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Potty training: is my child ready?

There's no standard age at which a child is ready to start using the potty. Healthy children aren't physically and emotionally ready to start using a potty until they are between 18 months and three years old. Boys tend to be ready a few months later than girls.

Most parents start the training when their children are between two years and three years old.

But there's no official age, and you needn't potty train your toddler at all if you don't want to. Your child may copy others without needing any instructions, as long as you make it clear to her what she has to do, and where she must do it. You shouldn't force your child to use a potty if she doesn't want to, or if she is not ready to start.

Some parents start potty training when their babies are younger than four months. This is done by watching for signs of an imminent wee or poo and catching it in the potty. This method is called elimination communication.

However, most health visitors don't advise this, and even suggest that children who have been trained in this way have problems later on. They may experience setbacks with using school toilets, or when they encounter stressful situations. It's better to wait until your child is ready, and is showing an interest.

A child under two years cannot control when they wee and poo. The muscles that control their bladder and rectum aren't mature until they reach about 18 months to two years. That's why waiting for signs that they are ready is the key to success, and starting too early will result in accidents.

True independence is a lot to ask of a baby, as it means that she knows:
  • how and when to use the toilet
  • how to hang on until she reaches the toilet
  • how to flush
  • how to pull her clothes up and down
  • how to wipe her bottom without your help

What are the physical signs of readiness

  • Has regular, soft, formed poos at relatively predictable times, and doesn't poo during the night.
  • Has dry periods of at least one or two hours, or wakes up with a dry nappy after a nap. This shows that her bladder muscles are developed enough to hold her wee in and store it.
  • Can pull her pants up and down with only a little help.
  • Shows an interest when you go to the bathroom.

What are the behavioural signs of readiness?

  • Shows a wish to please, and enjoys praise.
  • Demonstrates a desire for independence.
  • Shows signs of discomfort when her nappy is wet or dirty.

What are the cognitive signs of readiness?

  • Can understand and follow simple instructions and requests, such as "Do you need a wee?" or "Where's the potty?".
  • Has words for wee and poo.
  • Shows awareness that she's having a wee or poo. She may stop what she's doing for a minute, or go somewhere else, or tell you that she's had a wee or poo.
  • She may tell you she needs to have a wee or a poo before she does it.

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