How do I know if my child is ready for potty training?

Your child’s readiness for potty training is based on your child’s development in the following four areas:

  1. Physiological Development
  2. Motor Skills or Physical Readiness
  3. Cognitive and Verbal development
  4. Emotional Growth and Social Awareness

Physiological Readiness:

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children’s elimination muscles (their sphinter muscles) mature somewhere between the age of 12-24 months, with the average being 12 months. 

So, how can you tell if your child’s muscles have mature and that your child is physiologically ready?

  • Is your child aware of the elimination process?  Does you child realize that he is about to go potty?
  • Has your child stopped having bowel movement through the night?
  • Does you have a fairly regular bowel movement schedule?
  • Does your wake up dry?
    • From Naps?
    • From night sleep?
  • Does your child urinate a lot at one time? (vs a little bit through out the day?

If you answered yes to all these questions, then you child is physiologically ready.

Motor Skills / Physical Readiness:

The goal of potty training in one day is independent toileting – which means that your child should be able to go potty when he feel he needs to go potty.  He should be able to get himself to the potty or toilet, remove his underpants and sit on the potty. 

Here are some question to help you decide if your child is physically ready or has the motor skills required:

  • Has your child mastered walking and running?
  • Is your child able to undress and dress himself or herself?  Is your child able to pull down and pull up his / her underpants?
  • Do you think your child has the motor skills required for toilet training?

If you answered yes to the questions above, then your child is physically read – or has the required motor skills for potty training!

Cognitive and Verbal Development:

If you look at the process of going potty from a child’s perspective, it is a complex set of physical and cognitive tasks that all have to be executed in perfect synchronicity, for your child to potty successfully and to avoid an accident.

Here are some questions to help you decide if your child has the cognitive and verbal skills required for potty training:

  • Can you child imitate behaviour?
  • Does your child understand the vocabulary required for potty training?  (Words such as pee pee, poo poo, wet, dry, underpants – use words that work for you and your family)
  • Is your child able to follow your instructions? (Such as put your toy & other articles away where they belong)
  • Does you child have the ability for symbolic thought, planning, problem solving and memory?

If you answered yes to these questions, then your child has the cognitive and verbal skills necessary to get started with potty training!

Emotional Growth and Social Awareness:

Emotionally, toddler go through phases where they are very positive – "I can do it" and all grown up "I am big girl or boy now".  They also become socially aware and want to be like others i.e. like an older sibling or like dad or mom.  They also have a strong desire for parental approval.

Here are some questions that will help you determine if your child is emotionally ready and has the social awarenss required for potty training:

  • Does your child say "I can do it" or "I am a big boy or girl now?"
  • Does your child look for or seek your approval?
  • Does your desire to be like others around him or her?
  • Does your child imitate behaviour?

If you answered yes to these questions, than you child is emotionally ready and has the social awareness required to potty independenlty!

If you answered no to some of these questions, then consider how you can get your child there before you get started.  Positon your child and yourself for success! 

It will make potty training a much more rewarding and memorable experience for both you and your child!

Good Luck.

Narmin Parpia

  1. Beth Bouchard’s avatar

    We have no problem with her urinating, but we are having a terrible time with bowel movements.

    She is 3 and a half, we have tried rewards, and promised surprises.

    She is very smart and understands everything you say.

    Unless you have a better idea we are now going to take away cartoons, and then suckers, as these are two of her favorite things.

    Help !


  2. Beth Bouchard’s avatar

    We know she is ready as she never has a wetting problem day or night.


  3. Narmin’s avatar

    This is a common issue for parents – you are not alone!

    Many children will potty trained for urination, but will not poop in the potty.

    If there isn’t a medical issue, then this is referred to as non retentive encopresis.

    Nonretentive encopresis, is a behavioral condition in which the child refuses to defecate in a toilet.

    Various terms have been used to describe this problem, including functional encopresis, primary nonretentive encopresis and stool toileting refusal.

    Potty Training Concepts has a whole section on encopresis, including causes of non retentive encopresis and treatment of encopresis.


  4. Julie Helferich’s avatar

    I am despeprate for some help. I bought your book potty training in one day. I have read it and am waiting on the potty patty and extra mattress cover, portable potty seat etc.. to come before we have “the big day”. My daughter is 3 years and 4 months. She seems to be ready and at preschool asks to use the potty all the time. the only problem is she will not pee in the potty or poop in it for that matter. She asks to go to the potty and sits on it but then says she has no pee. She will hold her pee from 8am until about 4pm and then pee in her pull-up when she gets home. One day she helo it for 10 hrs. she seems to want to wear big girl panty’s and be like all her friends at preschool but can not relax enough to let her pee or poop out into the potty. I do not know what to do. she uses her pull ups to pee because she can not relax on the potty and do it. do I take that crutch away for good. if so I worry about uti’s. Very frustrated and wondering if my child will ever be fully ready for potty training?! She was 10 weeks premature at birth but has not had any issues because of it. Any help or advise is very much appreciated!


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