Maybe you’ve been dreaming of the day you can say goodbye to diapers forever, but your toddler may not be as enthusiastic about potty training as you are. Whenever it’s time to start potty training, be prepared with these steps and tips for how to potty train your toddler.

When to Start Toddler Potty Training

To know when it’s time to start potty training your toddler, look for signs that they’re ready—which will typically show up as early as 18 months, but most start between 24 - 36 months of age.1Here are some common indicators that your little one is ready to start trading diapers for the potty:1,2

  • They have the physical coordination and skills. Can your toddler walk to and sit on the toilet or their potty chair? Can they lower and raise their bottoms on their own?

  • They know—and you know—when they need to go. Whether your little one loudly broadcasts when they’re eliminating or just makes a signature face, their awareness of when they need to go is key.

  • You’re changing fewer diapers and they’re dry for several consecutive hours. This is an indicator of developing bladder control and of more regular bowel movements, both of which make potty training your toddler much easier.

  • They can follow simple directions. Being able to hear and follow directions is an important development milestone, especially when it comes to potty training.

  • They show an interest. Whether it’s an eagerness to wear “big-kid underwear” or a dislike of being in a soiled diaper, your little one may decide for themselves that it’s time to start potty training.

How to Prep Your Toddler for Potty Training

In the time leading up to potty training, start promoting good bathroom habits and self-esteem around bathroom usage for your toddler:1,2

  • Promote all things potty training and “grown up.” Make the idea of being a big kid exciting! Picking out underwear is fun! Conversely, do not call diapers “a baby thing,” “icky,” or anything else negative—this cannot only be hurtful, but promote negative behavior and stubborn streaks. Also make sure to heap praise on your little one when they achieve other “big kid” milestones around the house.

  • Use a standard vocabulary. While some may suggest using clinical terms for bathroom activities and related parts, what’s more important is being consistent in the words you use with your toddler. And, again, avoid applying shame or negative words to diapers and bodily functions.

  • Prepare the potty for your toddler—and prepare your toddler for the potty. Whether you place it in the bathroom or in another room where you’ve noticed your toddler typically needs to “go,” get a toddler potty (or two) for your little one and have it at the ready. Show them how Mommy or Daddy uses the big potty, too—your toddler loves to mimic! If your toddler isn’t interested in the “baby potty” and wants to use the toilet, consider opting for a toddler seat that attaches to the toilet instead.

  • Dress for the bathroom trip you want. Start putting your toddler into bottoms that can be pulled down and up easily—no tricky zips or buttons. Have them practice this motion when dressing them.

Toddler Potty Training Steps & Tips

When you gotta go, you gotta go. So let’s get going with steps and tips for how to potty train your toddler after you’ve prepped them to use the “big kid toilet”:1,2

  • Set a potty break routine and stick to it. Even if your toddler doesn’t express a need to go—either vocally or with a potty dance—have them sit on their potty bare-bottomed every two-hours. Whether they use it or simply get up after a few moments, praise your toddler for trying.

  • Break the routine for potty-need signs. If you notice they need to go, go! Head to the potty when those familiar faces and squirms—and words—start to show up to help your toddler connect those feelings to the need to use the toilet. Praise them for knowing that they needed to go and expressing it in their own way.

  • Make the move away from diapers. After a few successful weeks in a row and long stretches of dryness, consider switching to training pants or regular underwear. Fun underwear that your little one has picked out themselves can be a great motivator to keep doing their best in the bathroom.

If you’re interested in trying a more high-stakes approach to toddler potty training, consider a day of “bare bottoming”—letting your little one go about their day without any bottoms in a private yard or a room with an easy-to-clean floor. The theory is that your little one will so dislike having an accident they’ll be more inclined to use the potty. While few studies have been done on this method’s efficacy, many parents swear by it.3

It’s Different for Girls & Boys

There are differences between potty training a boy toddler and a girl toddler. You may have heard anecdotes that girls are easier to potty train than boys. This is not necessarily the case, but a boy will need different steps in the potty training journey than a girl:4

  • Sit down. That’s right—start your boy toddler’s potty training in a seated position. This will help him become accustomed to using the potty without having to worry about too many aiming woes right away.

  • Ready, aim…But aiming is still important, even from a seated position. Get your boy toddler used to pointing himself down—some parents swear by making a kind of bullseye in the toddler potty or toilet bowl for their boys to practice hitting.

Hygiene is also different when it comes to boy and girl toddlers. Make sure everyone in the household or who may be helping your girl toddler potty train knows that she should be learning how to wipe from front to back. Of course, though, all toddlers should be taught to wash up when they’re done in using the toilet.