Inside: The ultimate guide to potty training under 2. Everything you need to know to do it once and do it right. This potty training method works best for toddlers 20-24 months old.
If you want to know how to get started with early potty training, you’re in the right place.
To be clear, we’re not talking about Elimination Communication here. We’re talking actual, full-on potty training for toddlers under two.
Many questions may have brought you here:
- What is the right age to potty train?
- What are the signs of readiness? And how do I know if my toddler is ready?
- How early is too early to start potty training?
Mama, I’ve got you covered. Toddler life is complicated enough, let’s make potty training easy.
It may surprise you to know that potty training readiness is actually more about YOUR readiness to commit as a parent, and less about your toddler. Make no mistake though, your toddler does need to be a capable on some level, but the age old “potty training readiness signs” is just that, old.
It used to be believed that 3 was the best age to potty train. There is not a thing I would rather do LESS than try and potty train a 3 year old. Trust me on this. If you sit around waiting for readiness signs, you may never see them. And therefore, may miss your opportune potty training window.
If you do need concrete readiness signs, these are the most common:
- Interest in the toilet
- Desire to sit on the toilet
- Taking off diaper after peeing
- Asking to be changed after peeing
- Hiding (in pantry, behind sofa) to poop
It should be said, however, that you may not see these signs in a young toddler under 2. And it’s essential that you do not wait until you do. Potty training is possible whether your toddler exhibits these behaviors or not.
If you are committed to potty training as early as 18 months, it can be done, but it relies on your willingness and determination to see it through. If after a few days it’s just not clicking, it is possible it’s simply too early – and that’s okay – pick a new start date and hold off until then.
What is the Best Age to Start Potty Training Under 2?
There is truly no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. All kids are different. That being said, I can tell you from experience that potty training before two years old was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made as a parent.
At 2 years of age, many things snap into place for a toddler. One of those things being: difficulty, and let’s add resistance, let’s also throw in tantrums, and let’s also add difficulty one more time for good measure.
Now, it’s not as if your toddler will just wake up on their second birthday and magically transform into whirlwind of insanity – this change tends to happen over time, but here’s my question: Why wait for it?
Turning two brings SO many changes to a toddler’s life:
- New sibling
- Outgrowing crib
- Explosion of language
- Starting preschool or “morning school”
- Turning carseat around
- AND Potty training??
That is a lot of things for a tiny human to experience in a small frame of time. Of course, each of these items won’t apply to everyone, but for the majority of toddlers, these are all things they’ll face between 2-2.5.
Before we move on, I have one quick confession, mom-to-mom:
I, too, worry about “rushing” things with my kids. Without sounding too dramatic, childhood is so fleeting, and so many stages are short-lived. But when it comes to potty training, I don’t believe that getting out of diapers early is rushing things, I believe it’s a strategic move to make potty training an easy, successful experience. By potty training at 21 months, you’re not robbing your toddler of any essential element of childhood, instead, you’re weaving something into their lives that will be in place when the tougher stages set it (and boy do they ever).
The Magic Window
Somewhere between 18-24 months there is a magic window for all toddlers. This is a period of development where they are more sweet, loving, calm, attached, compliant, and knowing than they ever will be (ever again…sorry to disappoint).
You will know you are in the Magic Window because you will feel it. Whether you are potty training your first, second or third child, you will know when this special period in time is upon you because you will have the overwhelming sense that things just seem easy, effortless even.
This is your moment. Seize it before it is gone.
Now remember, as I mentioned earlier, all toddlers are different. I am of course speaking in general here. Some toddlers may always be easy, some may always be difficult – these would be two extremes. Most toddlers, as a rule, experience development similarly and on a predictable schedule.
In case you haven’t guessed yet, this Magic Window is your time to potty train.
For my first child, her window was at 20 months, although I didn’t know it at the time. I had never read any piece of advice like this, and if I had, I would have potty trained then. We potty trained my first daughter at 23 months, right before her baby sister was born (and no, she didn’t regress, as many said she would).
The second time around I was ready, and we potty trained our second daughter at 21 months.
How Long Does it Take to Potty Train Under 2?
As you may have guessed, this is also not a one-size-fits-all answer. It may take a week, it may take a month. You will know you are making progress if your toddler follows this progression:
Clueless → I Peed → I’m Peeing → I Have to Go Pee
This framework of sorts is discussed in the Oh Crap! Potty Training book (which is life-changing) by the way.
Later on in this post I will share a daily potty training schedule you can easily adapt to your daily routine. Following this schedule may also give you an idea of how long it will take.
To be certain, we are only talking about “daytime” potty training in this post. If you choose to nighttime and/or naptime train, that is up to you. It is my goal to keep my second toddler in her crib as long as possible. #twotoddlers #toocrazy
Does My Toddler Need to be Verbal to Potty Train?
No! Toddlers have many potty clues, including:
- Clenching legs together
- Acting extra wild (running, giggling, thrashing – all at the same time – typically away from the potty)
- Holding private area
- Looking down at their feet (expecting to see the pee coming down)
That being said, if you are trying to teach your toddler to be more verbal, two very important words to teach them are: “Go Potty.” They may easily learn these words by the sheer amount of times they will hear you say them.
How to Potty Train Between 18-24 Months
For my girls, 18 months was too young, but I have heard of successful potty training at that age. In my opinion 20-21 months is the optimal time to start, as toddlers tend to be better communicators and are a little bit more self-aware than at 18 months.
However, for the purpose of this post, this “how-to” and schedule works well for toddlers 18-24 months old.
The most important thing to know is that ALL of the responsibility falls on you. You cannot expect your toddler to initiate or tell you they have to go. You can’t expect them to make it to the potty on their own. You are the facilitator and executor of this training.
How to Get Started
- Pick a start day. Ideally this is a time when you know you can commit to being home for a couple of days. This isn’t a magic 3-day method. Potty training under 2 will take longer.
- Get the gear. You’ll need a little potty. I use this one. We also use an insert for the regular toilet (for my older daughter, but of course, baby sister wants to use it as well)
- Set up for success. Ditch any complicated onesies, jumpers or rompers. Switch to 2-Piece PJs (more on this later). For girls: dresses, skirts or elastic-waist shorts. For boys: drawstring pants or elastic-waist shorts.
- Diaper Duty. I recommend storing all the diapers in your toddler’s dresser drawer (for use at naptime and nighttime) – rather than on display in a diaper caddy.
In Oh Crap! Potty Training by Jamie Glowacki, she refers to potty training in “blocks” – which helps give parents a better idea of where they are, rather than going by days.
Here is the basic breakdown:
- Peeing and pooping in the potty with no bottoms on (no pants, shorts, or undies)
- Peeing and pooping in the potty with bottoms on (pants or shorts, but no undies aka commando)
- Peeing and pooping in the potty with bottoms and undies (aka like a grown up)
Word of caution: Do not, I repeat DO NOT put undies on a toddler, boy or girl, who will not poop in the potty or who hasn’t figured out how to poop in the potty yet. Underwear easily mimics a diaper and the second you put underwear on them, you can bet they’ll poop in it.
Potty Training Under 2 Daily Routine
The times given here are approximate and based on my experience with my two girls. Be sure to have the little potty easily accessible. Place it in the playroom or wherever your toddler is most frequently.
7 AM – wake up. Remove night diaper and PJ pants. Sit on little potty to pee. Toddler wears only a top while at home.
- Throughout the morning look for potty cues (wiggling, clenching, holding self, etc.)
- As soon as you see one of these clues, pick up toddler and put them on the potty. Do not wait for them to tell you. It may take a few accidents before you realize what their signal is.
- You can try to make them pee every 15-20 minutes but it’s actually best to wait until you see a cue (AKA they really have to go) that way they can make the connection between the feeling of having to pee and going to the potty.
There will be accidents throughout the day, and that’s okay. Watch them like a hawk. The second you check your phone, there will be an accident. Don’t post on Facebook that you’re potty training your 20 month old. People will think you’re crazy. But you’re not. Trust me.
1 PM – naptime. Have toddler pee in little potty. Put on nap diaper and 2-piece PJs.
One of the perks of potty training under 2 is that there isn’t much explaining involved. If you have an older toddler then you know how they LOVE to ask a million questions. Younger toddlers go with the flow and no 21 month old is going to ask why you’re putting a diaper on them at naptime.
3 PM – wake up. Remove nap diaper and PJ pants. Sit on little potty to pee. Toddler wears top, but no bottoms.
The rest of the afternoon should be just like the morning. Play as usual, monitor their cues and signals and have them sit on the potty when necessary.
7 PM – bedtime. Follow your usual bedtime routine. Here’s where 2-Piece PJs come in handy.
Have your toddler wear just their top while following their bedtime routine: brushing teeth, reading stories, etc. Right before you’re ready to lay them down, have them pee in the potty. Then put on their night diaper and PJ pants. The goal is to wait until the last moment to put a diaper on.
When they wake up the next day, start all over again! Progress looks like less accidents and more pee in the potty. It’s your call when to add pants or shorts to the mix. I did naked on bottom for about a week before adding shorts (with no undies).
What about leaving the house or going in the car?
I wouldn’t recommend going anywhere the first few days, or until your toddler has had lots of practice peeing in the potty.
- You’ll need water resistant cloth pads to protect your car seat. I found them inexpensively on Amazon. You can lay the cloth flat on the seat so that if they do have an accident, it’s contained.
- Make your first outings short and be sure to have your toddler pee right before leaving the house and immediately upon arriving.
- Figure out what word or phrase your toddler will understand in regard to NOT peeing in the car. For example: my 21 month old did not understand “you have to hold it” but she did understand “you have to wait“
- For longer drives I believe it’s fine to use a diaper, especially with kids under 2.
If your toddler hasn’t pooped….it’s okay! Once the diaper comes off, most toddlers won’t poop (especially those first few days of training). Poop cues are a little different from pee cues and may look more like: squatting, hiding, straining in the face, etc. If you do see one of these signals, quickly pick up your toddler and place them on the potty. Whatever you do, do not get intense, worried or panicky. Just keep your cool.
If your toddler poops in their nap or night diaper….it’s okay! Potty training is very new still. Wearing a diaper may be the only time their little body is relaxed. Just continue to be vigilant, don’t put underwear on them, and eventually, they will need to poop during awake time.
If your toddler pees or poops on the floor….it’s okay! But don’t say it is! The worst thing you can do is to put your seal of approval on accidents. It’s our instinct to say, “it’s okay” – but don’t. Instead say something like, “pee and poop go in the potty, not on the floor.” Keep your tone light and don’t make it seem like you’re angry. Your toddler should not be afraid to have an accident.
If your toddler continues to have accidents…..it’s okay! It’s just possible they’re not ready. Put a hold on things and try again in a few weeks. If the accidents start once shorts or pants are put on, try going back a step and doing naked time again.
Have any more questions about potty training a toddler under two? Ask in the comments below!
This post may contain affiliate links. You can read our full disclosure policy, here.
More on Toddler Parenting
- How to Overnight Potty Train a Toddler
- How to Get Your Toddler to Eat More Leafy Green Vegetables
- When Your Toddler Won’t Eat: Here’s What to Do
- Daily Routine for an 18 Month Old
- How to Prepare Your Toddler for a New Baby