Potty training is a big milestone for kids and for parents. But not all children are ready to train at the same age.

“Pediatricians talk about potty training a lot,” says Dr. Pilar Bradshaw. “Parents want to know, ‘How do I potty train my toddler? When should I start? How should I do it?’ They have lots of questions, because they are very motivated to get their kids out of diapers.”

Potty training requires patience
Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, parents need to understand that potty training is a process that often takes weeks, months or longer. You may be eager to potty train your child, but success depends on when your child is ready.

“There are many studies that show the earlier you start potty training, the longer you will spend potty training. In other words—don’t force it before your kid is ready,” says Dr. Bradshaw. “If you force potty training, or if you act too interested in it, the typical toddler will refuse to participate.”

When should I start potty training my child?
There is no exact age to start the potty training process. On average, girls potty train between 2-3 years old and boys typically between ages 3-4. Potty training is most successful when your child is physically and emotionally ready. Look for readiness cues in your toddler, which include:

  • Your child notices when his or her diaper is wet or full.
  • Your toddler consistently wakes up dry from a nap. This shows that your child’s bladder capacity is increasing, which is important for toilet training.
  • Your little one shows curiosity or interest in learning to use the potty.
  • Your child can easily pull his or her pants up and down. To help with this, avoid dressing your child in clothing that’s difficult to take off, such as tights or pants with ties, zippers or buckles.
  • Your toddler can follow directions.
  • Your child can sit still. They should be able to sit and engage in an activity for several minutes without becoming distracted or irritable.

It’s common for initial successes on the potty to be followed by setbacks or regression, so don’t get discouraged. If you are struggling, talk with your pediatrician. Your doctor can also explain how to compensate for physical or mental disabilities or developmental challenges.

When accidents happen in older children
Most children are successfully potty trained by age 4 or 5. But sometimes, older children experience avoidance-caused constipation and incontinence that lead to accidents, which can indicate that something else is going on.

“Not just an occasional bed-wetting but regular accidents at night or during the day, like during schooltime when they’re playing—that’s an indication that there might be some disfunction of the muscles in the pelvic area,” says Judy Abel, a pelvic physical therapist and owner of the Pelvic Wellness Center in Eugene.

Judy works with families whose children are still struggling with bathroom issues, generally after age 5. “I educate children about their bodies—their bladder and bowels—as well as their diet and their habits. Kids are often excited to learn, ‘Oh, I can control my bladder? I can control my bowels? I have muscles there?’”

As part of her physical therapy process, Judy uses a tool called biofeedback to help kids connect with their pelvic floor muscles.

“This technology has been really valuable, because we can apply sensors on the skin over their muscles and when they contract their pelvic muscles, they can see the results on the computer—the graph will go up or the face on the screen will smile,” Judy explains. “The child learns that they can control their muscles—and therefore their bladder and bowels—through that simple movement.”

Physical therapy can be beneficial for older kids who are still experiencing accidents, but it’s important to talk with your pediatrician first to rule out any medical issues that may be causing the problem.

Potty training workshop for parents
Judy is hosting a free workshop for parents called the “Pitfalls of Potty Training.” It’s an opportunity to help families understand what’s normal and why there are sometimes still accidents after age 5. Judy can answer questions and offer information and strategies on how to help your child improve their bladder and bowel control.

What: “The Pitfalls of Potty Training” workshop
When: Saturday, Aug. 17, 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Where: Pelvic Wellness Center
2160 W. 11th St., Suite B, Eugene

For more information on the workshop, or to register, click here.