A Discussion of
Toilet Training Readiness
from Child's Standpoint

The official signs doctors tell us to look for, and some non-clinical observations

The common discussion of toilet training readiness is usually referring to the child’s readiness criteria: What “signs” should parents look for, before initiating potty training.

In this article I will outline the readiness criteria suggested by some of the pediatricians (pretty much a standard one, from what I’ve seen). I also added a few non-clinical observations to some of the points in the list, to serve as additional perspective where I thought the discussion was in place.

Toilet training readiness info brought in this article is based on the following medical sources:

- Barton D. Schmitt, MD; Toilet training: Getting it right the first time; Contemporary Pediatrics, Mar 2004.

- Scott Tennant; Toilet training more beneficial when started early; Urology Times, Apr 2010

Toilet Training Readiness Criteria as recommended by Pediatricians

Bladder Readiness

  • The child senses a full bladder and can hold the urge for a short time, and appears to remain dry for a few hours during each day.

    Additional perspective to bladder readiness:

      (1) Generally speaking, toddlers at any age (even infants) are capable of sensing bladder fullness and can hold the urge to urinate for a little while. Children who are still in diapers may not necessarily demonstrate this ability that their parents are aware of, but they can still be “trained” to do it

      (2) While it may be easier to potty train children who fully comply with this criterion, I would suggest that for children who don’t seem to comply -- that’s probably just because they haven’t had an incentive to do so until now, so it doesn’t mean they are not ready for toilet training.

Bowel Readiness

  • The child shows an awareness to bowel movements (by grunting, squatting or posturing), and can briefly hold the urge to defecate

  • The child has bowel movements regularly (preferably at regular hours each day), and tends to empty his bowel completely (as oppose to releasing a small amount each time, which might show a tendency to withholding stool)

    Additional perspective to bowel readiness:

      (1) Toddlers at any age are aware of their bowel movements and can postpone them briefly (assuming they are healthy). And, I believe that with a well-structured, well-conducted toilet training -- any child can learn to “master his poop”, even when they don’t appear to be “textbook ready”.

      (2) Plus there is no guarantee that children who do poop like clockwork will not develop stool withholding or constipation during their toilet training

      (3) That being said, it is worth considering that potty training for bowel is probably more challenging to most kids and their parents than potty training for bladder. Does “non-comply” for bowel-readiness criteria makes a good reason to postpone toilet training? Maybe… if you think that your child will develop “better bowel habits” in the next few months. But if this is what you’ve got (and especially when speaking of an older child) -- you’ll need to work with it at some point anyway.

      I would choose to look at the bowel readiness criterion as some sort of input while I’m preparing myself to potty train my child:
      It might tell me that this is where I need to put my attention; or that I should seek some guidance from a professional before going in; or that I need to set my expectations accordingly and maybe adjust my training method a bit.

Cognitive toilet training readiness

  • The child understands the concept of using the toilet or potty and shows interest in using them, or likes emulating an older family member by wearing underpants

  • The child likes being dry (i.e. lets us know he wants to be changed when diaper is wet or soiled)

    Additional perspective to cognitive readiness:

      (1) From a standpoint of (authoritative) parenting-oriented approach, children don’t necessarily need to be “interested” in potty sits, for parents to initiate training. We do want their cooperation but we are not depending on it.

      (2) Explaining toilet training to the child and getting him confident and positive about it -- that’s our job, and it has to be in our “to do list” when //preparing for potty training//. This is different from saying that my child’s interest in using potty is a condition for starting potty training.

      I would suggest putting anything related to “child’s motivation” under Parenting readiness guidelines

      (3) As for wanting to be dry: some kids do, some kids don’t seem to care. Mine didn’t, and I suspect that was partially my own doing, because there were times when I didn’t rush to change a diaper if no one was complaining... they were never sensitive to being wet, and I didn’t put too much thought on that. Anyhow, after spending 18 months or more in diapers, if your child doesn’t care about being wet -- chances are it’s not about to change. You’ll just need to take this into account while toilet training.

Motor readiness

  • The child can walk, sit, and get on/off the potty chair. Some doctors add: can pull down his pants and underpants.

    Additional perspective to motor readiness: I suggest that getting on and off the potty chair can be an acquired capability. Parents can help out in the first few weeks, and with time they will learn to be more and more independent. I don’t think it should postpone training.

Situations or Phases when starting potty training is not recommended (i.e. best to avoid until phase is over):

  • When the child has Diarrhea (I assume that no sensible parent would actually consider that)

  • When the child has constipation that is not related to toilet training, and seems to be a passing phase, which is either periodical or one-time. If the child appears to be chronically constipated (i.e. more than just a phase), then parents must treat it and consult with the pediatrician before potty training.

  • During phases of extreme power struggles and stubbornness: Although it’s true that authoritative parents lead their child firmly-yet-lovingly into potty training (and not letting them dictate), excessive battles don't help toilet training readiness.

    It may be wise to avoid potty training in certain times, when parents are experiencing a peak of resistance and power struggles from the child.

    At the very least, it would be good in these cases to consult with a professional and get additional guidance before diving in.

To conclude...

I would choose referring to toilet training readiness criteria as valuable input, rather than some sort of "bible";
I think that children who comply 100% with the toilet training readiness criteria may be easier to potty train than those who don't, but I would not categorize the "non comply" as not ready for toilet training: They are simply not aware, and that may require parents to set expectations in a different manner -- possibly more skillful. (Something to consider and get educated about before starting potty training).

Return from Toilet Training Readiness: Child's Standpoint to
When to Start Potty Training

Return from Toilet Training Readiness: Child's Standpoint to
Potty Training Tools Home Page