Roughly half of all babies worldwide never wear diapers and are “potty-trained” by their first birthday. In the U.S., diaper-free practices are slowly gaining traction. Known as “elimination communication,” “natural infant hygiene,” and “potty whispering,” this practice is essentially a form of infant potty training. Parents who go this route believe it’s possible for babies to forgo diapers and instead learn to use a bowl or toilet from the start.
In spite of this trend, most U.S. parents continue to use either cloth or disposable diapers when their babies are born and go through the process of potty training well into toddlerhood. As with other developmental milestones, there is no “magic time” by which potty training will occur. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), many children begin to show signs of readiness for potty training between 18 and 24 months of age, but some may not be ready until they are well beyond their second birthday.
Signs that your child is ready to begin potty training include:
- staying dry in diapers for two or more daytime hours, including during naps
- having regular and predictable bowel movements
- getting to and from the bathroom unassisted
- sitting correctly on the potty chair or toilet seat
- following basic instructions such as “let’s walk to the bathroom” and “rinse the soap off your hands”
- showing curiosity about others using the potty
- expressing discomfort with a wet or soiled diaper
- expressing interest in using the toilet or wearing “big kid” underwear
Potty training should be a low-pressure endeavor. Adequate preparation—buying a potty seat, reading books about using the potty, talking about potty skills, choosing the words you’ll use consistently to speak with your child about peeing and pooping—can help ensure that the process is low stress for children and parents alike. Watch for your child’s signs of readiness between the ages of 18 months and 4 years of age, and follow her lead.
Be aware that many children who are fully potty-trained during the daytime may still experience bedwetting at night. The problem is usually developmental, but there are steps you can take to reduce the problem, such as limiting drinks in the evening hours. Some parents choose to offer “rewards” for dry nights, although experts note that it is important not to punish a child for wet nights. The frequency of these “accidents” should diminish over time, but you may want to discuss it with your child's health care provider if you have concerns, or if it still occurs often after age 5.