Help! Potty Training a 20-Month-Old Girl

Is my child too young for potty training?

Toddler girl on potty
Dave King Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

A reader explains that about half an hour before bedtime, he changes his 20-month old daughter's diaper and she has a fit. When he takes the old one she is quiet and smiling. But when she sees a new diaper she screams and cries. He thinks she might want to start training. Others in her daycare are starting but they are older. Is it time to start he wants to know.

When it comes to potty training, keep in mind that age isn't as important as readiness.

It sounds to me like his child is showing several of the signs of potty training readiness.

These include: 

  • Following instructions
  • Watching what you do with interest
  • Doesn't want to wear diapers

One of the most important factors in potty training success has to do with desire. If your child wants to do it and initiates the process, then definitely go with the flow, so to speak.

Another factor in your favor is peer pressure. If you start potty training and she sees other children in her childcare setting going to the bathroom (and she continues to want to watch Mom and Dad), she will likely learn faster and want to copy what everyone else is doing. Just make sure your childcare provider knows that you are starting the process so that everyone is on the same page.

Since the reader's child is younger and is probably still working on those motor skills, she should be dressed in clothing that is easy to manipulate like loose-fitting sweatpants, shirts that don't hang very low (so they won't get in the way when she tries to urinate), and avoid anything with snaps, buttons, and zippers.

If she's hating the thought of wearing diapers, putting her in disposable training pants probably would hinder your success; I'd advise using cotton training pants or underwear.

Don't be afraid to start and then back off in a week or two if she's just not getting it. This happens, and it's perfectly normal.

Take a break, but try to keep her interest up by reading books about potty training and continuing to talk about it and share your own bathroom time with her. It's better to relax and take things slowly than to push him. You'll know if you're pushing her because potty training will start feeling more like a power struggle (a big potty training no-no) than a learning process. That's a parent's signal to slow down and let her take the lead.

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