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Guide to Potty Training a Toddler

Potty training can be one of the more difficult phases in your child’s life but it can also be one of the most rewarding. Trust me; I’ve done it three times! Even dealing with my third child, I had some trouble. Honestly, I thought she was going to wear pull-ups all the way to her prom!

I wish I had a resource during those difficult times to help me through it all. But just like everything else with your child, there is a learning curve, and the experience can be much different from one to the next. Of course, that’s exactly what this guide is for. To give you some helpful tips and tricks to help you and your child transition as smoothly as possible.

Potty Training 101 Infographic

When is the Right Time to Start Potty Training?

This might be the most important question parents ask me when it comes to potty training. Every kid is different, but there are signs your kids are probably giving you that may give you clues to whether it’s time.

Potty Training Tips

Children typically reach a point in which they are able to control their bladders. This time usually happens around two years old, but not all kids are created equal, and some children learn this control more quickly than others. In fact, my daughter didn’t start potty training until she was around three.

There is no set time to begin looking for your child’s signs, just keep monitoring their diapers and bladder patterns. Ultimately, you’ll be making the decision when to start potty training, so observe and use what you see to decide when to start!

Physical Signs


1. Urination has become less frequent and in larger quantities

Have you noticed your child making it through nap-time without urinating? This is an excellent physical sign, as it shows your child is gaining the ability to hold their bladders. Having this ability is one of the most important skills for potty training.

2. Their bowel movements have become regular

Can you generally predict when your child is going to have a bowel movement? That’s good! This means their body is regulating itself, and you can begin to train your toddler to go “number two,” as well as “number one.”

Behavioral Signs


1. They start asking about the “potty” or have a piqued interest in your trips to the bathroom

It’s, of course, a no-brainer that a child may be wanting to potty train by the time they are asking to use the bathroom. While this isn’t going to be a sign for every child, children learn by example, and if your kiddo has been following you to the bathroom, they may have picked up that it is a socially acceptable thing to do.

Not only this, but children want to do everything that mommy or daddy does, so they may be letting you know they’re ready to begin potty training.

2. They let you know they’re having a bowel movement through noises and strange faces

Twisting up their face, grunting, sounding like they’re pushing – are these familiar to you? Your child might be trying to let you know that they are having a bowel movement.

When this begins, it means your child is beginning to be aware of when a movement is coming, which is both a cognitive and behavioral sign that your child is ready to begin their potty training.

3. Can stay in one place for a few minutes

In their toddler years, children are generally terrible at staying still or sitting in one place for any amount of time. If your child is able to sit for a few minutes, or long enough to make a bowel movement, then it could be time to start training. Focus is required for potty training, so this is another very important sign needed to begin potty training.

4. They’ve gained the ability to pull-up and pull-down their pants

Of course, to be able to potty train, it’s important that your child knows the first step in going to the bathroom! Children become interested in taking off and putting on clothes at a young age, as they see their parents doing the same.

When a child notices their parents removing their own pants for their bathroom trips, the child will begin to put two-and-two together, and that’s a sign that they may be ready to potty train.

Cognitive Signs


1. They are able to follow instructions

If you’re able to instruct your child to do something simple, such as “go get your favorite toy,” and they listen, then your child has the cognitive ability to understand the instruction of “go to the bathroom.”

2. Can use words to explain the difference between a bowel movement and urination

While I’m sure your child isn’t going to learn the term “bowel movement” anytime soon, they may recognize the term “poop” or “number two.” Once they start developing these words, it’s good to encourage them to use them to distinguish between having to urinate or having to make a bowel movement. Once they can do this, your potty training will go much more smoothly.

Check out this resource for more information on signs your child may be ready to potty train.

Potty Training Boys Versus Girls

It may seem strange to some parents, but gender does have an impact on when it’s time to start potty training, and how to go about potty training. Girls tend to mature earlier than boys through most of their childhood, into their adult years.

This is no exception when it comes to potty training. In fact, girls can be ready as soon as one and a half years old, while boys average out around two. Keep in mind this is different for every child and some boys may be ready for potty training sooner than some girls.

Tips for Potty Training Girls


Choosing the Right Potty

Girls have different needs than boys when it comes to the bathroom. There’s nothing saying you can’t use the same training potty that fits on top of the toilet for both boys and girls, but experts say girls have an easier time learning to potty train when using a separate training potty. This is due to the way the muscles in the pelvis that prevent urine and bowel movements from happening, develop.

Sitting in the right position is important for girls to relax these muscles and have a successful potty visit, so having their feet touching the floor with their bodies angled back is the best way to teach them. If you decide to use an “on-the-toilet” potty, consider having a step-stool or something similar to have your little girl put her feet on to relax her pelvic muscles.

Potty Time Supplies

There are other things that can be helpful besides the potty! Potty training is a serious project, and there are many items that can help make training go smoothly and efficiently for your little girl.

  • Fun Pull-Up Diapers: I can’t stress these enough. Most parents know they need pull-ups to begin potty training, but having them with fun designs that your little girl finds cute and loves will help her to become more excited about potty training.
  • Stool or Box: This will be used to put under her feet so she can relax her pelvic muscles to have a more successful potty trip.
  • Flushable Wipes: Be sure these wipes are kid-friendly, and will not irritate your child’s skin. She is more sensitive than a boy, due to her anatomy, so a mild, unscented wipe is the best option.
  • Progress Chart: This item is optional, but I highly recommend it. Having a chart that features little stickers or gold stars is an excellent way to praise your child and show her how great she’s doing at her potty training. There are lots of free progress charts available on the internet.
  • Tons of Underpants: Buy them cheap! Having multiple pairs of underpants will be necessary, as accidents will happen. Be sure not to break the bank on expensive pairs, as some will need to be thrown away.

For more potty training supplies and ideas, check out this resource.

Choosing Potty Training Rewards

Rewards don’t have to be anything big, nor do they have to break the bank. Starting small is the best option – give your little girl some stickers in the colors or characters that she likes, to start. If you’re able to give her sugar, some candy such as a lollipop or some chocolate can help make her feel like she’s done a good job. Another unique reward your girl might like is purchasing a “Potty Doll.” These dolls are made with potty training in mind, as the doll wets itself and needs to be changed. This will help your girl in knowing when she may need to use the potty, and is also a fun toy for her to play with. Rewards all depend on the child and what they like, so keep in mind the little things that make your girl happy, and incorporate them in her potty training reward system.

For more potty training ideas, please visit this resource.

How Long It Takes to Complete Training

Judging by the fact that girls are, on average, ready to potty train earlier than boys, girls tend to be finished with their training at an earlier age. Potty training can take anywhere from three to six months to complete, but that is just a ball-park statement. There is no way to tell how long it will take exactly, but with rewards and lots of patience on your part, your little girl will be using the big-girl potty in no time.

Tips for Potty Training Boys


Choosing the Right Potty

Unlike girls, boys are able to either sit or stand in order to use the potty. It’s easier to begin your boy’s potty training by teaching him how to sit on the potty rather than stand. Any “over-the-toilet” potty is good for this, but you can also consider using a separate training potty chair for comfort reasons. Either option is good, it all depends on your child’s comfort level and what stage of potty training they are in.

Potty Time Supplies

  • Fun Pull-Up Diapers: Pull-Ups are always necessary, no matter the gender. Your boy will want some cool looking ones, so make sure they have his favorite colors or characters on them to keep him excited about potty training.
  • A Water-Proof Washable Pad: Boys have a habit of making a mess in the bathroom, and that isn’t their fault, its because of their anatomy. I know my youngest son was terrible about hitting his target! Be sure to have one of these laid out under the toilet or training potty that your boy is using for easy clean-up.
  • Flushable Wipes: These aren’t as necessary for boys when it comes to urinating, but it doesn’t hurt to have them on hand. Make sure these are kid-friendly wipes so your boy can learn to clean himself after a bowel movement.
  • A Progress Chart: Progress charts help show your boy how great he’s doing. Reward him with a gold sticker each time he has a successful potty trip, and allow him to place it on the the chart so he feels special.
  • Tons of Underpants: It’s bound to happen, there will be accidents. Having cheap pairs of underwear that can be thrown out in case of these accidents is great, so you don’t have to worry about nasty stains on good underwear.

For more suggestions on potty training supplies, please visit this resource.

Choosing Potty Training Rewards

Most little boys love their toys, so that can be an excellent way to reward your son for his potty training! Small cars are a great option, just make sure they don’t have any small parts that can be swallowed.

If toys aren’t the best option for your boy, then things like candy, stickers or sweet treats work just as well. Monitor how your son reacts to these rewards. The bigger the accomplishment, the bigger the reward should be, so that he can see the improvements he’s been making in his potty training.

For more potty training rewards, visit this resource.

How Long does it Take to Complete Training

Boys can be late bloomers compared to girls, but on average, potty training any toddler can take from three to six months. In some cases, extra stubborn boys have been known to take up to the time they are three years old to be fully trained. Be sure to keep up with your reward system, and praise him often for doing a good job, and he’ll be on his way to being fully potty trained in no time!

Common Potty Training Problems and Solutions


Your Toddler is wetting the bed at night

When your child has accidents at night, it can be frustrating. Putting on a load of laundry to wash the sheets is not anybody’s idea of fun at 3am, trust me, I’ve been there. There are possible ways to prevent this, however.

You may want to consider adjusting your toddler’s water or juice intake during the day, or possibly shift the times your toddler is consuming liquids away from the evening. The bladder fills overnight, meaning a child who hasn’t developed the capability to prevent bladder leakage, may have an accident.

The most important thing to remember about this situation is that you do NOT need to punish your child for wetting the bed, as it isn’t their fault. Patience is important with potty training, the more patient you are the faster the process will go. Tell your child that it’s okay, and these things happen, and proceed to adjust your toddler’s lifestyle to prevent these accidents from occurring again.

Toddler resists going to the bathroom

This could be for multiple reasons. Some kids are just stubborn, and refuse to learn the ways of the bathroom, while some kids might actually be afraid of the toilet itself. If you’re experiencing a resistant child, it might do you well to explain to them why they need to use the bathroom. This can help them understand why you’re making them do something they don’t think is necessary. In regards to a scared child, show them that the toilet will not harm them by letting them control the flush for a bit. This will lessen their fear of the loud noise.

Toddler only wants to use the bathroom if their favorite person is with them

Toddlers tend to be dependent on specific people, usually the parents, and this is normal. They will feel most comfortable being in a situation they are unfamiliar with with that person they depend on. If you want your child to become comfortable using the bathroom on their own, you will need to begin removing yourself. When they announce that they need to go, you can go with them, tell them you’ll help them with anything they need, but be sure to stay outside of the bathroom. Close the door, and wait there for any call for assistance. Do this gradually, and after a few times of your toddler doing it by themselves, they’ll be pros on going alone!

For my daughter, this part took a number of weeks. She wouldn’t go into the bathroom unless my husband or myself went with her. It was a pain when she would need to go while we were eating dinner or in the middle of the night, but we were patient and eventually she started going without asking. We were jumping for joy when that happened haha!

Potty Training Tips

  • Dress for Potty Training: You might want to switch your toddler to pull-ups rather than diapers in order to begin potty training. Also, purchasing some “big kid” undies to help encourage your toddler to potty train.
  • Use Real Bathroom Speech: This is more or less a way to help your child learn about their bodies in a scientific way, rather than a childish way. Later in life, they’ll be happy they learned the proper terminology so they aren’t embarrassed with their friends.
  • Don’t Argue: Take it from someone who potty trained three stubborn toddlers, arguing is not the way to go. Arguing with your child will only make them want to potty train LESS, so I suggest keeping up with the reward system and praise, rather than using harsh words to get your kiddo on board.
  • Have your toddler read a book: This is a great tip for kids who are easily distracted. Having them read a book keeps them in one place for longer, making it easier for them to do their business. They may even end up using the toilet without realizing they’re doing it!
  • Play little word games with them: Your child will not only have fun when you do this, but it will also keep them sitting on the potty long enough for them to do their business.
  • Let your child color the toilet seat: That’s right, this will be one of the few times you’re encouraged to let your kiddo draw on something in the house. Washable markers wipe right off of porcelain, so having your child color a bit on it will not be an issue! This also makes using the potty a fun activity.
  • Sing along to potty training songs: There are several popular potty training songs that your child will love. Try singing along with them and join in the fun.

Pirate Pete’s Potty Training for Boys:

Princess Polly’s Potty Training for Girls:

Potty Training Reward Systems


Having a potty training reward system can make things much smoother. It can change your child’s attitude from being resistant to being excited. We’ve created our own Potty Routine and Potty Reward charts for you to download and use. It’s up to you to decide on a reward that is appropriate and that will get your child excited.

Potty Routine Chart (Girls) – Download a Printable PDF

Printable Potty Training Routine for Girls

Potty Routine Chart (Boys) – Download a Printable PDF

Potty Training Printable Chart Boys

Potty Reward Chart (Sea Themed) – Download a Printable PDF

Potty Rewards Chart Sea Theme

Potty Reward Chart (Dragon Themed) – Download a Printable PDF

Dragon Themed Potty Reward Chart

Here are some other great reward system ideas:

  • “Potty Pops”: This is a clever name for your child to associate a lollipop with rewards for using the potty. Once they go, they get a sweet!
  • Reward Chart: Make sure you have some stickers on hand! Create a graph chart for your child that can be filled with stickers for every time they successfully use the bathroom. Once a line is full, they get a prize! If you want a chart that’s already constructed, check out this one at amazon. You can also pick from lots of free potty training charts here.
  • A Block Tower: This one is extra clever and similar to the reward chart; have your little one build a block tower piece by piece every time they successfully use the potty. Once it reaches a certain height, your kiddo gets a prize or a candy!


Every child is different, and there is no easy way or shortcut to potty training your toddler. Keep in mind that most of this process takes patience, and without that patience, you’ll make the training last longer than it needs to. Just remember, it all takes time, and with a little hard work and elbow grease, your toddler will be using the big kid bathroom faster than you ever imagined!