Friday, January 28, 2011

Potty Training: What About Cognitive Readiness?

In my last posting I pointed out that the American Academy of Pediatrics cites three factors as indicators that a child is “ready” for potty training: physical, cognitive, and emotional. In that post I focused on physical readiness, pointing to the fact that children used to routinely be trained by 18 months as clear evidence that children are physically ready much earlier than they are currently given credit for.

Today I’m taking a closer look at the second factor: cognitive readiness. According to the AAP, in order to actively participate in potty training, children must understand what it is they are supposed to do and be able to communicate about it. That is, be able to:

  1. Associate the need to eliminate with using the potty
  2. Understand simple instructions
  3. Signal an adult when they need to go

Again, the fact that children in the past were routinely trained by 18 months indicates that the first two of these abilities are both available quite early and certainly by 18 months.

As for signaling an adult, that’s easily dealt with through the use of simple signs! Just as children can learn to let their parents know when they feel the internal pangs of hunger, thirst, and even illness using simple signs like EAT, DRINK, MILK, MORE, and HURT, they can equally easily signal the urge to eliminate using a simple sign—POTTY. We’ve seen it work ourselves and have heard success stories from countless parents.

Bottom line? Using simple signs helps provide children the “cognitive readiness” they need to take and active role in potty training even before they can talk.


Linda Acredolo, Ph.D.

Co-Founder, the Baby Signs Program


Professor Emeritus, UC Davis

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