How to Easily Navigate the 4 Stages of Potty Training

While using the bathroom seems like commonplace to us, the entire concept is unfamiliar to your toddler.

That means they won’t pick up on the process of using the potty right away.

Instead, most toddlers go through several different stages of potty training.

Understanding potty training from your toddler’s perspective will make the process of toilet training easier for you and your child.

To help your little one be successful, consider following these four stages of potty training.

Little girl sitting on a potty chair next to her happy mother

What are the Stages of Potty Training?

Each time your toddler learns a new skill, they go through a variety of different educational steps.

And potty training is no exception.

As your child works through the process of potty training, they typically go through four basic stages:

  • Play
  • Practice
  • Learning
  • Training

Each of the stages in the process helps your toddler develop the skills and knowledge they’ll need to move on to the next step.

So, it’s important to give your little one time to grasp each stage before moving on to the next.


Stage One: Play

Now that you know there’s four different, distinct stages of toilet training, you may be wondering which phase of potty training comes first?

At this age, children learn best through play, so it makes sense that the play phase of toilet training is the first step in the process.

During this phase of potty training, your toddler will be introduced to the concept of toilet training.

And there are a variety of ways you can encourage your child to incorporate toilet play into their daily routine.

Help your child work through this step of potty training by:

  • Reading books about potty training. Books about the process of potty training is a great way to help introduce the idea of using the potty to your toddler. Choose books with engaging pictures, a simple story, and instructional text to help pique your toddler’s interest in potty training.
  • Watching educational potty training videos. Another great way to introduce potty training to your toddler is to let them watch some fun videos. Look up potty training videos on YouTube to find fun cartoons, cute songs, and kid-centric videos aimed and showing your toddler how to use the bathroom.
  • Playing potty with toys. Using your toddler’s toys to show them how to use the potty is another fun way to introduce them to this stage of the training process. You can use dolls or stuffed animals to show your toddler how to use the potty, then let them pretend on their own.
  • Letting your toddler watch you in the bathroom. Keeping the bathroom door open while you and other family members use the bathroom can help your toddler become more comfortable with the potty. Let them watch you use the toilet, flush, and wash your hands so they can become more aware of the process.
  • Pretending to use the toilet with clothes on. Once your toddler is comfortable with being in the bathroom, let them practice using the toilet with their clothes and diaper on. Letting them sit on a child-sized potty seat while you use the bathroom or allowing them to sit on the toilet while wearing their diaper can help them become more comfortable with the tools used during potty training.


Stage Two: Practice

Once your toddler has become familiar with the process of using the bathroom, they’ll be ready to start practicing the skills needed to start potty training.

During this stage, your toddler will often start to show signs of potty training readiness, including:

  • Pulling their pants up and down
  • Letting you know when they’ve soiled their diaper
  • Asking you to change their diaper after going
  • Showing an interest in using the bathroom on their own

When your child begins to indicate that they’re ready to start training, take the time to help them practice the different steps of using the bathroom, like:

Stage Three: Learning

Now that your toddler is showing an interest in potty training and demonstrating potty training readiness, it’s time to get them in the bathroom!

The third stage of potty training is often the longest because it’s the part of the training that requires action from your child.

When your little one has reached the learning phase of potty training, they often show advanced signs of readiness, including:

  • Asking to wear big kid underwear
  • Having words for using the toilet
  • Verbalizing their need to pee or poop
  • Holding their urine for extended periods of time (more than two hours)

These signs are a great indicator that your toddler is ready to start learning how to use the potty.

There are a variety of ways you can begin this stage of the training process, like:

  • Letting your child go once a day. Start by letting your toddler practice sitting on the toilet or potty seat once a day to help them get comfortable with the idea. Putting your child on the potty first thing in the morning is a great way to ensure success. Or try letting your child sit on the toilet before or after bath time to help them feel more relaxed.
  • Create a schedule. Since kids this age thrive on routine, incorporating potty training into your daily schedule is a great way to help make using the bathroom a habit for your toddler. Try creating potty training routine by asking them to use the bathroom at the same times each day.
  • Set a timer. Another popular method for teaching your toddler to use the potty is to set a timer for 30 minutes. Each time the timer goes off, put your child on the toilet and give them a chance to go. Continue the routine until they’re going in the toilet regularly, then stretch the length of time between each bathroom break.
  • Try training pants. Going straight from diapers to big kid underwear can be a big adjustment for some kids. Try working up to underwear with the help of training pants, which look like traditional underwear but provide more absorption in case of accidents.

Stage Four: Independent Training

After your toddler has learned the process of using the potty, the real work begins for them.

During the final training stage, your toddler will begin to become more independent and tackle training on their own.

As your child becomes more confident in their abilities, you’ll probably need to start reducing your prompts or cutting back on the need for a potty training timer.

That means your child has reached the fourth stage of training, when they’re able to have a little bit more freedom when it comes to potty training.

During this stage, your toddler will probably:

  • Go to the bathroom without prompting
  • Pull their pants up and down on their own
  • Sit on the potty on their own
  • Wipe themselves

During this stage in the training process, you’ll probably also notice that your child is ready to start nighttime potty training.

Keep an eye on your child each morning when they wake up.

If they continually wake up dry, it’s a good indicator that they’re ready to ditch the diapers or pull-ups at night, too.

If not, you could consider nighttime potty training to help them become fully trained when the time is right.

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