Potty Training Tips for Your Toddler

Professional advice for making the big bathroom transition.

Illustration by Valéry Goulet

Just when you feel like you’ve finally gotten the baby routine down—wham! It’s time to potty train your toddler. But these tricks and tips can make the process a bit less messy.

TIP #1: Make sure your child is ready. Some kids are ready at 18 months and others are 3 years old or older before they’re ready—and those few extra months of development can make a big difference. “Self-help skills one hundred percent matter,” says potty training consultant Tara McMullen, an Early Childhood Center teacher at Cincinnati Country Day School. “A big sign is if they can put on their own shoes or pull their pants up and down.” Other signs might include telling you when their diaper is dirty or slipping away to poop in private.

TIP #2: Use consistent and correct terminology. You might think it’s cute to give your kid euphemisms (i.e., “tinkle” or “number two”) but the truth is, kids need to be able to communicate their toilet needs clearly. The words “pee” and “poop” are universal. Also, to quote Kindergarten Cop: “Boys have a penis, and girls have a vagina.” Keep it simple and straightforward.

TIP #3: Establish a potty routine. In the first few days of potty training, prompt your child frequently and regularly to use the potty—but make it a command, not a choice. “If you ask your toddler, ‘Do you have to go potty?’ that’s like asking an adult if they’re ready to leave a party they’re still happy to be at,” says McMullen. Limit outings for the first several days, and don’t start the process in the middle of other big transitions. “If there’s a new baby, a new house, moving from a crib to a toddler bed, or the paci has just been taken away, those are not good times,” says McMullen.

Best Potty Books for Kids

Potty, by Leslie Patricelli

Silly and simple, this book shows that kitty goes in the litter box, doggy goes outside, and toddler should go on the potty.

Everyone Poops, by Taro Gomi

Elephants, camels, fish, and lots of other animals poop in different places and in different ways—even grown-ups and kids.

Daniel Goes to the Potty, by Maggie Testa

For Daniel Tiger enthusiasts, this gentle “how to potty on the go” story comes with a special “flush” button.

Even Firefighters Go to the Potty: A Potty Training Lift-the-Flap Story, by Naomi and Wendy Wax

Firefighters, policeman, baseball players, construction workers, and even astronauts go to the potty.

A Potty for Me!, by Karen Katz

From getting a new potty to achieving the first potty success, this straightforward story talks about the logistics and feelings of learning to use the potty.

Time to Pee!, by Mo Willems

This book with clever pictures and easy verbiage comes with a chart and stickers to track your child’s potty progress.

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