Your Magical Potty Training Trick Will Not ‘Fix’ A Late Trainer

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Nice try, but no. We tried it all. And it wasn’t that Ben was resisting the idea – he was genuinely trying to make it work. He just couldn’t make it happen. Toilet training is a pretty darned complicated skill, and it requires not just mental readiness, but also physical readiness. Until a kid is physically ready – ready to hold it, able to recognize the feeling of having to go, and capable of releasing on command – all the willingness in the world won’t do the trick.

I saw the moment that Ben finally put all the pieces together with my own eyes. We were doing a long drive, and we made a pit stop at a gas station. Naturally, being a new-to-toilet-training mom, I had forgotten to bring a potty seat or anything for him to use, so I had to hold him in order to make sure he didn’t fall in. As a result, I had, um, an eye-level view of proceedings. And for the first time, I saw his muscles contract as he finally tried to go. I also saw the delighted look on his face as he realized that he had finally done it. He was 3 ½.

That’s why I get a trifle ragey when I read comments about toilet training “tricks,” because they’re often left by people whose smugness comes from having early toilet trainers to work with. To paraphrase a comment I read that perfectly sums up this attitude: “I will never use Pull-Ups. I want my daughter to pee in underwear so she knows how gross it feels. I potty trained both my girls this way, one at 18 months, one at 21 months. If my daughter can ask me for milk, she can tell me she needs to go pee!”

Well, I’ll call BS on that one. There is a reason that replacing the carpeting in our TV room is on my list, and it’s not because my kids were wearing Pull-Ups while I toilet trained them. Trust me, if they are not ready to learn, they will pee in all the underwear.

I really wish parents everywhere would learn that kids are different. Alicia walked at nine months, but that doesn’t mean walking at nine months is normal for every kid (or even to be encouraged – if I had known what it was like to have an early walker I would have considered pushing her down.) Toilet training is a complicated skill that requires physical, emotional, and mental readiness on the part of the child. For some kids, that takes time.

How much time? Various experts put the range between 18 months and four years of age (yes, you heard me, four years.) The Association of American Family Physicians says that most children do not master the skills necessary to toilet train before 24 months of age and that most kids are probably not ready for intensive toilet training before 27 months. Some doctors will recommend starting training even later – three years old or after – unless the child shows signs of readiness.

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