Can You Toilet-Train Too Early?

At what age should you start teaching your child to use the potty or toilet?


Is there a right age to start toilet training? There’s wide disagreement amongst experts and parents alike on this subject.

Some parents use what’s called “Elimination Communication” or “Diaper-free baby care”: from birth on, they watch their babies for signals that they need to urinate or have a bowel movement and then hold them over a toilet or potty. (They may also use diapers at times in situations where they can’t quickly get the baby to a potty.)

Some parents use diapers at first, then begin toilet training soon after baby becomes a toddler. Others wait until the child is two and a half or three, and better able to understand the concept and manage getting his clothes off and on again. 

Perhaps the best guideline is to respect your child as an individual, and to be aware of some of the hazards of starting too soon.

Most toddlers who have been wearing diapers all along are not really able to recognize when they need to “go” early enough to get to the potty in time. That can lead to a lot of accidents, and all those wet clothes (not to mention puddles on the carpet and couch) can be stressful for parents. Then the parents get annoyed with the child, who can be more likely to have another accident because he’s feeling anxious.

Toddlers are also at a stage of irrational fears. Many are scared by the flushing sound of the toilet or seeing their stool swirl away down the drain. Some will start to hold in their bowel movements and end up with constipation problems.

Waiting a bit longer, until your child is more verbal and physically capable, and watching for signs of readiness, can make the process easier for both of you. What are some signs of readiness?

  • Your child often wakes up with a dry diaper after sleeping all night and after naps.
  • Your child shows awareness of needing to urinate or have a bowel movement, perhaps by stopping what he’s doing or squatting.
  • Your child expresses interest in using the toilet or not wearing diapers any more.
  • Your child can remove and replace his clothes himself

A relaxed, encouraging approach will make the whole process less stressful. Children who are really ready often learn to use the toilet consistently within a couple of days.


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