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FAQ: when should my child be potty trained?

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  March 29, 2013 07:38 AM

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potty training.jpgIt's a moment most parents can't wait for: the moment they no longer have to change diapers. 

But when, many parents ask me, is that supposed to happen?

Like so much else in medicine and parenthood, the answer is: it depends on your kid--and you.

Most kids in the US are potty trained by between 24-48 months, although needing a diaper at night for longer is common. However, there is a really big variation in when children achieve this (wonderful) milestone. Here are some of the factors that influence it:

Cultural factors. Some cultures simply start earlier than ours. I take care of a lot of patients from the Dominican Republic, for example, and I've noticed that many of those parents start actively working on getting their children to use the potty before they are 2, which is about when most US parents start thinking about it. Which leads me to the second factor...

Parental motivation. Some parents are just more anxious to move the process along than others. Everybody is different.

Child motivation. Some children are just more anxious to move the process along than others. Everybody is different.

Logistical factors. If you want to do it, but your child care provider doesn't, or vice versa--that makes it more complicated. Or sometimes, things like a new baby or a move make parents want to put it off--or speed it up, which is often the case when the beginning of preschool looms.

Developmental challenges. Children who are delayed in speech, in using their hands and arms and legs, or in other ways, may take longer to potty train.

Bottom line: Most children are potty trained between 18 months and 4 years. If your child is older than 4 and still in diapers, you should definitely ask your doctor for help. Not that you have to wait that long--we are here to help whenever you need it.

Here are some signs of readiness to watch for:
  • Your child shows an interest (follows people into the bathroom, takes off diaper, wants to sit on the potty, etc)
  • Your child has words or some other way to communicate with you that he wants to use the potty
  • Your child can pull his pants up and down and get on and off the potty (or toilet) by himself.

For advice on potty training, read my 6 tips for potty training success.



Is there something you'd like me to write about? Leave me a message on my Facebook page--and "like" the page for links to all my MD Mama blogs as well as my blogs on Thriving and Huffington Post.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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