The Right Time to Toilet Train

The Right Time to Toilet Train

When is the right time to start toilet training (or toilet learning if you prefer)?  The answer to that question should not be based on your child’s age but rather her abilities and inclinations.  And it is critical to keep in mind that this is a complex activity and there is a lot of variability among children – and that variability is the consequence of the normal range in rates and patterns of development and has nothing to do with how “advanced” or “slow” the child is according to some people’s inappropriate comments.

Obviously, in order for toilet training to be successful, the child has to be able to control her bowel and bladder muscles – she has to be able to hold on and let go at will.  It may come as a surprise that most children have achieved this ability by about 18 months of age.  Does that mean you should start then?  Definitely not.  While this ability may be “necessary” for success it is by no means “sufficient.”  In addition, the child must have the gross motor (large muscle) ability to climb onto the seat and balance herself comfortably.  She must have the fine motor (small muscle) ability to unfasten and remove her clothes quickly and easily.  And she must have the cognitive and linguistic ability to express her needs and follow instructions.

More importantly, one must remember that at about 18 months of age, toddlers typically enter a period of “negativism.”  They are psychologically compelled to test the limits of their personal power at this point.  “No” becomes their favorite word, and they delight in defying commands and requests.  Waiting a few months for this to pass and for issues of personal power to be resolved makes a lot of sense.

Consequently, even if other mothers and fathers are bragging that their same-aged child has been trained for months, and even if your in-laws are clucking their tongues and constantly asking why their grandchild is still in diapers, it is wise for parents to be patient.  Holding off until all abilities and inclinations are in place will guarantee that everything goes smoothly and successfully whereas pushing the process too soon will only result in failure, frustration, and substantial additional delay.