Children are developmentally ready to potty train at around 18 months old.

What Are the Dangers of Potty Training Too Early?

by Sarah Cairoli

Children in the United States typically begin potty training between the ages of 18 months and 3 years, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Learning to use the potty is a complicated process that involves numerous steps. The AAP cautions that starting potty training earlier does not guarantee that potty training will be completed sooner. A child’s readiness is determined by many factors, and experts agree that it is best not to pressure children to use the potty before they are ready.

Infant Training

In some cultures, parents begin potty training their infants as young as 3 months. In these cultures, diapers are rarely used and parents carry their babies during most of the day. Parents learn to read the baby’s urination and defecation cues, and they teach the child to wait to void until they reach a toilet. According to Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., infants are not developmentally capable of controlling their bladders and bowels, but they can learn to resist the urge to eliminate until given approval from their parents.

Complications with Early Training

Kids will not be physiologically able to control their bladders and bowels until they have reached a certain level of neurological development, typically around 18 months old, according to T. Berry Brazelton, a potty training expert. When children learn to use the potty, they learn to hold their urine and stool and often do so for extended periods of time if they are having fun playing and do not want to take a potty break. Very young kids are more likely to develop this habit, and early potty training can encourage its development. Children who regularly resist elimination can develop issues that include constipation and frequent accidents. When kids resist the urge to eliminate, muscles in their bladders and rectums become thicker and stronger, which makes it more difficult for them to feel the natural urge to go to the bathroom.

Complications with Late Training

Clearly, experts disagree on the pros and cons of training early and training late as some studies have also found that children trained after 32 months old have more issues with incontinence, bedwetting and recurring urinary tract infections than their peers, according to Dewar. Other studies references by Dewar found no difference developmentally or behaviorally between children who were trained early and children who were trained late. Parents should look for signs of readiness in their children when deciding to initiate potty training.

Assessing Readiness

Parents are the only people who can really determine when their children are ready for potty training. Kids will give clues that they are interested in the process by talking about the potty and acting curious about what other people are doing in the bathroom. Bolster this interest by reading stories and watching films about the potty. Factors including family situation, child’s maturity level, day care requirements and physical illness will all play a role in a child’s readiness. Whenever you decide to train your child, remember to be patient and encouraging. Potty training can take many months.

About the Author

Sarah Cairoli began her writing career in 2002, as a reporter for the "High Country Independent Press" in Belgrade, Mont. She then spent two years writing and editing for an online publishing company, and earned her master's degree in English from Northern Arizona University. Cairoli also writes for "Bozeman Magazine."

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