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Ready for Potty Training?

Pediatrics Expert Advice from Henry Bernstein, M.D.

Q: My son is 26 months old and doesn't want to begin potty training. At first he refused to put on a "pull-up" and began crying, telling me he didn't like them. I took that as a cue that he wasn't quite ready. Eventually, he would wear the pull-up, but began to cry when I would put him on the potty chair. Is he just not ready? I don't want to force the issue if he's not ready, but I don't want to wait too long either.

A: You are reading your son's cues correctly. He's probably not quite ready to start toilet training. There isn't a "right" age for him to begin. The average age for toilet training is about 2 1/2 years of age, but can range from one to four years or so. I agree that his potty training shouldn't be forced -- tomorrow's another day.

During your child's check-up, talk with your pediatrician about your child's developmental readiness. Signs of readiness include imitating you in the bathroom, coming to you to say he's "going" or he has to "go," understanding two step commands (for example, "go to your room and get your shoes"), putting on and taking off his own clothes, and staying dry for several hours.

Even though your son doesn't sound like he's quite ready to potty train, it's still important to introduce the potty chair and have him become familiar with it. Place it in a convenient location (which doesn't have to be in the bathroom) so that he begins to feel comfortable with it as you encourage him. Also, allow him to watch his parent(s) use the toilet and introduce simple matter-of-fact words for anatomy, as well as urine and stool.

Toilet training is a gradual process that can take up to three months or more. As a parent, you can explain what needs to be done, but it's your child's determination that's necessary. When he's ready, it will seem to happen overnight. Your role as a parent is to encourage, reinforce, and praise your son as he is achieving this developmental milestone.

Hank Bernstein
Children's Hospital

More on: Expert Advice

Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.


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