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How to potty train your child, with tips shared by a pediatrician

P is for positivity, patience and products you'll need during this milestone moment.
Small child toddler trying to reach the fosset on the step stool in the bathroom / Getty Images

I knew this day would come, but as with all of my son’s developmental milestones, it shocked the bejesus out of me. It was a Saturday. I was sipping lukewarm coffee, minding my own business, when out of nowhere my almost two-year-old son waddled up to me, looked me dead in the eyes and asked to go to the bathroom.

It wasn’t Shakespeare, but it definitely turned the page on things in our house. I took his first declarative statement as a fluke, but after the fourth and fifth utterance, I knew he meant business about doing his business. Much like Swedish pop band Ace of Base, I saw the sign, and it opened up my eyes.

The time to potty train had arrived, and I had zero clue of where to start. Definitely a time to call in the experts.

Read the signs

Your toddler probably says a zillion random things throughout the course of a day. Most of it you can give an acknowledging “uh huh” to, but some things demand action and a mad sprint to the bathroom. “Being able to verbally tell people ahead of having to go or when they have already gone” is a pretty direct cue that your child may be ready to begin toilet training, says Dr. Michael McKenna, pediatrician with Ascension St. Vincent in Zionsville, Indiana.

While some signals from your child may be fairly obvious, others may be a bit more subtle, says Dr. McKenna. “Waking up dry in the morning is a sign they are better at holding on to urine,” he said. “That’s a good sign that the parts are coming together.” Other subtle cues for potty training readiness may include him or her pulling up or down their pants by themselves or getting themselves onto or off the toilet or potty chair without needing a parent to help.

Be patient

Most parents have heard of at least one child that was potty trained at six months old, but it's definitely not the norm. “Sure, you can hold a child over a toilet and they will go,” says Dr. McKenna. “But to be trained, you need to be able to tell people you have to go, get up and get down from the toilet [and] clean up.”

In Dr. McKenna’s experience, children tend to be developmentally ready — and parents are more likely to be successful with toilet training — when the child is between the ages of 2 1/2 and 4 years old. Some toddlers may pick up the skill fairly quickly, but studies indicate that it will probably take closer to five to six months before you can toss out that last diaper.

Assess their interests

Some kids may be a bit more apprehensive about the whole potty training business. “Assess where in the process your child is,” says Dr. McKenna.

If your child is on the fence, Dr. McKenna suggests asking your child if they want to check out what’s inside the bathroom. Get them acclimated and interested in their surroundings. For those kids that are a bit more eager, make them a part of the process. “Have them pick out their potty chair, or let them decorate it with stickers,” says Dr. McKenna. “Give them some ownership into the process.”

Keep calm and carry on

While you will want your whole village on board for the voyage, it’s probably best to put the most easygoing parent at the helm of this particular operation. “The parent who has the most patience and the calmest demeanor should be the one that tackles the potty training,” advises Dr. McKenna.

The goal is to keep things positive and neutral. Accidents will happen, and that can be frustrating, but remember they are not on purpose. “Positive reinforcement is good,” says Dr. McKenna. “Celebrate the little victories. Figure out what will inspire your kid to make good decisions,” he adds.

Maybe it’s the reward of more time with mom and dad, maybe it’s a tasty treat, or maybe it’s one of these great potty training gadgets or tools! You are the expert on your child. Take that knowledge and work your magic!

Best products to potty train your child

Sesame Street Elmo Hooray! 3-in-1 Potty

This little potty chair has been personally recommended by my son's tushie. This potty chair features a friendly face, encouraging flushing sounds, and 3-in-1 functionality! One minute it’s a potty chair, the next a toilet trainer, a second later, a step stool. Easy to clean and easy to use — what more can you ask from a potty?

"Everyone Poops"

The sooner they know, the sooner they will go. This classic potty training book features fun and relatable illustrations, and takes the taboo out of the sensitive subject matter!

"Once Upon a Potty: Boy"

Another classic, this children’s book pulls back the curtain and delves into the logistics of how to use the potty. Straight forward and gentle, these gender-specific books do a wonderful job of explaining these big picture strides in child-sized steps.

Get the Potty Started Kit

Perhaps I was wooed by the clever name of this kit, or maybe I was taken in by the preparedness of it all. Regardless, this package has you covered as your kiddo transitions from baby to big kid. The kit includes pull-ups that fit like underwear and protect like a diaper, overnights for that extra bit of safety and wipes for the inevitable accident.


Being potty trained by day is one thing, but being trained by night is another. That’s where Peejamas come in. Cute, comfy and sustainable, Peejamas can be washed over 300 times before losing absorbency.

Summer My Size Potty with Transition Ring & Storage

Comically realistic and functionally focused, this potty allows your little one to use a toilet that looks just like a big kid’s. From looks to sounds, this potty chair so closely mimics a grown-up one, you may have trouble figuring out whose toilet is whose.

"Potty Training in 3 Days"

If Earth was made in seven days, then by God, you can potty train your kid in three! It will take a whole lot of patience and a ton of paper towels, but according to this five-step plan, it’s possible. This guide covers everything from how to prepare for the three-day training period to what’s going on in your little one’s head.

Dinosaur Touchless Soap Dispenser

This pro tip comes from veteran mom Megan out of Noblesville, Indiana. After potty training three boys, she’s seen and life-hacked it all. Megan encouraged me to purchase a fun touchless soap dispenser for my son’s bathroom. It not only encourages good bathroom hygiene, but it makes it easy for little hands to access the soap.

TidyTots Disposable Potty Chair Liners

Potty chair liners is another great hack that’s so simple, it’s genius. Just pour the contents into the toilet, flush, dispose of the liner and treasure those moments not spent cleaning a child-sized toilet.

ABC123 Potty Training Watch

According to my watch, it’s half past potty time. This cute little wristwatch helps remind kids and parents when it’s time to use the bathroom. Timer can be set for every 30, 60, or 90 minutes to cue a sweet little reminder that it’s time for your child to go. A helpful reminder for busy parents and a cute new accessory for your kid.

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