age for toilet trainingWhile parents differ on the ways to toilet train a child, there is one question universal to all moms and dads: How early can I start potty training without permanently scaring my toddler? I mean, after the scoreboard changes into the hundreds on the diaper-changing meter we have all had out fill of full diapers (see what I did there?) Why is there so little information available on when we should get our little boy or girl out of diapers and on the toilet?
Strap in, mom and dad, because I am going to give you your fill on what age is the “right” age to begin potty training.

Academic Research on Potty Training Age

To begin, the US Government has done a lot of research in this area. A search on MedPub for “toilet training” returns fifty-five pages of studies. I’m going to admit right now that I did not go through all the studies, though looking back with the amount of sleepless nights I’ve experienced as a new parent I realistically had the time. What is apparent from reviewing a random sample of the research is the answer is part culturally-explained, part-child-specific,and part-parent specific.

Culture and The ‘Ideal’ Age to Potty Train

We can start with the cultural impact on potty training age. I am from the United States, and my parents are from here as well. In the US, children begin potty training somewhere between 18 months and three years. Virtually no one would think of an infant twelve weeks old as ready to begin shedding the diapers. In fact, I would wager some people would think parents are committing some sort of abuse by starting the training that early.  However, I did find this video of a child starting at the age of six months.

In other parts of the world, this behavior would be considered normal. In studies on toilet training in Iran and Turkey, it was found that on average the teaching started early enough that children were trained by the age of two. Now there are obvious differences that might explain some of the speed of initiation. One reason is the prevalence of washable diapers vs. disposables; another whether or not the family shares a toilet. Regardless, it certainly seems from the evidence that kids are biologically able to be potty trained by the age of two.

Child Individuality In Toilet Training

So what role does the idiosyncrasies of the child play in finding the right age for ending diaper-dependence? Obviously, your child’s maturity has an impact. It would be a whole lot easier if each child followed a similar path of development. Then we would just follow a formula, and know exactly when and how to move our child from a diaper-bound existence to the world of toilet-independence.

That isn’t how the real world works. Each child is different, special, and will follow their own path. This is awesome in many ways – it’s what makes being a parent such a rewarding job. It does mean you need to be able to read your child as well. Unless you have an urgent, real significant reason that would require you to speed up the process, it will be better for both you and your child to let them decide when they are ready. For most people, listening to your child’s timeline is the best choice.

Parental Impacts in Potty Training Age

This leads to the role of the parent. The “correct” potty training age is going to depend a lot on your motivation, energy level and determination. I can say from experience that it was a lot more work when we trained my oldest at an early age versus my middle child at a later (30 months) time. Why? My daughter was not as focused on getting out of diapers as my son was – which meant that we, as parents had to pick up that excitement slack. We did it – well actually, my daughter did it, we just cajoled her into it – but it was a lot of consistent work. When the time came to start making the decision on what age was right for our son to start potty training, we decided to take a little easier path and wait until he signaled he was ready. It didn’t hurt that having two kids under four makes that decision a little easier, since there’s barely any time for sleeping let alone countless unproductive trips to the bathroom – but that’s another story.

One thing we found was letting our children make as many of the decisions as were reasonably possible. It helps children to feel in control. For example, we let our daughter pick the tools needed for the job – like this step stool or their choice of potty seat. You need to make sure you as the parent are still in control – but even a little input in to the potty training process can help your toddler feel like the decision is theirs to make. Often that is all it takes to get the ball rolling.

SO WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN

Putting all of the data together, we have..exactly what? The evidence would suggest most children are ready to begin potty training by the age of two. However, kids around the world start at much earlier and later times. The reality is, the right potty training age is a case-by-case basis. Much of the heavy lifting is going to fall on you, the parent. Therefore make sure you are ready, and have the patience necessary to help your child grow in his potty training adventure. Finding the right age for your particular toddler to begin toilet training is an art, not a science. But isn’t that true of most of the challenges we face as parents?

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