Toilet training checklist

Toilet training checklist: Is your toddler ready?

How to know when your toddler is ready to be potty trained? Our toilet training checklist starts BEFORE age 1, and continues through age 2. Read Part 1 first, then continue here.

One of the biggest questions parents of little ones have is when to know it’s time to start toilet training. When is it too early? Can it be too late? How many more $80 packages of diapers do I have to buy before I am done?

These are fair questions. And there is an excellent checklist for knowing when your child has the cognitive skills to be toilet training ready. But until they are ready—and most kids aren’t ready until after their second birthday—there are great skills that parents can practice to help their little ones gain the skills that will allow them to be ready when all the pieces come together.

And, by the way, if you are feeling discouraged about potty training, let me remind you that toilet training is not just checkmark in the baby book. It is a fusion of exceptionally advanced, cognitive, behavioral, motor, and language skills. It’s like capstone for early childhood with all these amazing skills coming together in one great big potty party! It’s truly a ridiculous miracle that a being who has only been on the planet for two years has all the skills to even start this process.

As you are preparing for the first (successful!) potty experience, you can be working on these skills on the toilet training checklist:

Fine motor skills:      

It takes not only gross motor skills, which we discussed in Part 1, but fine motor skills to toilet successfully. Pinching the underwear band, grabbing the toilet paper, grasping the toilet paper to wipe—these are all fine motor activities. Promote fine motor skills by playing with playdoh, or using large tweezers, transferring items from one bowl to another to get those fingers strong and ready.

Symbolic thought:

Symbolic thought is the ability to represent things—even things that are not present—with a symbol. If I tell you to imagine a toilet, you are using your symbolic thought to create that image in your head. Your toddler will need to have the same skill to be aware that they need to find the potty when the potty is not physically present. The best way to increase symbolic thought is through pretend play. Pretend play is preparing your child to toilet successfully. You can also have an environment rich in pictures. Label your toy bins with pictures, and have your child match the toy to the picture. Win-win for symbolic thought and clean up.


You probably don’t think about it much, but toileting is very complex, multi-step process. It requires problem solving skills to move from one step to the next. Practice problem solving with puzzles, shape sorters, stacking toys, and sorting. Soft play gyms allow for problem solving with gross motor play—big win!


Getting to the toilet successfully involves remembering all the steps in order while under duress. Have you ever played a game of Simon? It’s like that, only you also might get wet and in trouble if you don’t get it right. You can promote memory skills by playing hide and seek with toys, encouraging putting things away in the right place, and singing songs.

Following multiple step instructions:

Another important one for the toilet training checklist! Toileting is a complex process. There are lots of steps. For a child to toilet independently, they have to chain a series of tasks together. Practicing this skill starts with following a one step instruction like “go get the ball” and then adding two step instructions: “go get the ball and put it in the basket.” Practice these types of tasks with your toddler as you prepare for toileting.

Interrupting tasks:

Interrupting a preferred task is where toilet training starts to really fall apart in the early days. Your child is busy playing and they don’t want to stop until it’s too late. Frustrating for everyone! As you move towards potty training, practice interrupting playtime by calling your child’s name and asking them to do a quick unrelated task, or stopping on the playground to wash hands and have a snack.

Completing tasks without distraction:

Its a broken record, but the potty process is extensive for a little brain. Learning all the items on this toilet training checklist is a big ask! Toddlers need to focus all the way through the end of the task is necessary for success. Start building these skills by setting a timer—just for five minutes—and encouraging your child to stick with a toy or book until the timer goes off. As their focus improves, so will their chances for success when toileting begins. 

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Toilet training checklist: skills your toddler needs before the potty training process can begin!

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