Sleep & Routine

Ready to go? Tips for toilet training

Parenting Place toilet training tips

After sleeping and feeding, toilet training may well be the third biggest challenge parents face in the early years. Naturally it’s an area parents want sorted and tidied up by an appropriate age, and there can be a tendency to rush. You can’t force your child to use the toilet but you can calmly and confidently encourage them so that they want to do it for themselves. Patience, persistence and loads of encouragement are the order of the day.

Here are some tips to help you and your little one on the journey to footloose and nappy-free.

Follow their lead

Timing is important. Signs that your child is ready for toilet training include:

  1. Telling you when they have a wet or dirty nappy and/or telling you that they need to ‘go’
  2. Often staying dry for two hours at a time in the daytime and waking up dry from a nap
  3. Showing an interest in the toileting process (and yes, this includes following you into the bathroom and being overly concerned with your business!)
  4. Wanting to imitate adults and be grown up
  5. Being able to undress themselves or at least pull their pants down
  6. Stopping what they're doing and signalling when having a bowel movement
  7. Having regular bowel movements that are passed easily
  8. Liking the feeling of being clean
  9. Being able to follow simple instructions – things like tidying up, finding clothing and washing their hands

It’s also going to help if you can put the good advice from Aunty Mavis, who insists that children can be trained by 14 months old, on the shelf. Honour your child as a unique individual and look for signs of their growing independence. Try not to compare your child’s progress with Jemima next door or Teddy at daycare. Kids have individual `body clocks´ and seem to do better when their parents are more relaxed and the pressure is off.

It’s also going to help if you can put the good advice from Aunty Mavis, who insists that children can be trained by 14 months old, on the shelf.

Most children manage to become dry and clean during the day somewhere between two and four years of age. Staying dry at night takes a bit longer with some children not reaching this milestone until they are seven or eight years old. On average, it takes three to four weeks of focused attention to help a child become mainly dry and clean during the day.

In full support

Give toilet training plenty of time and focus. Intentionality will really help your success. Some parents schedule a week or so out of their normal routine so that they can have less pressure getting to appointments etc and more availability to follow through on their requests.

Warmer weather is also ideal, with many parents opting for summertime training so lots of time can be spent outdoors… in as little clothing as you deem appropriate!

Some structure, routine and predictability will also help. Make the potty available after meals, before and after going out, at bath time and when they are showing signs that they need to go.

If your child is reluctant to sit on the potty, leave it around the house so they become used to it being ‘part of the furniture’. You can also skip the potty and go straight to the loo, if your child prefers. Try a special toddler seat on the big toilet though, so they feel nice and secure. No one wants to feel like they’re falling in. A stable step enables a child to get on and off the toilet independently and provides support under their feet. A step or stool (excuse the unavoidable pun) is also super helpful so little ones can reach the basin to wash their hands.

You can skip the potty and go straight to the loo, if your child prefers.

Books, songs and loads of praise

Grab some picture books about learning to use the toilet from the library and do lots of reading aloud with your child.

Talk about the steps of going to the toilet.

  1. Tell Mummy or Daddy
  2. Go to the bathroom
  3. Take off your pants
  4. Sit on the toilet or potty
  5. Try to do a wee or a poo
  6. Wipe yourself (or ask for help to wipe)
  7. Flush the toilet
  8. Wash your hands

You may even want to make it into a little rhyme, song or even a rap if you’re brave! (YouTube will no doubt help you out here with something super catchy!) This will help your child get familiar with the process. It can also help by introducing some fun and taking some of the pressure off the performance. Keeping the atmosphere light will really help your child.

A star chart can be very helpful in getting the traction needed for successful toilet training. Be generous with your encouragement. The first step towards success may be a willingness to sit on the potty, so give those small wins plenty of praise. “Wow Caleb, you look like you are enjoying sitting on the potty.”

Then praise all the steps towards independence. “Well done Kate, you used the potty all on your own!”

A star chart can encourage a new focus on areas like remembering to go on their own, remembering to wash their hands, or doing number twos. A small reward for all those stars will help with the focus!

Potential tricky bits

Sickness, the arrival of a new baby, a time of separation, moving house or a major upset in the family can disrupt a child’s toilet training success. Relax and start again when everything has returned to normal.

Toileting problems are often a power and control issue. Control is a developmental issue toddlers who are realising that they can make their own decisions. The more you try to impose your will to toilet train over theirs, the clearer it becomes to the toddler that toileting is one place where they can always get your attention. That situation is irresistible to the child’s growing sense of their own power and independence.

Learning to use the toilet is a process. It’s highly likely there will be accidents, which may cause stress for both parent and child. Remember that these mistakes are not misbehaviour. Stay calm and look for opportunities to encourage your child.

Our response to accidents is really important. Stay neutral by saying something like “Never mind - let’s get some dry clothes.” Anger and punishment will not help the situation - the less fuss the better. Put your energy into allowing them to help in the clean-up. This will help to restore your child’s dignity

A few other tips to stash up your sleeve

  • Have a few books and tapes that your child can listen to when sitting on the potty!

  • Let children take some responsibility of choosing when to go. The sooner a child owns this task the better.

  • Use underpants or trainer pants. These help a child associate the feeling of being wet with what they have just done. Keep nappies for sleeping time and resist the temptation to go between nappies and knickers during the day. Nappies send the signal that it is okay to wet or fill them at any time.

  • Dress your child in clothes that they can easily manage to undo and pull off on their own.

  • One for the boys - aiming at a ping pong ball in the toilet. Gives great incentive for wanting to go and helps keep a young one focused.

  • Allow your child to do the flush themselves - it can add a bit of excitement, as well as a sense of satisfaction.

  • Use a doll or stuffed toy in some ‘how we use the toilet’ role play.

Remember, with patience and persistence, you and your amazing child will absolutely get there.

Jenny Hale

Jenny Hale

Jenny Hale is our Senior Family Coach and we’ve been lucky enough to have her on our team for over 20 years. She’d love to raise free-range chickens, write children’s books and perhaps even take up horse-riding again.


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