The Truth About Early Potty Training

child sitting next to potty seat

When it comes to potty training, there are a lot of opinions as to when the “right” age to train is. If you have older friends and family, they may insist that the earlier your child is trained, the better. On the other hand, your peers may be admonishing you for pushing your child to train too early. Children potty train sooner or later, regardless of when you start or which potty training method you use, but what does the research say about early potty training?

When Do Most Children Complete Potty Training?

In the United States, most children start potty training sometime between the age of 2 to 3. However, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, only 40-60% of children are actually potty trained by the time they turn 3 years old. In contrast, the average age to complete toilet training in the 1950s was around 14 months.

boy sitting by potty seat

Potty Training Readiness

Aside from infant potty training (or elimination communication) most potty training methods are intended to be used only when children are developmentally able to communicate the need to use the bathroom and physically capable of using the toilet. Some babies are ready for toilet training earlier than others. Most are not ready until they turn 2, but some children are ready at 18 months or even as early as 12 months.

Here are a few signs your child may be ready:

He is walking and capable of climbing on the toilet or potty seat.
He is capable of taking his pants on and off.
He has regular bowel movements.
He is able to hold his bladder for a couple of hours/his diapers stay dry for two hours or longer.
Communicates or dislikes having a wet or dirty diaper.
Shows an interest in the toilet, either by flushing it or wanting to take bathroom trips with his parents or siblings.

Take the potty training readiness quiz to see if your toddler is ready.

When Is the Best Age to Start Potty Training?

While there is no magic number, research has shown that starting potty training earlier doesn't necessarily equate to finishing potty training sooner. Research has shown that while the average age to start potty training is around 21-36 months, the length it takes to complete potty training varies. There may be no advantage in starting earlier. Studies on toilet training have found that children are generally not completely potty trained before 27 months no matter when they start.

boy climbing off of potty seat

Advantages and Disadvantages of Starting Early

Children who potty train early are less likely to experience urine or stool withholding, constipation, or accidents. In fact, studies have shown that children who start potty training later than 32 months are more likely to have issues with stool withholding, accidents, and urinary tract infections.

One concern parents have is that potty training early will cause their children some type of negative psychological effects; however, research has not shown this to be true. Opponents to early potty training may disagree.

Some arguments for waiting to train go back to the length of time it takes to train. Some parents may feel that potty training will be a lengthy process if started too soon. Others say that children younger than 2 are not mature enough to know how to manage their urges to urinate or defecate. This may lead them to hold their bladders or stool, which makes them constipated, and can lead to accidents and bladder problems. Research does not support this claim but it does give parents something to think about, whether you ultimately decide to go with early potty training or later.

Communicate with your child and make sure that he is emptying his bladder and eliminating his stool. If he is holding back while potty training, it may be because he is just not ready yet.