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Tags: toddlers, potty training

Babies develop so quickly it sometimes feels as though you've barely finished one stage before the next stage arrives. You've cracked sleeping through the night. You and your little one have survived that first day of playgroup or nursery. You may think it's time to think about potty training.

Most parents and carers are keen to get their little one out of nappies, but potty training is a daunting task for both the potty trainer and potty trainee. We want to get it right, but what is the right age to start day-time potty training? How can we be sure our little ones are even ready, and (if they are) how do we go about it?

One thing for certain is that you will not be short of advice from everyone from healthcare providers to friends, family members and even work colleagues! As with most things, some of the advice will be useful and some will be a lot less useful. (There will always be one person that claims their child was out of nappies at a year old. Just smile politely and nod.)

Are they ready?

The first thing you want to do is let your child lead you. Potty training is one of the rare occasions where your little one is in control. (As much as you dream about never changing another nappy, you can't rush your child into potty training.) Some nurseries require children to be trained before they attend. Don't try to rush potty training because your child is soon to start one of these nurseries or pre-schools. Remember to treat day-time potty training and night-time training as two separate events. They may be close together or years apart. 

Your child may be ready for day-time potty training if:

  • They ask you if they can use the toilet.
  • They shows signs of readiness such as grabbing their trousers when they need a wee.
  • They are dry for most of the day.
  • They hide behind furniture or the door when they do a poo.

Starting to train

Talk to them about wees and poos! As grown-ups, we generally don't discuss toilet habits, but your toddler won't mind. Letting them come into the toilet with you and watch what you do can really help.

A fun way to get your little one excited about potty training is to plan a shopping trip for new big girl/big boy underwear and a new potty, if you don't already have one. The more involved they are in the process the better. Another good idea is to buy a potty seat that fits on top of the toilet seat. They come in a variety of styles, but a padded one is probably more comfy for your little one. Let them choose their own hand soap and a step stool so they can reach the sink or the loo. Let them decorate their step stool with stickers to make it really special.

Let your little one sit on the potty for a few minutes even if they don't do anything. This will get them comfortable with their new potty. Let them practise pulling their new pants up and down.

Potty training is a bit easier in the spring and summer as your little one isn't wearing bulky clothes or things like tights, which can be difficult to get on and off.

Remember that day-time toilet training and night-time toilet training often happen at separate times. Dry nights can be two years later than dry days for some deep sleepers.  

If you have a boy who stands when he wees, try drawing a face on a ping pong (table tennis) ball and popping it into the toilet so he can have something to aim at.

You may be tempted to give them extra drinks so they wee more often. Some people find this works, but it's probably best to continue your child's normal eating and drinking patterns.

You may wonder whether or not you should use disposable training pants. Some parents find them extremely useful; some find them too similar to nappies. The choice is entirely yours and there is no right or wrong answer!

Top tips to try

  • If you have a major life event such as a birth, a wedding, a big house move or a move to a new nursery/child minder, you may want to delay potty training for a bit until your little one's routine goes back to normal.
  • If your little one has an older sibling, get them involved too! Older siblings can provide encouragement for your little one.
  • Night training takes a bit longer than day training. You may decide to keep your little one in nappies at night until they wake up dry, night after night, after a few weeks. You may decide that you want your child to remain nappy free day and night. Either way is fine.
  • For night training, you may want to keep a potty next to your little one's bed.
  • There are many potties on the market - some even play music and have magazine racks! There's no need to splash out on an elaborate potty unless you want to. Your little one will not be trained any faster on a fancy potty.
  • If your child is using the toilet instead of a potty, you may want to flush the toilet after they've left the bathroom. The noise can be scary for some little ones. Others may be worried that they may go down the toilet themselves!
  • Never be caught short yourself - stash small bags of spare underwear, trousers/skirts and socks in all sorts of areas: in the car; in a pram; in your [giant parent] bag; at nursery; at grandparents' houses...

Accidents do happen

Of course there will be accidents. Your little one will not make it to the potty on time, or be so engrossed in playing or watching television that they forget. Reassure your little one that everything is okay and that they can try again later. Don't get upset at your little one for having an accident. Potty training is a very stressful time for toddlers and getting upset only makes them anxious.

Getting angry, impatient and stressed will rub off on your toddler and could even lead to them ‘withholding’ (holding their poo in) and getting constipated.

It can also be highly frustrating to think that your little one has mastered potty training, only for them to have a string of accidents. Remember that potty training is a long process and there will be setbacks.

Celebrate success

It's a great feeling when your little one uses the potty. They deserve recognition and praise for their achievement. A reward chart is ideal to mark your little one's progress in toilet training. You can put the chart next to the toilet or potty and use simple stickers to chart your little one's progress. Toddlers love praise, so give them a round of applause or a ‘high five’ when they use the potty.

Toddlers don't need presents or huge fanfares, just recognition they've done really well. Making too much of a fuss can often add pressure and make your child anxious. A focused but calm approach will make potty training your little one a much less stressful experience.