are choices that can be worked out,” she says. “True accidents are an indication to wait."


They're constantly wet

If it seems like your child pees constantly, you might want to hold off on potty training until their bladder is strong enough to hold in their urine for longer stretches. You'll want them to be able to stay dry for about two hours at a time before potty training, according to Vaughn, and if they can’t quite do that yet, hold off.

“The bladder doubles in size between the ages of 2 and 4, so the real volume of urine a bladder can hold has a big role to play in whether or not a child is ready to train,” Vaughn explains. “Unfortunately, this piece is only learned through trial and error, since we couldn't know for sure just by looking at a toddler.”


They're totally uninterested in the potty

Some kids can't be bothered to set foot in the bathroom, let alone squat on the potty. According to Vaughn, if your toddler isn't showing any interest in figuring out how to use the potty, you could be setting yourself up for a battle of wills that will seriously stress out both of you if you try to force it. “It may be wise to wait for a child who is truly disinterested in potty training,” Vaughn says.

Some kids are all about heading into the bathroom to figure out how grown-ups handle their business and eager to test out the porcelain throne. However, not all will share the same motivation and some may need a little help. “This goes a long way toward success, but even an unmotivated child can usually get on board if there are rewards involved,” she adds. “Keep the option available to them, read books about potty training, and appeal to their motivations, but if a child really doesn't want to potty train, waiting would probably be easiest for everyone involved.”


Their communication skills aren’t quite there yet

There are dozens of reasons for the variation in age for when a toddler is ready for potty training, and communication skills are a big one. For one, they should understand words such as pee, poop, toilet, wipe, flush, and wash. “Receptive communication is essential,” Vaughn says. “How is the child's receptive and expressive language? Do they understand what caregivers mean when they are using words about the bathroom and potty training? Does the child communicate that they need to go?”

This kind of communication doesn’t necessarily need to be words, but if there’s no type of expression there, they’re not ready yet. “This communication can come in any form at all, so the marker remains constant and crucial for all children, even neurodivergent kids,” Vaughn continues. “It can be words, signs, and even hiding in the same place to ‘go.’ The communication can even be subconscious, like crossing their legs or doing a little potty dance. It's all communication! All that matters is that the caregiver can read the cues.”


They’re going through a lot of upheaval


If there are any major changes happening in your child's life, potty training might need to be put off. "Big events like the birth of a younger sibling or even a move to a new house can trigger potty training regression," pediatrician Dr. Whitney Casares previously told Romper. Even making the switch from the crib to a big kid bed can be a serious adjustment for a toddler, so it's best to not add potty training into the mix right away. Take it one thing at a time, and you're more likely to have success.


They have a history of constipation

Another sign your toddler isn’t ready for potty training is if they have any history of constipation or have regularly loose stool, according to Vaughn. If this is the case, she advises parents to “consult with their pediatrician to regulate their bowel movements before potty training.”

Even if you have begun potty training, constipation can cause regression. “Constipation can cause hard stools, which are difficult to pass and can be uncomfortable,” Casares said. “If a child experiences pain while pooping on the potty, he may be hesitant to try it again." Should your kid be dealing with constipation, definitely don’t force them to potty train.


They just aren’t old enough yet

The last (and possibly least important) reason why your little one isn’t ready yet is age. “18+ months is the baseline where I recommend parents keep their eyes peeled for the signs of readiness,” Vaughn says. “It isn't impossible to train earlier, but it's certainly easier as a child approaches 2 and beyond.” There is no “right” age when a kid is ready for potty training, but keeping a general timeline in mind, along with the other factors above, can be helpful.

Overall, potty training requires patience and is not always a straightforward process. Regression is normal, and not every toddler will be the same. And parent motivation to potty train plays a role in the timeline, too. You can show some urgency to tackling the project of potty training, or wait until the process will be as easy as possible — it’s up to you. So long as you don’t push your kid when they aren’t quite ready. “A child who really isn't ready to potty train, but who wants to please their eager parent, will feel immense pressure to ‘perform,’” says Vaughn. “They may present this stress through tears, tantrums, or anything in between, but they will feel the stress.”

Just know that it will happen eventually, and staying supportive throughout your child’s development is key. “As the parent, the longer potty training takes, the more challenging it can be to stay cool, calm, and patient with accidents and slow progress,” Vaughn says. “This, too, is far from ideal. A child who really isn't ready will just end up having lots of accidents, and nobody wants to deal with that.” As with any medical-related topic, if you have questions or concerns, you can always consult your little one’s pediatrician for help.

Study referenced:

Bauer A. (2021). Dysfunctional voiding: update on evaluation and treatment. Current opinion in pediatrics, 33(2), 235–242.


Mary Vaughn, certified potty training consultant and founder of Mother Together

Dr. Whitney Casares, pediatrician

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