Thank you for this question. Below are three responses from community experts.
The following response was provided by Dr. Elizabeth Leight, psychologist and chair of the CFE committee.
CFE Committee Chair
Infant Toddler Master
teacher for United Way
Center for Excellence
in Early Education
United Way Center
and the Pyramid
While there is tremendous consensus among parents that children need to be toilet trained, among children there is a lot of variability in what the process looks like, and among highly regarded professionals there are differing opinions as to the age a child should become toilet trained.
Most children will be trained by 3.5 years, when children have difficulties that continue into their fourth birthday, it is recommended that parents explore help from their pediatrician to discuss the possibility of physical issues and dietary issues that may be interfering with toilet training, and discuss if consultation for further assistance is needed. (Taubman and Benson, page 363).
Part of the reality is that most parents feel intense pressure for their children to be toilet trained. Most often it is not just being toilet trained in and of itself as being the goal, but, for many families today, in order for children to go to pre - school, or to an outside of the home early care, children need to be toilet trained for acceptance.
Additionally, toilet training is one of the developmental milestones that is intimately tied to the parent-child relationship, and often provides a window into parent-child relational issues (for better or for worse). It is not unusual for conversations about "will" and "power struggles" to occur alongside the conversation about toilet training difficulties. It is for this reason that many professionals recommend taking a child-oriented approach to toilet training. Toilet training is a milestone that can reflect a family's' social-emotional climate, and can set the stage for relational patterns down the road, (for better or for worse).
A child-oriented approach pays special attention to the child's emotional and physical readiness, and implies by definition that the caregiver is sensitive enough to the child to pick up on the child's cues, and begin the toilet training process, rather than impose the process on the child. Additionally, the child-centered approach recognizes that certain physical milestones and a maturity of the child's central nervous system needs to be obtained, before toilet training can begin.
Despite the difference in opinion as to when a child should be toilet trained, there is agreement among professionals as to the signs of readiness for toilet training.
A child ready for toilet training will, during the day on her or his own go to the toilet as needed, wear underwear during the day without accidents, and will remain dry at night. However, it is accepted that pre-school children who are toilet trained may have an occasional "accident" during the day. Such children are still accepted as toilet trained (Taubman and Benson, p. 361).
Also, it is accepted that parents, teachers or early care providers will, and should "suggest" a trip to the toilet before a car trip, or when going somewhere where access to a toilet will be limited. In determining expectations for toilet training, adults need to consider the environment and circumstances surrounding their child, i.e. are toilets accessible or not? The environment and environmental constraints play a role in deciding at what age to begin toilet training, and how to establish expectations for how the process should go.
The child-oriented approach to toilet training pays attention to readiness signs (which can present themselves from 18 months up) for training from the child. While there is great variability in when children demonstrate these signs, and in the order in which the readiness skills are revealed, the following are typical signals that indicate toilet training readiness. These skills do not need to be demonstrated all at once or in any sequence, they just need to occur; "An ability to follow directions, a child who imitates parents or other important adults, a child who wants to please his or her parents, demonstrates an independence by saying no, tells parents when he/she has to use the toilet shows, an interest and awareness of the toilet, which he/she reveals to parent, can stay dry during the day for two to two and a half hours or longer, sits and walks in dependently and can pull pants up and down." (Taubman and Benson, p 359)
The child-oriented approach put forth by Terry Brazelton is recommended in the US and supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Encyclopedia of Infant and Early Childhood Development. Eds Haith, Marshall and Benson, Janette B. vol 3, 2008 pgs356-364.
Toilet Training by B Taubman and NJ Blum, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphiam PA, USA. 2008 Elsevier Inc. page 356 – 364.
The following response was provided by Teresa Correa, Infant Toddler Master teacher for United Way Center for Excellence in Early Education:
There is not a set age at which potty training or toilet training should begin; the right time depends on your child's development and readiness, as well as your own beliefs and values about toilet training.
It can be helpful to think of potty training as a process in which both you and your child have your own "jobs" to do. Finding a toilet training method that works for your family is the key; remember that no matter how you do it, this is a learning process that takes time, with many accidents along the way. Being patient is the best way you can support your child as s/he learns.
Most children develop control over their bowel and bladder by 18 months. This skill is necessary for children to physically be able to use the toilet. How ready a child is emotionally to begin learning to use the potty depends on the individual child, some children are ready at 18 months, and others are ready at 3 years.
The signs a child shows for potty training are:
• Staying dry for at least 2 hours or after naps.
• Recognizing that s/he is urinating or having a bowel movement. For example, a child might go into another room when s/he has a bowel movement.
• Developing physical skills that are critical to potty training—the ability to walk, to pull pants up and down, and to get into/off the potty (with some help).
• Copying parent's toileting behavior.
• Following simple instructions.
The following response was provided by Paula Moujalli, United Way Center Director for Center for Excellence in Early Education.
From the cognitive aspect there are some signs parents and care givers need to pay attention to. These signs include: How the child follows simple instructions, if the child has the words to express his/her needs, if the child is understanding the physical signals that mean he or she has to go potty and can tell you about his/her needs or even hold it until the care giver takes him/her to the potty. This usually happens when the child is between two or three years of age.
Miriam Altman, adds:
While the generally expected time-frame for potty-training ranges from 18 months to 3.5 years, it is important to note that this timeframe may last longer for some children who have developmental delays or special needs. In other words, developmental readiness is a more important consideration than chronological age.