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What is the Right Age to Potty Train?

QUESTION: At what age is it a good time to start potty training my two-year-old son?

ANSWER: A recent study found that when children are left to their own pacing, more than half toilet train between 27 and 36 months. Most pediatricians do not push toilet training, but advise parents to wait until the child is "ready." But what does that mean?

Your son's interest in using the toilet and his awareness of his internal body signals are often your first indications. Does he imitate you and want to sit on the toilet (potty chair) or flush it? That could be a beginning sign. Because the internal regulation of the sphincter muscles involved in toilet training are highly complex, your child should also show some sign that he is registering what is happening inside his body, too.

Taking off a wet diaper by himself, stopping to grunt or stoop down to pee or poop in his diaper show signs that he is aware of what is happening inside his body, either right before or after the act. His ability to use language to communicate his need to go to the potty and his ability to walk or run to the toilet are also essential precursors to a successful potty training experience.

But what about your readiness? Some children learn to use the potty relatively quickly, while others take more time to integrate a new skill. Pick a time that you are not overly stressed and can give extra patience to your child, as inevitable misses will occur! If you resort to melt downs during this trial and error period of learning, you may negatively charge your child's experience. If you are not consistent in your availability to help your son when he needs your assistance going to the potty, you may set up a prolonged and frustrating experience for the both of you.

Keep in mind that potty training should be an experience of pride and accomplishment for your son. It is step toward independence and confidence in his ability to be autonomous. Do not be shy to express your own enthusiasm for his successes, which he will internalize.


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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