The pressure to potty train can be intense. Your child’s day care or preschool has set a deadline. You want to keep up with others in playgroup. And, honestly, you can’t wait to ditch that diaper bag.
But don’t let external factors like these push you, says pediatric urologist Jeffrey Donohoe, MD.
“So many parents get frustrated or run into problems when they try to train a child who just isn’t ready,” he says.
The right age to potty train
While there’s no right age to potty train, Dr. Donohoe recommends parents wait until their child is between 2.5 and 3.5 years old.
“That’s when most children have enough brain and bladder development to potty train successfully,” he says.
Accidents still may happen. Daytime accidents are normal until about age 5, he notes. Bed-wetting can persist longer.
Why rushing your kid can be harmful
Still, you can’t blame parents for wanting to instill mature behavior in their children. So what’s the harm in potty training early? Plenty.
- Bladder issues. “Potty training too soon can make your child a chronic holder,” warns Dr. Donohoe.Young children may know not to wet their underwear. But that’s not the same as having the discipline to take themselves to the bathroom.
“If your child is only urinating two or three times per day, that’s not enough,” says Dr. Donohoe. “Holding urine too long can cause urinary tract infections, especially in girls.”Kids should urinate five or six times per day, he says. That’s every two to three hours.Chronic holders also tend to have more issues with daytime wetting (enuresis). About 15 percent of 5-year-olds struggle with it, says Dr. Donohoe. There’s a host of causes, neurological and anatomical. But most often, daytime wetting is a behavioral problem caused by bad toileting habits — potentially brought on by early potty training.“Most of the time, getting kids on a regular bathroom schedule is enough to stop accidents,” says Dr. Donohoe.
- Parent-child stress. Potty training too early can make the process more difficult than it needs to be — for you and your child. And you don’t want your child to link potty use with frustration and tension.“Forcing children to do something they’re not ready for can affect their development,” says Dr. Donohoe. “The child can develop anxiety, especially around his or her parents, which can have repercussions on the parent-child relationship.”
When it’s taking too long
Potty training is a natural process — one that will happen for most children by age 4.
“Give them reasonable time to master potty training on their own,” says Dr. Donohoe.
If your child is still having difficulty by age 4, talk to your pediatrician. If his or her development is otherwise normal, he or she may just need a little more time. By age 5, if toileting is still a concern, it’s time to see a pediatrician or pediatric urologist to evaluate other issues.