Updated May 2017
18 months is around the time that people start asking about potty training.
I get emails that say things like, “Shouldn’t I be potty training? Putting a potty out maybe, so she can ‘get used to it’? I don’t want to miss the boat.”
You’re not at risk for losing a window of opportunity for at least another year or so (and much later, depending on whom you ask), so do not panic.
That said, some potty training experts say that 20-30 months of age is the “golden window” for potty training. Thus, if you are one of those moms who likes to be on the leading edge of every developmental milestone (snort), you could, in theory, start potty training around 20 months or so.
When Lucie, my older daughter, was 18-20 months(ish), I was newly pregnant with Alice, my younger daughter. Many of those days were spent in bed or on the bathroom floor, so potty training a toddler was the absolute last thing on my mind.
And that was fine! We potty trained her a year later at 2.5, and the rest is history.
A parent’s readiness is as important (if not more) than the readiness of her child.
Here is the summary of my research. My goal is to provide enough detail to be informative but not overwhelming, so jump in if you’re ready. Or don’t yet. I assure you, your child will not go to college in diapers. 😉
A Little Intro
Generally speaking, healthy children aren’t physically and emotionally ready to start using a potty until they are between 18 months and three years old. Yes, there are those crazy people (kidding!) who do EC (elimination communication) from birth, but those people (“those people,” haha) are on their own track.
Anecdotally, boys tend to be more difficult to train than girls and, statistically, train at a later age (3 months later on average), but some potty training experts shun this notion and believe that boys can train just as quickly and easily as their female counterparts.
Maybe it’s just that moms of boys have been told that it’s soooo difficult, which deters them from trying earlier – very possible!
The vast majority of parents in America and other first world countries start potty training when their children are between two and three years old.
The situation in 2nd and 3rd world countries is totally different, as many urologists and potty training experts are first to point out. In those countries, they may not have access to proper diapering and sanitation. Thus, without diapers, potty training is imperative as a matter of community health and disease prevention. Furthermore, children in 2nd and 3rd world countries have a completely different lifestyle: they spend a lot more time outdoors, they certainly aren’t at daycare all day, and they eat whole foods that allow for easier bowel movements. Thus, you will find that children in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa “train” much earlier as a matter of custom, lifestyle, and practicality.
In America and most of Western Europe, the age of potty training is absolutely all over the board: some train at 18 months and some don’t get there until four (somebody has to be buying those size six diapers, right?).
That said, training your child earlier rather than later will save money on diapers, will make parents lives easier (no more changing diapers, woohoo!), and is much kinder on the environment.
Potty training expert and author of best-selling potty training book Oh Crap! Potty Training, Jamie Glowacki, recommends training between 20 to 30 months of age and warns that waiting too much past the age of 2.5 could make the job harder.
So why do most parents wait longer?
“Number one, for sure is disposable diapers. I don’t think there’s as much motivation (i.e., laundry) for the parents as there was when there were just cloth diapers… I think the other BIG reason is the whole ‘Wait till they’re ready’ thing. Most parents are under the impression that ‘ready’ means the child will completely self train one glorious moment. While that MAY happen, I find it’s pretty rare… I also think social media and the internet is a big factor as well. One rare potty training horror story can now be spread like wildfire, striking fear into thousands of parents,” says Glowacki.
Ahhhh, the internet.
For better or worse, you have to decide what the best age and approach is for you and your child. And I’m telling ya – it has much more to do with YOU and your partner’s readiness than you think. More about that later.
Also, like breastfeeding, nearly everyone has an opinion on potty training, so take all the advice you get with a grain of salt. What worked for your sister or your neighbor or your best friend’s kid might not work for yours — and vice versa.
Always allow your instinct to guide you. You’re the one, after all, who knows your child better than anyone else.
Have more than one babe in diapers to train at the same time? Many things will be the same as for singletons; you can choose and follow any of the methodologies outlined in Part II. The potty gear (Part III) is the same – just multiplied.
The BIG difference is with the two-day method, there are two kids to watch like a hawk. By the time you start potty training, you are probably used to having multiples; it is your life and you are rockin’ it (or at least surviving)… but potty training humbles any parent – and it really brings you back down as a POM.
Give yourself a longer time-frame for success, prepare yourself for accidents (since you don’t have six hands), and best of all, stack the deck in your favor by having man-on-man defense: one adult per potty training kiddo for the first few days. Inevitably, they won’t go at the same time at first. When one is done and ready to dump the pee-pee, you will come back to find the other one pooping all over the floor. If you only have one potty available, they will always go at the same time – so be prepared 😉 .
There is nothing quite as motivating as your sibling checking to see if you went potty and clapping for you when you do. As with all things multiples; it’s more work, but the reward is greater! If potty training all the kids at once is too much, go ahead and split it up – there is no rule that they all need to do it together. A more “willing” sister might persuade her sibling(s) that going pee-pee on the potty is the cool thing to do. I recommend lots of wine and patience the first few days. Once you are over the hump, remember to cut yourself and the kids some slack. There will be accidents, just plan on it and know you are doing great!
— Annette, Lucie’s List Twins Writer
Warning: I have an opinion
At the end of the day, I do have an opinion. After reading all the literature during my research, I am convinced that earlier(ish) is better (i.e., before 2.5 or 3), that waiting for your child to volunteer for the task might not ever happen, and that potty training is, in fact, a great gift to give your child. That said, I don’t judge anyone who wants to wait or doesn’t feel like they or their child is ready. Considering most parents in America are working the equivalent of three full-time jobs (two full-time jobs + managing a household and raising children), we have enough on our plates as it is, no?
Okay, enough pontificating, let’s get started: