Potty training is an exciting milestone, yet it’s something we as parents can often put off. Every child is different, especially when it comes to potty training. You may be at the point where your little one has started a childcare setting and you’re keen to get them out of nappies, and as parents we really want to get it right. But when is the right time to start potty training? How can we be sure our toddlers are ready?
Timing is crucial. Choose a time when you can start your toilet training routine without many interruptions. Don’t start if your toddler has been poorly, if there is a new baby in the family, if you've moved to a new house or are changing a nursery. These life events can be really distracting, and set back the training routine before it has even begun.
When you begin, make sure your toddler is involved in the process by taking them to pick their potty and/or toilet training seat. Take them along to choose their big boy or big girl pants too, as this will help them feel part of it all and make it feel exciting! Remember it is them doing the toilet training, not you.
It’s also important to let everyone know. Tell your nursery, childcarer or anyone else who looks after your child that you’ve started toilet training. Let them know what techniques you are using, for example a reward chart or sticker system, as this helps to keep everything consistent and avoid training setbacks. Don't interrupt or stop toilet training if they are spending a night away at grandparents or a friend's house as they will become easily confused.
Finally, make sure you are ready. Sometimes parents approach potty training half-heartedly and go back to nappies when the going gets tough, so once you’ve made the commitment stick with it.
What are the signs of readiness?
It is vital to start potty training when your toddler is showing the correct signs of readiness. Every child is different and will display these signs at different rates. You know your child better than anyone else, so try not to compare with others. There is no set age when to start potty training, but your toddler’s ability to recognise the difference between wet and dry is a key initial sign. Other signs that your toddler is ready to start potty training include:
• Longer periods with dry nappies/pull-ups indicate your toddler’s bladder has developed stronger muscles which will lead to fewer accidents.
• Stopping in their tracks when they have done a wee or a poo. This is a key sign that your toddler is recognising their bodily functions.
• Insisting on a nappy change once they have soiled their nappy/pull-up shows your toddler recognises the wetness or the poo and feels uncomfortable.
• Starting to show independence in dressing and undressing indicates your toddler is moving to the next stage in their development from baby to toddler.
• Understanding simple instructions and commands.
• Being able to communicate is also important so your toddler can tell you when they need a wee or a poo.
Dos and don’ts
Do speak to your child about potty training before you start. Educate them one week before you start so they understand what is about to happen. This will take them from the unknown and create an exciting build up to the big day, giving them a desire to potty train and become a big boy/girl.
Don't become cross. Accidents will happen, so remember to keep calm. Becoming frustrated with your child will result in the fear of toilet training and will cause a setback.
Don't put a time limit on it. It is important not to set your expectations too high or set a time limit on potty training. Some little ones can get the hang of it in a couple of days, while others can take weeks maybe months. Rushing the process will only lead to regression, so take your time and success will follow.
Do transition from nappies/pull-ups to pants. Make sure you use your big girl/boy pants and get those nappies/pull-ups off during the day. It is so important for your toddler to make that transition and to understand they are now a big boy/girl and do not need nappies/pull-ups in the day anymore.
Potty training shopping list
Preparation is key and this is particularly true when you start potty training. Being organised by choosing the correct equipment and timing to suit your little one will make all the difference. Here are some essential items:
• Toilet trainer seat
• Big boy/girl pants
• Step stool
• Potty training story book/app
• Reward chart and stickers
• Magic reward box, stars and a clear jar
• Child-friendly soap
• Little plastic bin
• Distraction box
Potty training myths
“Boys are harder than girls.”
I have trained huge amounts of boys and girls and never found there is any difference at all. The only difference is if potty training a little boy and the parents insist on him standing up on the offset of training can lead to a few more accidents as they have more to think of than just sitting down.
“Potty training is just for the summer.”
When your toddler is showing signs they are ready you must begin as you may miss your window. This really does drive me mad because if they are ready in the winter, you can't tell them to wait until it’s warmer! This will only make things more difficult.
“Your toddler should be potty trained by age two.”
Some toddlers will show signs of readiness before others so never compare or feel under pressure to start potty training until you as a parent feel they are ready as it will only delay the process.
“Once you start potty training there is no going back.”
If you have started potty training and have been doing so for a few weeks and your toddler is becoming stressed and having lots of accidents, this is a sign they are simply not ready. Have a break for a few weeks and start a fresh.
Every toddler loves to feel special and to please their parents, especially when it comes to potty training. Using rewards is a great way to encourage your toddler to sit on the potty or the toilet - this can be a reward chart and stickers or even a magical star box. It is important to reward even if they try and do not perform. Sometimes it can be difficult to get them sitting on the potty or the toilet and this needs a little extra encouragement. Make sure you reward them immediately, so they get the instant gratification.
It's important not to start bedtime training until they have been consistently dry in the daytime for at least six weeks. When you tackle bedtime the same principles as daytime apply – make sure there is no stress in the household and remind them to go to the potty or toilet before they say goodnight.
Try to reduce their liquid intake (which includes fruit) around 30 minutes before bedtime and invest in a little night light as getting up in the dark to use their potty in the night can cause anxiety and bed wetting. Make sure they have a nice, relaxed potty/toilet stop before going to bed to ensure they have a nice long wee.
If you are using a potty, keep it in their room and remind them where it is so they feel confident and secure. Finally, invest in a good bedtime story on potty training to read to them before they go to sleep. This helps to culminate their imagination, bridges that parent/toddler bond and keeps potty training in their minds!
Even when your child has been successfully potty trained and dry for many weeks, they can still regress. Little ones can have accidents due to life changes, such as moving home, starting a new school or nursery. It is always good to try and find the source that led to your toddler’s regression if you can. Getting angry, impatient and stressed will rub off on your toddler and could even lead to them ‘withholding’ (holding in their poo) and getting constipated. If this does happen, go back to the beginning and keep prompting them to ask if they need to use the potty/toilet and they will in time pick it back up again.