You no doubt fantasize about how much better life will be when you don't have to change dirty diapers anymore. This happy thought may push you to embark on the toilet training journey before your toddler is ready. There's no single age at which a child is set to learn; rather, she must be physically, mentally and emotionally ready for training. Don't bother trying to potty train until your toddler demonstrates most (but not necessarily all) of the signs of readiness in each area.
Your toddler needs a certain degree of bladder and bowel control, motor skills and other physical capabilities to become toilet trained. She should have generally well-formed bowel movements on a somewhat regular schedule. She should also urinate a good amount at one time and stay dry for periods of two hours or more. Additionally, your toddler should be capable of pulling her pants up and down and getting on and off a toddler-sized potty seat by herself.
Potty training requires that you give your toddler a series of instructions, so she'll need to be at the point where she can retain and follow them. She also must realize that certain physical sensations mean she needs to go. Her ability to signal to you that she needs to go -- whether it's with words, facial expressions or some other body language -- is a key sign of readiness. Toddlers who appreciate the act of putting things in their proper place and those who are familiar with words like "pee-pee" and "poopy" (or whichever words you choose) are more likely to be ready, too.
Don't underestimate the importance of your child feeling ready to potty train and wanting to do it. If she shows interest in what other people do in the bathroom, it means she's becoming curious about the process. She may also be showing interest in "big kid" underwear and should express dislike for soiled diapers. A desire for independence and taking obvious pride in accomplishments are important emotional milestones for toilet training readiness as well. Since toddlers are prone to "phases," try to start potty training when yours is in a generally cooperative one, rather than a resistant or overly negative phase.
A Child Who Isn't Ready
Lots of parents begin potty training, only to abandon it because it isn't going well. That's not considered quitting; in fact, it's important to be willing to put toilet training on hold. Trying to force your toddler forward before she's ready makes the experience difficult and negative, and it greatly impedes the process. Never punish your toddler for the inability to understand or complete part of the process or for having an accident, either. Starting before your child shows most of the signs of readiness won't get the job done any faster; she still won't get to the finish line until she can. Be patient, positive and encouraging.