Physical and Emotional Readiness Signs for Potty Training

Mother Training Her Son to Use the Potty

Physical and Emotional Readiness Signs for Potty Training

As in most areas of early child development, potty training is a futile effort if your child is not ready. This is definitely a circumstance when your toddler is in the driver’s seat. Potty training requires a huge commitment on their part.

There are two important components to readiness for potty training. The first to consider is your child’s physical readiness and the second component is their emotional readiness. Both are equally important and if one of these two components is not ready, potty training is likely to be a long and frustrating process for both of you.

Physical Readiness for Potty Training

1. Growth, Development and Anatomy

When we consider physical readiness for potty training, it is important to understand your child’s growth and development, and a little bit of anatomy as well. There is a circular sphincter muscle that controls the opening of the bladder and the rectum. Babies are not able to control this muscle. As their bladder or rectum become full, that sphincter muscle automatically opens and urine or a bowel movement is released. Every parent is aware of the need for a diaper change almost immediately after the bottle is done. This remains an involuntary process in most children until around 18 months. For babies who pee or poop on the potty prior to 18 months, it is usually all about timing. In other words, she was probably placed on the potty at exactly the right time because it is unlikely that she is consciously able to hold it.

2. Milestones

Additionally, there are a few other motor developmental skills that make potty training easier. Having the walking milestone mastered is important, not just for the ability to walk to the potty (of course you can carry her) but babies tend to fixate on a milestone that they are working on and if they are practicing the skill of walking it can be overwhelming to try to learn another skill such as potty training at the same time. It is best to focus on one landmark milestone at a time.

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3. Helpful Skills

It is also helpful if he is able to pull his pants up and down independently. Most 18-month-old toddlers are starting to develop this skill and it is an important part of potty training! You can help by making sure your toddler has elastic waist bands and clothing that is easy to manage. You can also practice this dressing and undressing skill independent of potty training so there is no added pressure.

Emotional Readiness for Potty Training

When it comes to emotional readiness, this is equally, if not more important! This can also be much harder to recognize. There are a lot of additional emotional factors at this age that make this very confusing, such as his need for independence, testing limits, wanting your approval, and any fears associated with potty training.

1. Independence

He is at an age where independence is very important to him and mastery of his own body falls under this feeling of independence. This can work in your favor or against you. If your toddler is ready and comfortable on the potty, she may feel empowered by using the potty, but if she is not emotionally ready, she may use this desire for independence to run away every time she feels the urge to pee or poop. She may hide in a corner or behind the sofa and maybe even pee on the floor in an effort to exert control. The best way to deal with this is just to clean up the mess, downplay it and put off potty training until your toddler is more emotionally mature.

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2. Stability

Consider the stability of everything else in your toddler’s life. Make sure there has not been a recent move, new baby or start of a new school. These things can create stress that leads to resistant behavior that can make potty training very challenging.

3. Social Awareness

Social awareness is another emotional factor to consider. Does your toddler have an awareness of other children and attempt to do things that they do? This usually becomes apparent around 18 months as well. This is the foundation for his own social identity. He will start to be aware that other children his age are not wearing pull-ups and he will desire to be like them. When your child is at this stage, potty training is easier.

4. Showing Interest

Some ways to identify emotional readiness for potty training is to observe your toddler’s response to the concept of potty training. Does he initiate sitting on the potty or does he run away from it? Does he become excited when you talk about it, or does he cry? His reaction will tell you a lot.

Take some time to fully consider your toddler’s physical and emotional readiness for potty training before embarking on this momentous task. It is a partnership that takes a lot of finesse, some rewards and a lot of paper towels!

About the Author /

Dr. Aimee Ketchum is a pediatric occupational therapist and has been working in pediatrics for 20 years. Ketchum works in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at UPMC Pinnacle Hospital and lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania with her husband and two daughters. Ketchum is also the owner/operator of Aimee’s Babies LLC, a child development company.

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