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Sleep Training vs. Potty Training: Which One Comes First for Toddlers?

Updated: Dec 1, 2023

In the delicate dance of parenting, a pressing question often lingers: To sleep train or potty train first? Let's unravel the mystery behind these crucial milestones and find the perfect next steps for your toddler's developmental journey.

As parents, we are always looking towards the next developmental milestone. When you have a newborn, you start wondering when will they smile, roll over, sit up, crawl, sleep through the night, eat solids, walk, etc.

I remember when my now 9 year old was 18 months, she started to show signs that she was interested in using the potty. I was equally excited for this next big step, as well as overwhelmed. After surviving the baby stages, how was I supposed to know what to do for potty training? This information isn't just ingrained in us, and I felt overwhelmed on how to go about potty training. How are we as parents, with not much formal parenting training, supposed to know how to teach all of these "next steps?"

Thankfully, there are people and resources out there to help us know what the next step is, and how to master it. Free resources like the internet and parenting social media accounts are a wonderful start. If you want more personalized support and direction, then toddler sleep consultants and potty training consultants know the next step. When you decide to work with a sleep and/or potty training consultant, they should actively listen to your concerns and challenges, and match methods that will align with your parenting style AND your child's personality.

Now let's get back to sleep training verse potty training. Remember, falling asleep independently & potty training are both developmental milestones, but we don’t want to do them at the same time. It’s recommended to space out major developments or transitions every 2-3 months. Continue to read on if you would like to learn which to tackle first!

Sleep Training

Sleep training is the process of teaching your child how to fall asleep independently, beginning with gentle assistance, gradually decreasing the assistance, and responding to your child. Sleep training does NOT mean you ignore your child and their basic needs. When your toddler is sleep trained, they may naturally wake up in the middle of the night, and they will also confidently fall back asleep if it’s not time to go to the bathroom (or if they are not sick)!

Sleep training in a way that matches your parenting style and your child's personality will also help with independence. And toddlers need to show independence for potty training.

  • If your child is still in a crib, struggling with sleep, and interested in the potty, I would work on sleep training first. Is your toddler going through a sleep regression? Find out here!

  • Wondering if your child is getting enough sleep? Check out my post here about recommended sleep by age (then save it for future use)!

  • Need more personalized support to help your toddler sleep through the night? Check out my Toddler Sleep Solutions program.

  • If your toddler is sleeping well, in a crib or bed, and showing signs that they're interested in using the potty, you can move to potty training!

Potty Training

Potty training is associating the feeling of going to the bathroom with the action of going to the bathroom. That is why it is a learned skill. You potty train your kids so they can independently go to the bathroom. The act of your body actually eliminating waste and urine is a natural thing, just like sleep.

We’re not saying we’re teaching your child how to sleep/pee. Nope. It’s instincts and the body will do it. But the act of being able to fall back to sleep on their own, or know that they have to go to the bathroom AND sit down on the potty to pee/poop is a learned skill.

Two things to know:

  1. Daytime, naptime, and nighttime potty training are 3 different stages/phases

  2. Wait 2-3 months AFTER sleep training before beginning to potty train, again due to them both being developmental milestones.

Since potty training is a developmental milestone, learning how to go to the bathroom on the potty can also affect sleep just like any other milestone. But if your child already is confident in independently falling back to sleep, it shouldn’t be as big of an issue. Another reason why we want to sleep train first!

As previously mentioned, we want to wait 2-3 months after your child can fall asleep AND back to sleep independently, because we want to give your child enough consistent opportunity to confidently get that skill down. Since developmental milestones affect sleep, tackle the sleep first to make nighttime a little easier!

If you’re waking up multiple times a night because you have to go into your toddler’s room to help them fall back asleep, you’re going to be utterly exhausted. When you’re exhausted and not getting the sleep you need, you lose your patience quicker and are not able to keep your emotions in check or make clear decisions. And your sweet toddler needs you to be calm, cool, and collected when supporting them.

When sleep training and/or potty training, remember this:

  • Stay firm & consistent, along with setting clear and age appropriate boundaries & rewards.

  • You can potty train in a crib & for nighttime!

  • Toddlers are not developmentally able to hold their pee at night during the beginning of potty training

The verdict

The verdict and my professional opinion is to sleep train first. When your child is getting the sleep they need, they are able to retain new information better, will be in a better mood, and more eager to take on the next level of independence: POTTY TRAINING.

If YOU are sleeping well because your toddler is also sleeping through the night, then YOU will be in a better mood and more ready to take on the next step of parenting: POTTY TRAINING!

So what's your next step: a toddler that sleeps through the night, or transitioning from diapers to the potty? Anna of Happy Little Ones can help you successfully with both! Contact her now to help your toddler be a happy little one.

A sleep consultant and potty training consultant

Anna Clifford is a certified pediatric sleep consultant specializing in toddler independence: sleep and toileting skills. She loves helping families transition to toddlerhood without the stress, so they can have happy and healthy little ones!


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