All blog posts

Potty Training – When to Start and When to Stop

Tags: , , ,
When To Start and Stop Child's Potty Training

Parents want to know when to start potty training.  Here is my answer:

  • Begin “training” when your child is verbal. Start by helping them learn the language they’ll need, like “pee,” “poo,” “bum,” “potty,” “toilet,” etc.
  • Somewhere in the middle of their second year, you can buy a potty and get some fun children’s books about potty training.
  • Let them see you using the toilet (if you are like me, you have never had a minute alone in the washroom anyway!) and let them “play”/”imitate” you by either sitting on their potty or the toilet (with their pants still on is typical), or putting their dolls on it. This is still about “play,” not “trying” to use the toilet.
  • Show them how to dress and undress so they can pull their pants down and up on their own.  Show them how to wash and dry their hands at the sink.  These areas should be kid-friendly, with step stools and easy-to-reach soap and towels.
  • Look for 2-3 hour periods of dryness and predictable bowel movements each day.

Body maturation and awareness comes in three stages: “I peed,” “I am peeing,” and “I have to pee.” When they share “I peed” and “I am peeing,” you can smile and say encouraging comments like, “Hey, you are really getting to know your body!”

Only when they get to the “I need to pee” stage, which means they now are able to hold their bladder and have a chance to actually plan to get to the potty, is it time to invite them to try to use the toilet or potty. This, in my opinion, is when active potty training takes place (somewhere around between 2 1/2 and 3 years of age) and it means having you child wear fast-to-pull-down track pants or leggings – no zippers, belts, buckles or overalls, please.

Now you can invite them to try to do that pee (which they now know they are holding) on a potty!  It’s an invitation to try – not a life sentence of sitting until something happens!  They can sit and try, and when they want to get up, so be it.  They can try anytime they like.  The next time they announce, “I have to pee,” ask, “Do you wanna try the potty?” If they say yes, say “Let’s go,” and then move quickly to the potty and get them on there quickly.  They can’t hold for long at this stage, so if they don’t make it to the toilet, say, “That’s okay, you’re learning!” and stay positive.

When to stop training – you are being too forceful or are taking over the lead:

  • If they say NO.  No means NO and you have to respect that.  If they don’t want to use a toilet, they may be ready physically, but not psychologically.
  • If they are holding or constipated, whatever you might be doing – back off!
  • If they have many accidents and never even make an attempt to hold or get to the toilet.
  • If they don’t go when they are on the potty, but then go immediately after being re-dressed.
  • If they hide to go.

Hope that gives you a good start!

About Alyson

Alyson has been blogging parenting advice for over 15 years. She has been a panelist at BlogWest, Blissdom, #140NYC and more. Her content appears on sites across Canada and the US, but you can read all her own blog posts right here.

More about Alyson

23 Responses to “Potty Training – When to Start and When to Stop”

  1. Amanda

    Hello Alyson,
    I was directed here by a friend of mine. I have a 2 1/2 year old that has been potty trained. By that I mean he knows exactly what to do and how to do it. Given that…he decides he does not want to. I have no idea if it is attention he is looking for, or rebellion. He is a stubborn boy and does not do what he does not decide to…(of course he has to sometimes)but I have made the toilet his choice. We have tried many types of rewards, praise, and even discipline as a last resort. Nothing seems to work consistently. Sometimes he will be good and we will praise like crazy, but then the next day it is as if it never happened. I really do not want to put him back in diapers as he knows how to take them off and I will still be cleaning up poop. Any advice?


  2. Alyson Schafer

    Hi Amanda,
    Tough as it it – it seems he is not willing to potty training. Notice I say “willing”. He may be able – but he doesn’t want to co-operate. Part of why children don’t co-operate is because they feel they are being manipulated and controlled by their parents who want to “make them mind their will” and in essence force them to comply and use the potty. They rebel by their refusal to do so.

    If you stop cohesion tactics and just honour the fact that you CAN’T make him, you’ll find that he will want to at his own good time for his own good reasons. So – just stop training him and I’ll bet when he is closer to 4 (ave age range 2.5-3.5yo) he will decide he would like to use the toilet like the others in his home or daycare.

    Hope that helps!

  3. Jennifer

    Any advice on what to do when the toddler says NO to both toilet training and diaper changes? For about 2 months, we would put him on the potty at his request, and he would go days without an accident. Then he stopped asking to go and simultaneously started fighting diaper changes. We have tried your advice in choosing from two options or we choose, which works in most other situations. In this case, however, choosing for him becomes a power struggle. Do we just let him stay in dirty diapers until he chooses an option? If we don’t choose for him, it becomes a power struggle that can last all day. Any advice would be so appreciated.

    Thank you for all the information you provide!

  4. Tempa Baxter

    Hi Alyson,
    I am just listening to you speak at Amex!! You are phenomenal! I have 2 kids- 4.5yr old Ethan and Miia 18 months….Ethan has been potty trained since 2.5yrs old…although we have tried so hard to do the overnight diaper free situation, but we have had NO success ….can you give me a few tips pls.
    thanks tempa

  5. Alyson Schafer

    Hey Tempa, Thanks for your note! Glad you came to the talk. I am happy to help with potty training. Is it just night dryness that is the issue? At 2.5 he is barely old enough for daytime dryness. Can you say bit more about your actual dilemma? Alyson

  6. Joel

    Just skimming through. I think the initial comment of this thread is about a 4.5 yr old who is dry during the day (since 2.5) but still wets the bed at night.

  7. Kassie Johnson

    Hi Alyson,
    My son is almost 3 years old and I am trying to potty train him…again. (This is the 3rd time trying) this time seemed to go a little better, but then it just seems like he doesn’t want to stop what he’s doing to get the bathroom. I also feel like he does that the “urge” to go. Shouldn’t he have this by now? He also pees a lot! I have been taking him every 15 minutes and almos every time he would go in the potty, but he won’t sit on the potty long enough to finish. Also on day 3 if training, it doesn’t seem like there is any progress he is still having the same amount of accidents. So should I stop and try again or keep going with it?

    Thanks Kassie

  8. Alaine Johansen

    Hey Alyson,
    I have dedicated whole weekend to my daugher, waiting for signs. Until Sunday evening, my two year old girl have learnt to go to potty. Even though she made a mistake few times during next year or so, she now usually goes to potty by herself and alone.

  9. crystal

    My son just turned four. He potty trained well for peeing last July but still wont poop in the toilet. He has done it a couple times but just wants to poop in his underwear. I tried the not saying anything, then we tried picking a date to start using the toilet, then i told him it was his decision where to poop but if it was in his underwear he had to change them himself (i thought a couple weeks of that would change his mind, didnt work). I got very angry one day and said mean things, he didnt poop for five days after that outburst. I apoalogized and told him he is in charge of his body, we went back to saying nothing and he is having pretty regular movements again but no interest except once for a treat to use the toilet. He will sit and practice on the toilet then get up and poop in his underwear. I am scared he will go to school not fully trained.
    Should i try using his potty again, we had trouble getting him to use any toilet buf his potty so leary on going back to it. I dont want to go back to diapers after a year of good peeing. I think all i can do is as you suggest is say nothing (truly say nothing) but this is very very hard. Not sure why i get so angry/frustrated.
    I used to tell him he gad to at least be in the bathroom so we all didnt have to smell him and he would, but now he hids away from us but keeps playing with his toys sometimes for a long time. I feel lke this is a new powerstruggle being in the bathroom. Do i just say nothing about this aswell and let him poop his pants wherever until he decides he is ready to use the toilet??

    • Emma McArdle

      Wow i had to read this twice and I’m nearly crying for your son. I can’t imagine what you said to make him hold it for 5 days but it must have been terrible. He has to change himself after accidents? You also told him you don’t want to smell him and you wonder why he’s not telling you when he needs to go. I think it’s good that you are looking for help here, for the little guy’s sake. Hope it worked out for you all in the end.

  10. Nicole Fitzpatrick

    Hello! Thanks for the great advice. I am getting a bit concerned about my son- he will be 3 in 2 weeks. He really seems to have no interest in potty training. He leaves the room to poop, and asks me to change soiled diapers, but that’s about it. He will hold his pee for up to 4 hours when we are trying to get him to use the potty- waiting until his nap-time pull-up to let it all out rather than use the potty chair or toilet ring. I don’t know if we should take a break since he is nearly 3 and removing his own diapers, but I can’t seem to get to the break through where he understands that he can let his pee go into the potty. Any suggestions would be so appreciated.

  11. Lani

    Hi, just reading this. I’m on day two of potty training my 20 month old boy and we have only had a few successes. He seems to dribble lots and then nothing on the potty unless I sit next to him for an amount of time. I’m wondering if I should stick to it or if I’ve started too young. Then I’m worried if I stop it’ll be detrimental to when we want to try train again.

    • Alyson Schafer

      HI there, 20 months is very young. Boys trying later than girls and its a process that happens closer to their 3rd birthday. Its always okay to stop and take and break and come back to it. Their ability many continue grow, but their interest will wax and wane.


      • Gerald

        My son is 4.5 yrs old and has no interest in pooping in the potty, he wears gitchies and will pee on the potty but demands a pull up for poop. I try sitting him on the potty and it’s a all out fight to keep him there so we just give in. Any ideas?

  12. Rebeccs

    Hi my sons 3 in 2 months and he starts school so could do with been out of nappies by then , my first son only took a matter of days to train but my youngest iv been at it a week first few days just constant accidents and no interest in potty at all now he tells me mummy weewee mayb 3 a day but has about 10 accidents inbetween poos are still in his pants aswell if I say do you need weewee he just says no and doesnt tell me when his pants are wet his speaking ok but not brilliant do I just go back to nappies for a dew week and try again later ? If you could help that would be great just worried if I stop he wont train again if he thinks il give up

    • Alyson Schafer

      Hi Rebecca. He is not interested so you are fighting a loosing battle. He must want to have some interest. Lay off for a month or even two and try again then with a fresh mind set.

  13. Eden

    Hello Alison,
    I need help in potty training my 3.5 year old daughter. This is my 8th attempt since she was 2. This kid knows how to read and she writes her name. She is trilingual as well. She know lots of books and songs by heart in three languages. She learns really fast. But when it comes to potty, she is very stubborn. I have gone cold turkey on her twice already, but no luck. The potty training usually lasts a week or so. I do have to take her to potty ever 10 minutes. I have a potty in the living room and a toilet seat for her in the washroom.
    This isn’t working. I am thinking to stop completely. I have tried everything. But no luck. So what should I do?
    Please advice me on what to do.


    • Alyson Schafer

      She has been so busy learning so many things that I am sure potty training must seem slow and boring to her! I agree – just stop all together. Re-inforce the idea that she is the caretaker of her own body – that you trust her to decide when she wants to learn to use the toilets in the house like everyone else does and leave it to her to decide when, and assure her you will help her when she takes the initiative of wanting to learn this too! When she takes ownership of the process, she won’t feel the need to resist your urgings. She wants to do this thing for her self, her way, her time… trust her. Nothing else is working anyways:)

  14. Jennifer von Rohr

    My daughter is not afraid of sitting on the potty and happily goes into the bathroom but she seems scared/uncertain about letting her pee come out. We’ve had two “successful” releases on the potty but each time she just held it until she couldn’t any longer. Once the pee started to come out she relaxed. Afterwards she was proud and excited to wipe and flush.
    Do I need to stop? I’m afraid of pushing her and causing a training problem. But I also need her to be out of diapers before outside starts in two months.

  15. Katie

    Hi Alyson just reading this now. My son will turn 3 in October we started potty training at the end of May as he seemed very willing to use the potty. The first few weeks went pretty well even by week 3 asking to go. Poop was a struggle at first but he then started using the toilet no problem. He then had a huge poop accident and was mortified. At first he just was holding his poop but now just goes in his underwear and walks to the bathroom to be cleaned after as he knows he’s gone. Last week or so he now is having pee accidents. After the big accident he stopped asking to go I would just take him. But just sits there and goes in his underwear. When I take him he does go sometimes he needs some convincing to try the potty but other times he goes to the bathroom no problem. It’s getting frustrating any suggestions? Is he not ready?

  16. Carole Parker

    Hi, I’ve followed your advice but my now 4 year old still refuses to wee on the potty / toilet. He flat out says he doesn’t want to. My issue is that he starts school in a few weeks and I just don’t know what else to do now.

  17. Rita j

    I decided to give up potty training with my almost 3 year old he constantly just goes on the floor and bed instead of using the potty , I’m not sure if he will learn to use the potty but when school starts and he’s still going on himself , has anyone experienced what happens in those cases ? Like will there be an IEP or 504 plan ( not sure of of what it’s called ) ?


Leave a Reply

5 Best Parenting Practices

Take these 5 steps towards a better relationship with your child.

Check your inbox for your Free Resource!

5 Best Parenting Practices

Take these 5 steps towards a better relationship with your child.

Check your inbox for your Free Resource!